NQF-in Project Final Conference: Developing models of the inclusion of non-formal sector qualifications in national qualifications frameworks – the experiences of European countries

What needs to be considered when developing a system to include non-school qualifications in an NQF? Should this be governed by detailed public regulations or by guiding principles? How will charging fees for inclusion affect the system? Should the system be centralised or devolved? What are the implications of the various options for including qualifications in an NQF?

These and other questions about the issue of inclusion were discussed at the final conference of the NQF-in Project, held on June 5-6, 2018 in Warsaw Poland.

The conference presented the preliminary results of the NQF-in Project’s work on developing models of inclusion of non-formal sector qualifications in systems based on a national qualifications framework. Four initial models were presented, each a different configuration of variants for nine basic characteristics of qualifications systems: 1) the types of qualifications that can be included in the system, 2) ownership of the qualification, 3) level of allowable similarity among the included qualifications, 4) whether the system is governed by required legal norms or in other ways, 5) the scope of the regulations on including qualifications, 6) the extent of centralised decision making on including qualifications in the system, 7) the role of different stakeholder groups, 8) fees for including qualifications, and 9) the formal, legal and financial benefits of having a qualification included.

The models suggest that alternative combinations of these characteristics’ variants affect qualifications systems differently in terms of coherence, incentives to stakeholders for having their qualifications included in the system, the proliferation of qualifications in the system, the ability of the system to effectively carry out the inclusion process – “absorption capacity”, and the types of institutions (large and affluent - “full of resources” or smaller and less focused on for-profit activities), which are able to submit their qualifications for inclusion.

In addition to presenting the concept of the models, a number of presenters spoke about some of the essential elements in developing qualifications systems and encouraging institutions and providers to include their qualifications. After a warm welcome by IBE’s Director, Dr. Piotr Stankiewicz, Dennis von Gessel from the European Commission spoke about the importance of non-formal sector qualifications and EC activities in this field. Upcoming work includes studies on non-formal qualifications, a European Qualifications Framework Advisory Group project and a Peer Learning Activity on this topic. Prof. Ewa Chmielecka, in reviewing her involvement in three international projects on qualifications systems, noted that building trust is key to having qualifications framework systems accepted and used, as is taking the national context into consideration. Transparency and a clear identification of the methods used will build this trust, as it is not possible nor should it be expected that one model can serve all countries. Stephan John, a freelance expert, spoke about his experiences in bringing 6,000 qualification programmes into the English system. He noted that one element leading to the successful participation of key stakeholders is to get them involved early in the process – there must be a sense of joint ownership of the system by government, employers, leaders and teachers. This panel discussion was then summarised and supplemented by Dr. Madhu Singh of UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, who added the fact that 80% of all training today is company based – outside the formal education system.

Horacy Dębowski, initiator of the NQF-in Project, then proceeded to present the concept of the project and its work, as well as the construction of the models and their potential impact on the properties of an NQF-based qualifications system. Afterwards, Prof. Christopher Winch of King’s College London and Maciej Lasota of Poland’s Ministry of National Education commented on the presented models and approach. Prof. Winch referred to the changes ongoing in England with its qualifications system, stating that the system cannot be based just on learning outcomes, but that input measures must also be considered. He also emphasised that stakeholder involvement is key – incorporating multiple perspectives leads to stability, continuity and trust. Maciej Lasota noted that the models look very good, but that this all needs to be considered in terms of real life – how will the system actually function and what will encourage stakeholders to work towards its coherence. He indicated that the models give us a starting point for further discussions.

After lunch, working group sessions were held on the qualifications systems and the characteristics of the inclusion process that best correspond to the systems of the countries represented by project partners: Croatia (Ivana Carev, University of Split), Czech Republic (Jan Brůha, Viola Horska, National Institute for Education) France (Matteo Sgarzi, Aleksandre Meliva, Centre for Research on Qualifications - Céreq), Hungary (Zoltán Loboda, Educational Authority), Ireland (Anne Murphy, Dublin Institute of Technology; Mark Coney, Quality and Qualifications Ireland), Poland (Horacy Dębowski, Central Examination Board; Agata Poczmańska, Barbara Przybylska, Sylwia Walicka, Educational Research Institute) and Scotland (Sheila Dunn, Kevin McShane, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework). The models were tested in an attempt to align each country’s system to a particular model. This was not always possible – some countries matched a specific model very well, while others differed in several elements or were found between two proposed models.

The next day, the results of the working group sessions were presented in the opening plenary session, which was followed by a general discussion. The discussion ranged from a series of questions about particular elements of a specific country’s qualifications system to a request to take a closer look at quality assurance and how learning outcomes are treated as elements of the models. Questions were also raised about the relevance of inclusion and its context, as well as the role of non-formal sector qualifications in qualifications systems. This information will be used in further work on the models.

The final session was on the links between the inclusion of all types of qualifications in NQFs and the validation of non-formal and informal learning, presented by Sylwia Walicka, NQF-in Project expert at the Educational Research Institute. This was then discussed by Urška Marentič, Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for VET and Madhu Singh, UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. The discussion was opened to the audience, who remarked on the role of validation and its purpose – for example, whether it is conducted to promote progression, to make labour market skills visible or to promote further education.

Horacy Dębowski closed the conference, announcing that an updated version of the document on the models will be prepared. He urged participants to become part of the process by sending in their comments to the models report by the end of June. On behalf of the NQF-in Project team and partnership, he thanked everyone for the positive atmosphere and their contributions to the discussion.

More information about the conference, its programme and the presentations can be found at www.nqf-in.eu.

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