Is ECVET a credit system?
If you are reading this, you probably know, that ECVET has the "credit system" in its’ name – The European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training. I argue that the name itself, is one of the reasons for difficulties that stakeholders have in understanding what ECVET is. And if not a ‘credit system’, than what? A "credit framework"?
Most countries and partners in mobility projects adopt the ECVET technical specification elements, such as qualifications, learning outcomes, units of learning outcomes or some quantitative measure for credit - points or hours. That means, they use the concepts and tools from the Recommendation (hence “the framework”) for the purpose of creating a national credit accumulation and transfer system for VET (in case of a country) or to accumulate and transfer the credits in bi- or multilateral setting. Some participants of the recent PLA in Scotland called it using "ECVET principles".
What about a "European credit system for VET"? The possibility of building a Europe-wide system is often referred to as a distant possibility (at best). On the other hand, for those with experience of extensive cooperation in VET mobilities and close cross-border cooperation, the perspective of an international credit system for VET seems quite tactile. Putting national differences aside – the answer (to the question in the title) depends on how one understands what a system is. I think everyone will agree, we mean a functional, working, non-virtual system. But how coherent and organized does it need to be? And if it is a "patchwork", than how well do we expect the interfaces between sub-systems to work before we call the whole thing a system?
Let us set some moderate “assessment criteria” that could represent a common-sense approach to understanding what a system is:
My personal result of the assessment is the reason, why I prefer to talk about a European credit framework and national credit systems for now. Unequivocally, European Credit System for VET (or for Qualifications) is a Great goal. But to get there, we need more than the current Recommendation with technical specifications. However it needs to be said: The current state of things is neither the Commissions’ or ECVET community fault. VET systems and the skills systems (i.e. including education and labour regulations, company involvement, culture etc.) are diverse beyond most people’s imagination.
Higher Education is a good point of reference – with over 7 century long tradition of cooperation, standard setting and a long and intensive Bologna process. HE Area has a Europe-wide qualifications framework (Dublin descriptors) and a qualifications system embedded in every country (with a standard set of typical awards – bachelor, engineer, masters and doctoral diplomas) and a Europe-wide credit system – the ECTS.
VET systems are more diverse and much younger. Composed of mass initial vocational training systems originating from the 19th century, old crafts systems and fast-developing formal and non-formal continuing VET in different forms. All this seconded with a booming non-formal education sector – often left aside in ECVET discussions. Clearly, an initiative leading to a European credit system for VET has a much longer and perhaps more difficult way to go.
Coming back to the distinction between a credit framework and a credit system. I have not found a clear distinction between credit framework and credit system in literature. However such distinction becomes necessary for building a better understanding of lifelong learning policies and tools. The distinction between a qualifications framework and a qualifications system can be of help. The overall picture of these distinctions brings us to the following scheme:
Source: own work.
Summing up. It is my working hypothesis that part of the difficulties with ECVET implementation in Europe comes from a lack of conceptual clarity about what the Recommendation proposes – a credit system or credit framework. A credit framework can support accumulation and transfer between two countries or two institutions, as in mobility projects with ECVET. But credit systems have to operate in a structured learning space - usually organised by qualifications frameworks or education systems (maybe also microcredentials?). Finally, and in line with recent PLA in Scotland, to be a system ECVET needs to be developed in relation to qualifications systems and include also non-IVET parts of the systems.