To continue my series of articles from blogs on the Validation of Acquired Experience (VAE - validation of prior learning), I chose to interview Gilles Pinte, a French specialist in this field. Gilles Pinte is a lecturer/researcher in educational science at "Bretagne Sud" University. His research focuses on the training of adults, especially the analysis of continuous training devices, which take professional, associative or activist experiences into account. Part of this work was published in 2011 in his book L’expérience et ses acquis ; bilan et perspectives pour l’éducation et la formation.
Today, after more than a decade marked by the structuring of its support practices, the VAE is getting its second wind. It is considered in many of the reports as a new device which has not yet reached its optimal potential for certification.
However, since 2002, the notions of acknowledgement and recognition of acquired experience have given way in French-speaking literature to considerable research and the publication of scientific articles written from different perspectives. The principle in each case has moved on, since today we see a lot of proposals and discussions within businesses, training agencies or European institutions on informal or non-formal skills.
Today, the VAE is static; after a fairly strong launch in 2003, we find that it has got into a rut for almost all the certifying departments, particularly in higher education.
It is by no means certain that the measures of the El Khomri act (which reduced experience time to a year) has reassured those who were already reluctant when faced with the device. Three years already seemed a short time. Going down to just one year of experience risks making the measure unproductive. Many professionals believe that it is too short a time to acquire, or to justify the experience required for qualifications or degrees; to enhance the value of such experiences; to step back from these acquired experiences.
In PIA 2017, the new University course, Programme Investment in the Future (PIA), encourages the view of the VAE as a teaching aid. According to you, is the VAE an educational tool?
Yes, because it is a tool for self-training. Therefore, the simple fact of asking oneself questions about one's experience creates the possibility of self-training. Via MOOC or other types of on-line tools, users can compare or check their acquired experiences by going on to on-line modules (for example social law courses).
So how can it operate as an educational tool?
If we combine it with other training devices: CPF (Personal Training Account), CIF (study leave), training plan, etc. It is a lifelong training tool, if one conceives it as a complement to the end result at the level of an initial qualification. If young graduates are aware that they can, throughout their lives, have their experiences recognised without going through a phase of formal training for a qualification, it becomes a tool for the construction of the career path, in terms of qualifications, certificates, or conversions.
It is a tool which should be widespread. Young people should be much better informed about the VAE possibilities.
By the VAE, the traditional approach for some young people and their parents, of insisting on obtaining a BAC + 5 (equivalent to an MSc) as early as possible, may be overtaken. In addition, the VAE would become a true lifelong training tool if young people were aware of it much earlier. If we want this to work, then we should rethink the weight of the qualification in initial training. We do not learn all the same things at the same age. The VAE allows you to recognise differences in learning.
There is still work to be done, to link the device with the initial training devices. The VAE is the TOOL of the LLP.
According to you, what is the future of the VAE?
Overall, the past 15 years have shown that, technically, it is possible to recognise formal, informal, voluntary, activist, employee, etc acquired experiences. That is very good! Because you can see that there is a place in the educational system for the practical, which is formed by the analysis of individual career paths. And that bodes rather well for the future.
But what is less good for the future of the VAE is that we have not managed to remove certain constraints: it may have been too soon. Vincent Merle said, when the VAE had been in existence for ten years, that it was too early to make an assessment. We should wait for twenty years, until 2022.
We will have to return to the brakes which come from the educational system: many teachers and some trainers are still struggling to accept the approach. In training structures, there are still pioneers, VAE activists, who recognise that more work must be done to make the device's value convincing.
Cultural changes are not facts; but this is also normal, since it takes time for a relatively revolutionary philosophy to become established in the field of education. We still believe that a true qualifying training course for adults should be followed face to face. For it to work, ideally it would link the VAE with other continuous training devices, without necessarily thinking of the VAE total every time. It is often the very principle of a total VAE which confuses the panels.
The true success of the VAE is to have consolidated the VPQ (Validation of Professional Qualifications). The VAE is today better known than the VPQ.
To remind you: the Validation of Professional Qualifications (VPQ) allows a student to go straight to university without having the required qualifications, by validating his/her professional experiences (employed or not), training courses followed, or any other personal experiences acquired outside a training system.
Can you give a few recommendations for public authorities?
There must be a stronger interdepartmental policy on the subject, with more active control from the Departments of Employment, National Education and Higher Education. They should relaunch the device, for example in training structures, in businesses, for a cumulative VAE.
There should be very strong encouragement to use the tool, in the GPEC (Workforce Planning) agreements, to make the unions see the VAE as a tool for professional promotion; and, as in the Scandinavian countries, to associate the acquisition of a title or qualification with professional and pay-related promotion.
At European level, how do you see the VAE?
The practices are very different. In France, we were the first to go right to the end of the logic of total validation of the qualifications from Level V to Level I, from the CAP (Certificate of Professional Aptitude) to the PhD. Luxembourg then followed suit. Other European countries do not have such a strong centralisation as France, and leave the universities and training organisations to manage this problem of the RVAE (Recognition and Validation of Acquired Experiences) locally or regionally.
Europe, through CEDEFOP, EPALE and the Commission for Education, promotes the concepts of non-formal and informal learning in the overall educational strategies. These concepts of the informal and non-formal deserve to be simplified, because even the trainers admit they do not always fully appreciate the nuances between the terms; but there is a difference between what is learned in an organised teaching framework, what one learns in a professional or associative meeting, or what one learns in a discussion with friends or colleagues over coffee, or while walking down the street…
The vocabulary should be simplified, so that it becomes common to all. Philippe Carré's academic work on apprenance is very enlightening in France.
Finally, for the public authorities at national or European level, we must not target the VAE for specific audiences. This must be a way of enhancing the pathways to excellence, as well as the career paths of those who have followed more chaotic routes.
The VAE should be seen as a device for everyone. Everyone acquires experiences, whatever his/her initial training. It is import to pass on this message.
IS the VAE an instrument to access employment?
Yes, absolutely. This is already the case. The objectives of reintegration are linked to the VAE. The VAE may be the objective of retraining, the resumption of employment or study, promotion, or reinsurance within employment. It can also be used in the recognition of experiences for personal goals, simply for social recognition.
Recent papers :
Pinte, G. (2016). « Une VAE à l’université, et après ? », Revue internationale de pédagogie de l’enseignement supérieur [En ligne], 32-2 | 2016, mis en ligne le 20 juin 2016, consulté le 04 octobre 2016. URL : http://ripes.revues.org/1081 ;
Pinte, G. (2014). « Les jurys de VAE face aux candidats : quelles lectures de l'expérience ? Regard ethnographique ». Les Dossiers des Sciences de l'Education, L’accompagnement du changement en formation, n°31, p. 141-157 ;
Pinte, G. (2014). « La RVAE au milieu du gué : questions en suspens et perspectives entre contexte national et européen », Questions Vives, Accéder à l’expérience : enjeux, modalités, effets, vol. 10, n° 20, p. 19-32.
Roseline Le Squère is an expert for EPALE France. She leads the development of projects at "Bretagne Sud" University. She works in the area of adult learning studies the relations between education-training-employment-economy.