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Interview: How to calculate the cost of VPL?

- EPALE Deutschland
Sprog: EN
Document available also in: DE

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At the 3rd VPL Biennale, which took place between 7 - 8 May 2019, in Berlin, EPALE Germany conducted an interview with An De Coen from IDEA Consult. The consulting company was commissioned with calculating how much it would cost to establish and maintain a VPL System in Flanders. In the interview, Ms De Coen talks about why calculating the cost is so important and how the model for calculating it might be transferable to other countries.
EPALE: Why is it so important to calculate the cost for validation?


An De Coen, IDEA Consult, on the cost of VPL
An De Coen:

It is all about transparency and having the data needed to develop and provide VPL procedures: For providers of VPL to know the resources needed in terms of time/staff and money.

In Centers for Adult Eduction, offering VPL procedures is something that comes on top of people’s regular job. They don’t get any funding for organising it, on the contrary, they lose funding if participants obtain exemptions. Hence, at the time of the study, there was no financial incentive to develop VPL procedures. By making the costs visible, the Flemish government got the signal to look into it when developing the new decree on VPL in Flanders (cf. the poster and presentation of Nathalie Druine).

For some projects, financed by European subsidies (ESF), the budget per trajectory was already calculated, but even there, it was interesting to find out how time it took to go through a VPL procedure from start to finish.

"it does not suffice to look into the costs, you also have to take into account the benefits"

For policy makers to be aware of the investments needed to develop VPL in a sustainable way and finance the system. At the time of the study, it was a black box and the information was needed to develop legislation.
Of course, it does not suffice to look into the costs, you also have to take into account the benefits and take into account that you can’t measure everything (you also need qualitative information). Yet, at the same time, we saw that the results from our study started a discussion between practitioners and policy makers, so it definitely had its value as a basis for evidence-based decision making.

EPALE: How was the information implemented in Flanders, is it used in information for the public, only by the ministry?

An De Coen:

At the moment, as far as I know, it has only been used by policy makers to develop the decree on VPL in Flanders that has recently been voted. We did the study for the Department of Education and Training (of the Flemish government). Nathalie Druine coordinated the study, she can tell you what they did with the results.

EPALE: How has the Flemish validation system benefitted from the information?

An De Coen:

The decree has been voted and approved. Now we will have to wait and see how it will be implemented. The rules regarding the implementation and execution of the Decree are being developed and still have to be approved. As our study provided information on the investment and financing of the system, I expect it to have contributed to the political decision making process.

EPALE: What parts of the validation process are the most expensive and why?

An De Coen:

In the Guidance process:

For providers it is informing and guiding participants towards VPL. For participants it is learning to think in terms of competencies and preparing the portfolio as well as preparing for the assessment.

In the Assessment:

The mix of assessment methods determines the costs. In particular, the very high cost of an intensive practical test that often lasts for about 5 days greatly increases costs, but in general practical tests are a time-intensive assessment instrument. Some examples of VPL processes that can last up to 5 days are those of healthcare professionals, car technician (where cars must first be prepared for the test and then have to be restored to their original state), teacher training, etc. For some professions, however, it is the best way to test in practice whether people actually have the required competences. We think of cleaning aids, forklift drivers, bakers, etc.

Regarding the development of new procedures:

It takes a lot of time to decide which competencies have to be validated and how that has to be done. The large number of hours required to set the standard and to develop the scenario (‘draaiboek’) is mainly due to the large number of meetings with a large number of stakeholders, so that the development time increases rapidly. Furthermore, guidelines have to be developed and all assessors and supervisors to be trained.

EPALE: Did you include „high risk elements“ in your results that could make the validation process very expensive?

An De Coen:

We included them in two ways: We included different scenarios in the assessment phase as often a combination of different assessment methods will be made (interview, portfolio, practical test in authentic or simulated setting, written test) depending on which competencies will be tested. To give an idea of the cost price of a mix of assessment methods, we calculated the cost of 8 frequently occurring scenarios, each with a mix of assessment methods.


Flanders: The cost of VPL. © IDEA Consult

We included (qualitative) examples on expensive procedures to illustrate which procedures are really expensive: By way of example, we provided some examples of situations where the costs run high, for instance in the performing arts the rental of a theatre can vary from € 700 to € 1,500, in addition to the cost of renting specialized audio and video material. Or if you want to do a bakery test, it is necessary to pre-heat the oven for 2 days. The price of raw materials can also be high. In the case of a crane man: if a crane must be brought on site. Or even for a pipe Fitter raw material costs can easily go up to € 600.

EPALE: Do you think the model you have established for calculating the cost is transferrable to other countries?

"The model and the methodology are definitely transferable to other countries."

The model and the methodology are definitely transferable to other countries. You need a lot of data, so it helps if a good monitoring system is in place. Yet, not all the data that we needed were available in Flanders, and we managed to collect the missing data by consulting providers of VPL procedures from diverse fields and sectors. They made an estimation of the time and budget needed and, in the end, our results are consistent with other studies. The underlying reasoning of the standard cost model makes sense in diverse setting.

EPALE: Thank you very much!

About An De Coen: An De Coen is an expert at IDEA Consult in the field of Labour Market and Socio-Economic Policy. After obtaining her Degree in Business Engineering at the KU Leuven in 2006, she obtained a PhD in Applied Economics in November 2012. In 2012, she joined IDEA Consult. Her main research interests focus on active labour market policies and factors contributing to individuals’ employability, like training and education.

Image rights: © An De Coen/IDEA Consult

Also read the other interviews conducted with people from European case studies on EPALE!

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