Applying the quality assurance cycle to the development of the National Register of Qualifications
This case study illustrates how the four phases of the quality assurance cycle are being used to develop the National Register of Qualifications (NSK). The fundamental approach to the quality assurance of the NSK processes and outputs is a ‘peer to peer strategy’ which brings together the labour market and the VET sector. This is particularly significant at the national level as both partners collaborate to find concrete solutions. This is achieved through cooperation and mutual learning.
The social partners have influenced and learnt from each other at the national level by looking at experiences in different international environments. This has meant getting involved in international projects with experts from other countries who are also looking for solutions to similar problems. An important tool for supporting quality assurance has been the publication of guidelines on the Methodology for completing the NSK. This provides solutions to questions about how to create and revise standards for vocational qualifications.
How the new EQAVET+ indicative descriptors are being used
An important aspect of the quality assurance of the NSK is the development and revision of vocational qualification standards. As part of the Methodology for completing the NSK there are criteria for determining which vocational qualifications need to be revised e.g. when the approval for the last revision took place more than four years ago or, for vocational qualifications, when there are external or labour market pressures for a revision. The labour market, through the Sector Councils, reviews vocational qualification standards and recommends which of them need to be revised in order to ensure the content is accurate and up-to-date. Changes and corrections can be made to every part of the standards, to the name of the vocational qualification, to the content, or to how the qualification is divided into units/modules. Following these reviews by the Sector Councils, a new version of the vocational qualification is suggested and included in the National Register of Qualifications. As part of the process the proposals from the Sector Councils are shared with the authorising bodies and the Ministry of Education in order for their comments to be taken into account in producing the revised qualification.
The process for developing and revising qualifications is based on the social partners’ (especially employers who have the most recent information on the future needs of the labour market) involvement in setting the content and structure of qualifications. The social partners are also involved in developing the education programmes which lead to vocational qualifications and help to ensure integration between initial and continuing education.
How is this practice linked to the EQAVET indicators?
The Sector Councils and officials from the National Register of Qualifications monitor the needs of the labour market to ensure that each sector’s needs for vocational qualifications are covered. Where there are gaps they suggest which vocational qualifications should be developed. This annual analysis of each sector’s needs began in 2010. The analysis is based on each Sector Council preparing an analysis of each vocational area. This includes defining the requirements for developing qualification standards based on each Sector Council’s understanding of the current situation, trends in the labour market, their experience of the sector, and any assumptions about how the sector is likely to develop in relation to the national economy. This analysis leads to a formal recommendation on whether each qualification needs to be reviewed, or a new qualification needs to be developed. The Sector Council’s report includes information on:
- the title of the qualification;
- the people who completed the report;
- the arguments to support the need for a qualification review;
- suggestions regarding the purpose and subject of the review.
The report also informs which aspects of a qualification needs to be reviewed (individual subject areas, the structure etc.) alongside the review of the vocational qualification standards. A significant part of the report is dedicated to the amount of change that is needed (no change, small change, major change etc.) and the likely consequences for the NSK.
What problems were encountered and overcome in using this EQAVET+ indicative descriptor?
The legislation enables VET experts to comment on the quality of the vocational qualifications. These experts only provide information to the authorised body (the VET school) about the quality of the qualification – due to the need for confidentiality they are not allowed to inform the creators of the National Register. This makes it more difficult to obtain information on the effectiveness of any qualification.
A second problem is the difficulty in collecting evidence of the effectiveness of the examinations. As each learner has to complete a practical examination, the external experts need advance warnings of the dates and locations of each exam. Although the authorised persons (e.g. VET schools) are obliged to notify the authorising bodies of exam dates, the notification is usually too late for an external expert to attend. In addition, the authorising bodies do not provide regular and timely information on the examination dates to the external experts. This situation would be improved by a legal obligation to use the system which supports the activities of authorised persons.
What lessons have been learnt by using this EQAVET+ indicative descriptor?
The quality control processes used in the development of the NSK have been tested in five complete annual cycles. The system is working well and the number of people with a vocational qualification has gradually increased to 155,000 and the exams are currently provided by nearly 1,300 authorised persons.
As part of the 2016 review of the effectiveness of the NSK and its quality assurance processes, two improvements have been made:
- a new internal quality control system has been established. This enables the NSK to systematically monitor and analyse the types of changes proposed by Sector Councils and the reasons for the proposed revisions to vocational qualifications. As there are already about 1,200 standards for vocational qualifications, the NSK is no longer focusing on the development of qualification but their revision. To support the monitoring of the reasons for revisions, the NSK produces an annual report for employers and employees – the report sets out the reasons as well as the nature of each revision that has been made during the year;
- the design and implementation (independent to the NSK) of a new system to monitor the quality of the exams.