02 SES 03 B, Qualification Frameworks and Skills Systems
In May 2017, Marianne Thyssen, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, stated that “The EQF is a success story. In the almost ten years since it was established, it has helped to make qualifications more transparent – and therefore more comparable – across Europe” .
Launched in 2008 as a “Common Reference Framework” including eight levels of learning and three descriptors that aimed at providing a “translation grid” between national qualifications, the EQF aimed at numerous educational reforms such as promoting the learning outcomes orientation, transparency of qualifications and fostering mobility between national borders, across sectors and learning pathways (e.g. Bjørnåvold/Coles 2008; European Commission 2005; European Parliament 2008). Even more, the EQF was expected to reduce social stratification caused by educational systems, thus help reducing social exclusion and promote labour market and social inclusion. At that time, critical voices had questioned if qualifications frameworks (QF) in general and the EQF in particular would be able to meet the expectations that had emerged from its development under economic and political pressure (e.g. Allais et al. 2009; Bohlinger 2008; Young 2003).
Ten years after it is time to re-address these expectations and analyze whether and if so, in which ways the EQF has actually provided an impetus for numerous reforms that were hoped to be initiated by implementing it. Also, given that many national qualification frameworks emerged in parallel with the EQF or were revised as a consequence of it, the question arises in which ways they supported the aims that were linked with developing them and linking them with the EQF. Against this background, the objectives of this contribution are
- to clarify the concept, the emergence and ‘underlying philosophies’ of qualification frameworks s in general,
- to review the emergence of the EQF and its implementation since 2008,
- to review previous experiences with implementing national and cross-national QFs such as the EQF since 2008 and with a particular focus on the European area,
- to identify and compare the (anticipated) impacts of QFs on education and training systems with a review of the reform that were actually initiated as a consequence of implementing the EQF and the therewith-linked national QFs,
- to critically reflect on the “success story” of the EQF.
To address these objectives, the presentation’s theoretical approach is twofold: First, it refers to policy borrowing and the international strive for cost-effective and efficient education and training systems as a consequence of globalisation and marketization of education. In this context, QFs are seen as a paradigmatic case of ‘travelling’ educational reforms around the globe (Jakobi 2009; Steiner-Khamsi/Waldow 2011). Second and particularly with respect to the European area, qualifications frameworks and the EQF are seen as softer policy tool to govern European policy in a supranational environment (Bohlinger 2015; Lange/Alexiadou 2010). Linking both approaches provides a comprehensive framework to understand policy learning and governance of education policy in the EU (and beyond) in general and to question the “success” story of the EQF and the European national qualifications frameworks in particular.
Following the classification of comparative education research developed by Theisen/Adams (1990) and Watson (1996), this contribution starts with an analysis of the emergence of qualifications frameworks across countries and continents based on the question which challenges and reform needs led to the development of the frameworks according to political stakeholders and policy papers. Here, the selection of countries follows the chronological emergence of qualifications frameworks across continents and then focuses on the emergence and revision of national QFs and the EQF in Europe. As the dominating units of comparison will be the EU-Member states, an attempt will be made to define typologies of nations developing qualifications frameworks in the European area. Here, a typology is defined as “a conceptual framework in which phenomena are classified in terms of characteristics that they have in common with other phenomena” (Mouton/Marais 1990: 137) and the units of the typology will be “ideal types” of QF development which are constructed “through a process of abstraction though this “ideal” will not be matched exactly by any individual case (ibid, p. 137). As a consequence the contribution encompasses a comparative education policy analysis of national strategies and reforms to be found in countries where QF have been in place for years (e.g. Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and England, Northern Ireland and Wales). It aims at identifying the “impact” of qualifications frameworks whereby the notion of “impact” is understood as any result of governing with softer policy tools used within European education research and policy (Héritier 2003). Particular emphasis is placed on the comparison criteria “logics”, “expectations”, and “obstacles” that are linked with the implementation of QF as well as on the question in which ways national/international stakeholders are involved in its development. Last, not least the contribution critically reflects on the current proliferation of transnational QF such as the EQF and derives issues for future research. The contribution is based on - statistics, policy and research documents provided by national, international and supranational organisations such as the European Commission, Cedefop, the ETF, the ILO, the OECD or the UNESCO, - previous research from both national and cross-national perspectives (e.g. Allais 2017; Pilcher et al. 2015; Raffe 2012), - a geographical scope that focuses on Europe but also includes findings from other continents.
A key finding is that qualifications frameworks are seen as a panacea: According to key stakeholders, policy makers and (some) researchers, qualifications frameworks are hoped and feared to have an immense impact on structural principles and problems of education and training systems. However, even ten years after implementing the EQF and (revising) numerous national qualifications frameworks (particularly in the EU), there is still little evidence that these hopes come true: Based on the above-mentioned sources, there are few findings that QFs actually provide solutions for the challenges they were developed for (modernization, mobility, transparency, lifelong learning etc.). Moreover, a causal relation between the implementation of a QF and the promotion of lifelong learning cannot be identified (not yet). Nevertheless, there are several lessons that can be learnt from implementing QFs. The findings indicate ways on how to apply softer policy tools and provide approaches which may stimulate mutual learning processes. This refers particularly to the outcome orientation and validation of learning processes. The contribution ends with a brief outline of future political action and research questions.
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