UK international conference on national qualification frameworks, EQF and ECVET
Ana Carla Pereira European Commission
Head of Unit for Skills and Qualifications Strategies
The UK conference on the European Qualifications Framework “Making Lerning Visible” took place at the NEC, Birmingham on 25th an,d 26th of February 2014. Ian Lynch attended as a delegate representing the HandsonICT project. A lot of the discussion included MOOCs in general and was specifically relevant to the project sustainability strategy, based on quality assurance services based on the primary product of the project.
Ana Carla Pereira from the European Commission spoke first emphasising the shift to learning outcomes as the main driver of curriculum development and assessment. She described the role of digital technologies in general support of learning. New technologies broaden the scope for the contexts for learning and make it increasingly possible to recognise non-formal and informal learning. Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs) are still at an early stage and there are key issues that take place in relation to on-line courses. How is learning validated? How reliable are assumptions about achieving learning outcomes through the MOOC experience? 25% of the EU population is not functionally literate. How do we ensure on-line learning is accessible to the least educated because if they are only accessible to the already highly educated they could accentuate any differences rather than reduce them.
Coherence of EU policies related to learning needs to be better understood and practically achieved. What mechanisms can be developed to achieve this coherence of tools and policies? This is part of the role of Erasmus+ in the new phase of the Life Long Learning Project. Multiple NQFs in some countries, eg the UK are confusing. The EQF at least brings some coherence as a common reference but even across Europe thare are separate frameworks for higher education. ECTS is the credit transfer system for Higher Education and ECVET the new system for vocational and general education related to the EQF. ECTS though is based on duration rather than outcomes of study. ECVET is much younger and it is not currently used by most institutions but is much closer to the ideals of recognition and transparency across borders. Clarity of rules and procedures, despite the Lisbon convention, is still not straightforward to learners. ECVET could help but is not yet sufficiently well known. How will learners understand their ECVET credit and levels acheived if the use is not widespread. Projects such as HandsonICT has a role in helping raise the profile of these new reforms.
Stephen Adam, consultant to the Council of Europe spoke about tools that are subject to external quality assurance are more likely to be taken up. Need tools eg MOOCs to be combined with external quality assurance. This reinforces the strategy conclusions for sustainability developed in the forst year of the HandsonICT project.
The EQF presents specific as well as controversial challenfes for Higher Education. There will be massive change in the next few years. Bringing together credit from different providers is likely to transcend national boundaries. There is real power in the combinations of reforms but they need to be seen together. This makes the role of transversal development projects specifically important. There is a real need to clarify the links between standards, benchmarks and competences and criteria and how they can be represented in courses. It is estimated that there are now 150 new qualifications frameworks and tools based on the EQF and momentum continues to build.
In the context of validating learning from MOOCs, there are problems of referencing and self-certification. There are many issues with the quality assurance associated with the many tools available. It remains to be seen how well the EQF can catalyse change in bringing together higher education and general and vocational frameworks.
There is a vast interest in the EQF outside Europe. Really there are no significant problems in merging the frameworks technically, it is more the politics of where the frameworks are implemented that reduces the speed of take up and spread.
The aim is for validation of formal and informal learning to be in place by 2018 across member states. This is particularly relevant to MOOC development because MOOCs have the potential to support learning that is outside the normal institution based courses. There is pressure on national governments to devise methods for the identification of skills and acknowledgement of competences through eg interview, portfoilios etc. Such systems are already in place with some awarding organisations in some national frameworks but this is rare across Europe. Key requirements for recognition of informal learning eg as a result of a MOOC course needs to have the following characteristics.
Linked to qualifications frameworks and in line with the EQF
Same or similar standards to qualifications resulting from formal ed.
Transparent quality assurance methods that are reliable, valid and credible.
Commission is trying to reinforce links between a range of EU policies eg. Employment, Digital Learning, MOOCs and OER.
Jens Bjornavold from Cedefop explained how National Qualification Frameworks have grown from 3 to 36 in 10 years. Globally 142 countries have NQFs. NQFs increase transparency and also support education reform. While there is a wide variation of experience and stages of development of NQFs in the EU member states the development is accelerating and in the right direction. By 2013 all 35 countries involved in using the EQF are agreed on its structure and 28 have adopted the 8 level EQF model. Level descriptors for NQFs have been inspired by the EQF but there are still variations in how the criteria for learning outcomes are defined but broadly they are in line with the level descriptors.
Validation of informal and non-formal learning through NQFs is still very variable across Europe. 12 countries have national strategies in place. A further 11 are developing strategies and 13 have no national strategy and do not have particular plans. 20 countries report established links between the NQF and validation of non formal learning. Systematic focus on learning outcomes enables validation of non-formal learning to take place. Increasingly validation can become the normal way of achieving a qualification. NQFs need to become regularly used practical tools if they are to realise their potential. In the context of non-formal learning, MOOCs have a great potential to support the process from making learning more accessible and more visible.