Transnational mobility for adults: what the European Social Fund has to tell us about quality standards

Andrew McCoshan reviews two ESF documents published earlier this year.

This content is available in German

In my blog on getting quality into adult learning opportunities abroad I highlighted some of the current gaps that seem to exist in terms of quality approaches. A good example of how to fill these gaps is provided by the work of the European Social Fund (ESF) Transnational Learning Network on mobility for disadvantaged youth and young adults. Active since 2013, the Network published earlier this year two interesting documents that deal with the issue of the quality standards that ought to apply for this type of learning opportunity. The work builds on good practice from a wide range of sources and especially from a German programme, “Integration durch Austausch” (IdA), along with other national and regional mobility projects, supported by the ESF between 2007 and 2013.

The documents reflect the challenge faced by the Network in establishing a set of minimum quality standards that could apply in all countries and regions that might choose to participate. They are the culmination of a period of discussion and negotiation amongst partners to agree a set of standards that could be applied in very different contexts and which could be accommodated within varying approaches to quality and diverse quality assurance arrangements. Whilst the documents also reflect some of the technical issues involved in ESF, such as the eligibility of costs, the quality standards are relevant and applicable across a wide variety of situations.

The quality standards are organised into 5 main components that it is argued should be included in any transnational mobility activity:

  • project set-up and management;
  • participant recruitment;
  • participant preparation;
  • the work-related learning experience abroad;
  • and the follow-up activities that should take place when someone returns from abroad.

Each of the standards relating to these components is provided with a rationale for why it is needed and then a statement of the action required by the project operators responsible for the mobility period.

The focus of the Network on people from disadvantaged backgrounds means that there is considerable emphasis on how to meet the needs of this group, or, more appropriately, on the wide variety of groups that might participate. This includes how to stimulate participation amongst people who may have had very negative previous experiences in education, and how to ensure that they are adequately supported during their stay abroad, especially through mentoring. The follow-up phase is also strongly emphasised. The criteria go into some detail regarding the need to support participants to identify and reflect on the competences they have developed and how these competences might help them to find work or further study. There is also much emphasis on working with participants to develop clear learning/development plans and recording progress to ensure goals are met.

Along with the specification of the standards that Network members have agreed are mandatory, the Network has also produced a useful Manual of Guidance to accompany them. This Guidance provides background information and examples of approaches and methods that have been successful in the past and has been designed to help users to interpret the quality standards in their work. It is structured in the same way as the quality standards.

Together the two documents provide ideas that many outside the Network are sure to find useful. It draws on the experiences of no fewer than 15 countries and regions right across Europe, from Ireland to Poland and from Sweden to Spain. Some of the achievements of partners in offering transnational experiences are truly impressive and include offering single parents the opportunity to travel from Spain to Germany, with their children, to take part in work placements. There is much to inspire at a very human level in these documents in what is inherently quite a technical subject.

The documents are:

  • Co-ordinated Call on ESF Transnational Mobility Measures for Disadvantaged Youth and Young Adults: Mandatory Common Minimum Requirements
  • Co-ordinated Call on ESF Transnational Mobility Measures for Disadvantaged Youth and Young Adults: Manual of Guidance.

They are available here.

Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 20 years. For the last 10 years he has specialised in policy development studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently a freelance consultant, an Associate with the UK Higher Education Academy, an ECVET Expert for the UK, and a Member of the UK Education & Employers Taskforce Research Group.

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