Since 2000 in the European Union there has been a steadily growing and strengthening commitment to (encouraging) the use of the common quality assurance framework in vocational education and training (VET). The reason for this is that the goals set to stimulate economic and social development in Europe (enhancing competitiveness and employability, promoting transition to a knowledge-based society, increasing mobility) highlighted and brought the issues of quality and quality assurance in vocational education and training into the focus.
Over the past 10 years the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Education and Training (EQAVET) established by the Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council adopted on 18 June 2009 served as an effective tool in two thirds of the Member States in facilitating and supporting the continuous improvement and reform of quality assurance systems in VET based on common European references; and in 14 countries – including Hungary – it directly contributed to the development of the national system.
What is the EQAVET Framework? In this blog post today we would like to share a few thoughts on how we approach and interpret the EQAVET Framework here in Hungary.
In our understanding EQAVET is a set of European requirements – expectations – with the primary aim of promoting and supporting the continuous quality improvement in VET. It is a reference tool which can help clarify the degree and extent of compliance between national quality assurance systems (frameworks) in VET and the European Framework based on a common set of reference criteria agreed on European level thereby helping Member States, VET providers and other organisations set up, further develop and renew their own systems.
EQAVET sees VET as a whole, it applies to all forms of VET – formal VET, continuing VET, adult learning, adult VET, work-based learning, apprenticeship, etc. However, the common core quality requirements need to be adapted by each user to their own context. Therefore, due to its framework nature, EQAVET can be applied by users (VET systems and VET providers) of different profiles and sizes who operate in different environments, under different conditions.
The EQAVET Framework consists of three main parts:
- The EQAVET quality assurance and quality improvement cycle is made up of and follows the four steps of the PDCA logic of continuous quality improvement – Step 1 Planning, Step 2 Implementation, Step 3 Evaluation, Step 4 Review (in the latter we also include feedback mechanisms and improvement actions). The novelty and added value of EQAVET lie in the fact that it assigns to each of these steps common core quality requirements – indicative descriptors – agreed at European level. We see the indicative descriptors as quality assurance requirements relevant to VET, and as such they are meaningful to any VET system or VET institution; and make the general quality assurance systems VET-specific.
Indicative descriptors facilitate the implementation and actual use of EQAVET as they explicitly define and highlight a relatively small number of core and relevant criteria, elements, requirements, expectations which are key to high quality VET and should be considered when designing, operating, evaluating, reviewing and improving any quality assurance system in VET at system and provider level alike. Indicative descriptors form the basis of goal-setting, planning, measurement and evaluation, and improvement activities both at national and provider/institutional levels. We believe that if an institution governing or providing VET fulfills these common core quality requirements, it creates the conditions for delivering good quality in training.
While they draw the user’s attention to issues that are important in terms of quality assurance and quality improvement, indicative descriptors do not specify how national systems and VET providers should work. Hence the Framework allows room for the application of a broad range of quality approaches at national and provider/institutional level.
- Monitoring refers to the combination of internal and external evaluation procedures which should be established by the Member States in order to receive continuous, factual, credible feedback on the progress they have made in achieving their goals.
The Framework lays special emphasis on regular and systematic self-evaluation with the help of which the strengths and the areas for improvement of systems, processes, procedures, activities, etc. can be identified, and thereby the quality of VET can be improved continuously. However, self-evaluation must be accompanied by regular external evaluation done by an independent external body of national, regional or sectoral competence.
- The measurement tool offers 10 system-level indicators to assess, evaluate and confirm the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of VET which are key instruments for VET governance and for improving the quality of VET. The aim is to help Member States ensure the adequate and consistent monitoring and evaluation of quality improvement of their own systems based on a common set of quantitative and qualitative reference indicators, as well as the evidence-/fact-based decision-making about improvements.
These indicators are VET indicators: they focus on the results of VET, as well as on the relationships between VET systems, lifelong learning, the labour market, employment and the economy and contain information about the context, the input requirements, the process, the output requirements and the outcome. The majority of the indicators are meaningful and can be generated also at institutional level.
The above confirms that quality assurance as implied by EQAVET means the evidence-based and continuous monitoring, evaluation and improvement of how efficiently and effectively VET reacts to and meets the ever-changing, evolving demands of the society, the economy and the individuals.
The core principle of EQAVET is the conscious application of the quality cycle both at the system and the VET provider levels. Closing the quality cycle, that is, based on the results of measurement and evaluation, the planning and implementation of improvement actions, and evaluation of the results, effectiveness of the improvements implemented (Step 4 Review) adds value to this. Experience so far shows that this is the weakest link in Member States’ quality improvement efforts.
Yet at the same time it is important to note and emphasise – and we here in Hungary take this approach – that the EQAVET Framework is a single, integrated whole of the quality assurance and quality improvement cycle, the indicative descriptors and the indicators.
The quality requirements – expectations – defined and agreed at European level make the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Education and Training a valuable tool, a driver and incentive of quality improvement in VET at European and Member State level alike. In Hungary, the EQAVET Framework has from the very beginning been the common European ground in building a VET-specific quality assurance / quality management system. This will be addressed in detail in tomorrow’s blog post.