Findings of the ECVET
1) Method of Investigation
The study is based on detailed 30 expert reports and 156 individual in depth interviews with national experts. It covered the EU 27, the EFTA-countries, Croatia, Turkey, and Switzerland ECVET CONNEXION and ECVET reflector have been conducted in close cooperation. The ECVET reflector results are presented in this brochure.
The mandate for ECVET reflector study was to analyze the relationships between the features of the European credit system for vocational education and training (ECVET) as proposed by the European Commission in its consultation document3 and the existing regulations and practices of assessment, validation, certification as well as accumulation and transfer of learning outcomes in the national and/or qualifications and VET systems in Europe.
Qualifying their opinion on ECVET nearly all 156 interviewed experts expressed their support to the implementation of ECVET. The attitudes have been analyzed considering specific aspects of ECVET: the step by step validation of learning outcomes, the transfer between countries and the transfer between VET providers within one country. The strong supporters to ECVET implementation (59 % of the answers) consider implementing it to support mobility at providers’ level (i.e. transfer between providers); to support mobility in a European context (i.e. cross-border transfer) and to support validation of learning outcomes. According to the 33% moderate supporters of ECVET, the main added-value of ECVET would be the step-by-step validation of learning outcomes, the transfer in a European context, and the transfer between VET providers. The opponents to ECVET foremost (3%) mention opposing the step-by-step validation of learning outcomes. It is precisely this aspect which is mostly mentioned through all categories of answers (50%) as being one of the expected added values of ECVET. The statements indicate strong potentials for using ECVET as a tool for transfer of learning outcomes in the national VET settings.
The empirical data provides some evidence that the stakeholders in European VET qualifications systems consider ECVET from two standpoints corresponding differing practical approaches – whereby the second approach prevails:
Approach I – Implementing ECVET (solely) for cross-border transfer. It aims to increase mobility in the initial training phase. ECVET is considered a system neutral instrument which can significantly ease the assessment of equivalences of learning outcomes acquired at home and in other countries and thus allow them to become a normal part of training.
Approach II – Implementing ECVET to promote, inter alia, domestic reforms towards more accessibility and flexibility of national qualification systems in terms of horizontal and vertical transitions in qualifications systems. Within the context of ECVET, a clear terminological distinction is drawn between “units” and “modules”.
The term “module” belongs to the process level, i.e. the level of organization and conduct of VET programmes. A VET programme with a modular structure is composed of elements distinguished from each other in terms of organization, i.e. of elements that may be passed, examined. Accordingly, a “full” VET programme is constituted by individual accumulation of modules. Talking about “units”, reference is made to the outcome level in terms of parts of qualifications that can be defined on the basis of knowledge, skills and competence. Units might be certified. Not only does the identification of (partial) learning outcomes not exclude a non-modular, holistic structure of VET programmes but, for practical reasons, indeed requires it within the framework of a formative evaluation of teaching-learning processes.
The expert interviews brought evidence on the widespread misunderstanding of those two concepts and the difficulty of distinguishing between both. This is a major concern as ECVET requires considering separately (but not ignoring the interdependences) the process level and the outcomes level. Some qualifications systems might not differentiate both (for instance as in the VET systems following a holistic approach), while other might associate one module (process level) to various units (outcomes level). Conceiving mobility and promoting ECVET acceptance imply being aware of the levels differentiation and making clear that identification of units for the purpose of mobility of learners is not necessarily linked to modularization of programmes.
The ECVET reflector study focus on assessment and transfer implies considering mobility on the basis of two major processes:
Assessment and evaluation of learning outcomes achieved during a mobility period.
Transfer of the learner’s achievements to his/her home countries’ VET and qualifications system, so as to use these learning outcomes for awarding qualifications in compliance with effective regulations in the home country.
Assessment is carried out differently in qualifications systems, various schemes can be identified: (1) assessment of units, (2) assessment of units and individual valuing (leading to awarding partial qualifications), (3) assessment of units and holistic valuing (leading to full qualifications), and (4) assessments of units and individual valuing (in specific cases such as for international mobility purposes. As far as transfer is concerned, transfer takes place either in international, or in national contexts or both, whereby transfer might be an exceptional feature in the qualifications system considered. The focus on processes allows for identifying implicit analogies to ECVET within qualifications systems which increase the range of the above described combinations. We can identify implicit analogies in countries where for instance no procedures are developed for transferring partial qualifications gained abroad but methods for transferring learning outcomes are applied between training providers domestically in specific cases. They tend to be regarded as exceptions but can gradually become the norm if the reasons for their introduction continue to exist. This is the case in several countries and concerns both assessment and transfer.
A series of recommendations was formulated from an institutional viewpoint and from the learners’ perspective– as presented hereafter along the reflector typology of qualifications systems. The following recommendations are linking the learner’s perspective with the system development requirements. They are developed along the reflector typology and using three (3) different types of VET systems:
Type “holistic loner”: Portrait: Extremely centralized VET system. Qualifications system is not primarily based on learning outcomes. Oral and written interim exams take place during the school year; written final exam at the end of the school year. Validation of occupational learning outcomes in development but not yet implemented. No uniform recognition procedures or means of establishing equivalence for learning outcomes between different programmes. No method of recognizing units or qualifications obtained outside of the country. Experiences gathered in specific areas. No official framework for learning outcomes transfer. Mobility within the system is restricted mainly by a strong centralization. Units are not transferable between programmes. Accumulation of learning outcomes is almost irrelevant.
Type “unit-aware internationalist”: Portrait: Predominantly school-oriented vocational education and training system. Very unit aware. Transfer within the system and cross-border. A credit system is in place. VET programmes are subdivided into modules, the allocation of credits follows a “scholastic logic”: credit points are attributed to subjects. Recent innovation: skill demonstrations. When learners transfer from one vocational training programme to another or from general VET to upper secondary school programmes, at the least completed core and specialized courses are recognized. Units with general validity can be transferred. Varying recognition procedures. A portion of in-company training may be done in a foreign country. However, recognition of learning outcomes does not automatically shorten the duration of training phases. Some VET providers lack trust in one another.
Type holistic internationalist”: Portrait: Comprehensive occupational competence is the very objective of VET. Significant quantitative weighting of in-company training. The knowledge, skills and competence which must be acquired are clearly defined in the regulations. Certification practices are, however, geared towards full qualifications. Forms of assessment do exist at the micro-level, the results of these assessments, however, bear no official status. Focus on certificates. Recognition processes lead to admittance to exams. A part of VET programme can be completed in a foreign country (monitored by competent bodies). In-company training periods can be shortened through accreditation of previous, non-work-based experience VET. Learning outcome accumulation is developing within large units (specialization after basic training). Improving transfer possibilities is under intensive debate.