Possibilities for enhancing permeability from VET to HE by using the VQTS model

Karin Luomi-Messerer, 3s research laboratory, Austria luomi-messerer@3s.co.at ECER 2008, Göteborg 10-12 September 2008 Symposium «Innovative Instruments for the Accreditation of Vocational Learning»

1. Introduction
Recognising prior learning in order to enhance permeability between vocational education and training (VET) and higher education (HE) is included in European-wide educational policies and high on the official agenda in many European countries. The introduction of accreditation of prior learning (APL)1 is seen as an attempt a) to create new paths in education and training and, in particular, a more flexible transition between VET and HE, b) to reduce redundancies on the interface between VET and HE and c) to shorten the duration of learning in HE. The following functions or purposes of APL in relation to HE can therefore be identified: _ Access √ entry into a course or a programme is gained through APL; _ Admission √ applicants to a certain study programme are selected based on APL; _ Exemption √ APL allows exemption from parts of the study programme because credits are given for previously acquired learning outcomes seen as equivalent to learning outcomes in the HE study programme and these credits will count towards an academic degree; _ Full equivalence √ in case all achieved learning outcomes are seen as equivalent to the learning outcomes in the HE study programme, APL allows exemption from all parts of the study programme. In the following section some examples of accreditation of vocational learning outcomes in HE in Austria will be presented before introducing an instrument, the VQTS model. The introduction of the VQTS model, a method for transparently describing learning outcomes, will be followed by an outline of how this approach can also be used in the context of APL to enhance permeability from VET to HE. It will be explored how the VQTS model can be applied for _ making the overlapping areas of the competence profiles of VET and HE qualifications visible, _ developing solutions how to overcome problems on the interface between VET and HE, _ establishing new forms of partnerships between VET and (practice oriented) HE providers.

1 For a discussion of the conceptes and definitions of the terms «recognition», «accreditation» etc. see, for example, Vlãsceanu et al. 2004, Cedefop 2004, Adam 2008.
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2. Accreditation of vocational learning outcomes in higher education in Austria √ some examples
In Austria, there are several types of accreditation of prior learning from VET for HE, _ a) access to courses of study at universities of applied sciences without a Matura (upper secondary school leaving exam) but with relevant professional experiences; _ b) individual exemption of single courses or semesters based on certificates from other study courses or on non-formal and informal learning; _ c) generalised (blanket) exemption of semesters for graduates of certain VET colleges.2 a) Access The Austrian Fachhochschulen (universities of applied sciences) have specific admission regulations. Access is possible for persons with «relevant professional experiences», which usually indicates that graduates of secondary technical and vocational schools or apprenticeships with professional experiences have access without a Matura (upper secondary school leaving exam). Generally, they must pass additional examinations (for example, in mathematics, German and English) in the first year of study.3 b) and c) Exemption VET colleges (duration: five years) are classified as ISCED 4A.4 Graduates from VET colleges have a double qualification: Their Matura (upper secondary school leaving exam) provides direct access to HE programmes. In addition, graduates of VET colleges hold a higher professional qualification and have direct access to a number of regulated professions. VET college graduates can start in relevant study programmes in the second or third semester at universities of applied sciences. At universities, they can have their certificates accredited for exemption from examinations. This can be handled individually, but depending on the institutions involved there are also blanket exemptions. The extent of exemptions varies depending on the institutions. Graduates from VET colleges can, for example, start in the second semester in one university of applied sciences but in the third semester in another university of applied sciences. Accreditation is also handled differently in various courses of study, even at the same institution: some courses of study have precise definitions of what can be accredited; in others, accreditations are based on individual agreements.5 Furthermore, accreditation is quite often based on individual agreements and cooperations between institutions. Important prerequisites for transferability of learning outcomes and the enhancement of permeability between VET and HE and lifelong learning include the transparency of qualifications; i.e. easily readable education and training descriptions and
2 See also Humpl & Nindl 2008. 3 Several universities of applied sciences offer preparation courses for apprentices or persons in foreperson courses specifically designed to provide access to study programmes in these institutions √ e.g. see FH Oberösterreich (Land Oberösterreich 2007), FH Campus Wien 2008. 4 Statistik Austria (2008) 5 At the University of Applied Sciences FH Joanneum such definitions are available for the study programme ≈electronics & technology management∆ but not for any other study programme. Cf. FH Joanneum (2008).
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comparable degree programmes. In order to implement APL, one must be able to identify how learning outcomes of prior learning correspond to the required learning outcomes of a study programme in HE. The VQTS model, which will be presented in the following section, can be seen as an instrument or method for transparent descriptions of learning outcomes.

3. VQTS model
3.1 Introduction of the VQTS model
The VQTS model was developed in the Leonardo da Vinci project VQTS (Vocational Qualification Transfer System √ 2003-2006).6 A learning outcomes approach is used to enhance transparency, comparability and transferability between training programmes. The VQTS model describes competences and their development based on empirical investigations of work-related competences within a specific occupational field. This approach assumes that comparing core work tasks or work requirements in a certain field in different countries is easier than comparing certificates or curricula of VET programmes from specific national systems. Furthermore, it is assumed that the development of vocational competences can be described without referring to VET systems but instead by using a competence development model related to a certain sector. The VQTS model therefore provides a «common language» to describe competences and their acquisition and also offers a way to relate these competence descriptions to the competences acquired in national-level training programmes. On the one hand, the VQTS model focuses on competences related to the work process and identifies the core work tasks within the context of the particular occupational field. On the other hand, the VQTS model follows a «development logical» differentiation of a competence profile (known as a competence development or acquisition model) and thus can also describe the acquisition of competences. One of the core elements of the VQTS model is the Competence Matrix. The Competence Matrix structurally displays competences of a specific occupational field in a table. A pilot Competence Matrix is available for the field of «Mechatronics» (but the VQTS model can also be used for describing and comparing competences in other fields7). This «Mechatronics» Competence Matrix was developed to describe competences related to VET programmes on the upper secondary level.

6 Luomi-Messerer & Markowitsch 2006; Markowitsch et al. 2006; Becker, M. et al. 2007; Markowitsch et al. 2008. More information about the VQTS model is available at the website: http://www.VocationalQualification.net 7 For example, in the field of bakery: The EU project «SME Master» provides a learning outcome oriented description of the master craftsperson qualification in the baker»s trade. It records the entire range of knowledge, skills and competences that a trainee has acquired upon completion of his or her training as a master baker. The SME Master method is described in the SME-Master-Manual and is partly based on the VQTS model. The manual is available at the project website: http://www.sme-master.eu/.
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Figure 1

Part of the Competence Matrix available for the field of «Mechatronics»

Source: VQTS – www.VocationalQualification.net

The left column of the table contains competence areas, based on the various core work tasks in the respective occupational field. For example, the following competence areas are included in the «Mechatronics» Competence Matrix: _ Maintaining and assuring the reliability of mechatronic systems; _ Installing and dismantling mechatronic systems and facilities; _ Installing and adjusting mechatronic components in systems and production lines; _ Designing, adapting, and building mechatronic systems and facilities on the basis of client needs and site plans; _ Putting mechatronic systems into operation and providing clients with technical and economic support; _ Supervising and evaluating both the process sequences of mechatronic systems and facilities and the operational sequence (including quality assurance), etc. The core work tasks have to be derived empirically using methods that include company surveys, expert interviews, work-related comparison of existing qualification profiles and moderated workshops with experts from the respective occupational field. Based on these results, core work tasks and work processes can be defined and structured as competence areas. One competence area therefore comprises various forms of competences necessary for completing core work tasks in a certain occupational field. Depending on the complexity, range of activities or job opportunities within a certain occupation, a varying number of competence areas are defined. The VQTS project assumed that 5 to 25 competence areas could be defined per occupational field. The pilot Competence Matrix «Mechatronics» comprises nine competence areas. The list of competence areas described in the left column merely serves as a rough overview. It does not show the acquirable or actual competencies available to a person in training. Therefore, steps of the competence development area are described in the rows. For each competence area, the acquisition of each competence √ the progress of competence development from «beginner» level to the «skilled worker» level √ must be described. For example, the steps of competence development for the competence area «Installing and dismantling mechatronic systems and facilities» include the following:

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_ Step 1: He/She can use written instructions to install and dismantle individual

components (sensors, actuators, drives, motors, transport systems, racks) that form a functional group of mechatronic systems. _ Step 2: He/She can master the installation and dismantling of mechatronic systems that use several technologies (mechanics, hydraulics, pneumatics, electricalmechanics, electronics), set up the connexion technology, and check the efficiency of the overall system. _ Step 3: He/She can provide independent mechatronic solutions for the construction of production lines, assure their overall ability to function, and, in addition, can use both existing and modified standard components. The nature of the competence area determines how many steps of the competence development process can be described. In the VQTS project it was assumed that differentiations could be made between two and six steps (for example, in one competence area three steps may be sensible, whereas in another, five steps may be better). Consequently, the steps of competence development for one competence area do not necessarily correspond to the steps for any other area (for example, Step 3 in a competence area with three steps does not necessarily express the same level of achievement as Step 3 in a competence area with five steps). The description of the competences in the Competence Matrix should give a clear picture of how they can be applied in the work context. Therefore, the competences on the various steps of competence development are described in a context-related manner. «The competences are consistently formulated in relation to the work process and always align with the core work tasks within the context of the occupational field. Core work tasks are comprehensive tasks within the work context that a person with the respective occupational profile has to deal with. This means that work process-related competences are derived empirically from the work practice/work place» (Luomi-Messerer & Markowitsch 2006, 17). The descriptions are related to actions that can be carried out or problems that can be solved and therefore use the phrases «can do» or «is able to». To clarify the work activities, the descriptions include work-related categories as context characteristics, for example, objects (contents or processes), tools, methods, organisations or requirements of skilled work. Moreover, examples are included that provide necessary information to characterise the work context and the different competence levels. The descriptions of various steps must clearly express the differences between one step of competence development and the following step. Whenever reasonable, certain dimensions are included as reference points for the description of the competence development and thus enable the differentiation between steps. For example, these dimensions refer to the degree of independence, the assessment of the complexity of a task or the dynamics of a situation. These dimensions must always be expressed in relation to core work tasks, because holistic descriptions are required for the differentiation of competences according to the level of achievement. Descriptions of the steps of the competence development in the Competence Matrix are also developed in moderated workshops with experts from the respective occupational field. In the VQTS project, experts from the field of work as well as experts from the field of education were successfully involved in the task of developing descriptions. This cooperation can be seen as a further attempt to bridge
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the terminological and ideological gap between the world of education and the world of work. In order to facilitate transparency and mutual trust, a learning outcomes approach for the description of qualifications is used which is not solely linked to a certain national context or educational system. To ensure that the focus stays on the outcomes and not on the input or on one national system alone, experts from different countries must be involved in the necessary integration of different perspectives and expertise as was the case in the VQTS project. The Competence Matrix can, for example, be used for developing training programmes based on learning outcomes or to make visible the learning outcomes of a certain training programme. This is done by developing Competence Profiles. Competence Profiles are formed from individual parts of the Competence Matrix and generally only cover a limited spectrum of the competences described in the Competence Matrix. In order to form a training programme»s Competence Profile, i.e. the steps of competence development available for a person in training, the relevant competences must be identified by indicating the steps of competence development on the Competence Matrix. In the VQTS model, this is the «Organisational Profile». Furthermore, «Individual Profiles» can be formed reflecting the competences acquired so far (at a certain point in the training) by a person in training. The following graph (Figure 2) shows Competence Profiles by using the pilot Competence Matrix «Mechatronics»: _ The fields shaded in yellow and orange show an «Organisational Profile» _ The field shaded in orange shows an «Individual Profile».

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Figure 2

Competence Profiles based on the Competence Matrix «Mechatronics»

Source: VQTS – www.VocationalQualification.net

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3.2 VQTS model and recognition of prior learning in HE
The VQTS project originally intended to develop a systematic procedure for transferring competences that can be used to enhance a person»s mobility: to compare Competence Profiles from VET programmes of different countries and to identify similarities and differences. To prepare mobility procedures, the Competence Profile of a person in training (showing the steps of competences reached by the person in training) should be sent to the training provider in the host country. This should allow them to determine which competences can be built upon, or for which areas or work tasks the person is suited and should also ensure that the apprentice or student is neither under- nor over-challenged during his or her learning period abroad. The competences acquired abroad can be transferred back to the home country because equivalence has been determined previously. In order to achieve this, the differentiation of steps of the competence development is a crucial issue in designing a Competence Matrix: The difference between one step and the next must be clearly described. To determine more easily whether a specific step has been reached, the scope of a step should not be too extensive. The descriptions must provide a clear and comprehensible picture of the competence development process, but they should not be too detailed. Excessively detailed descriptions would endanger the broader usefulness of the instrument. The VQTS model and, in particular, the description of competences in relation to the work context can support understanding between the world of education and the world of work. Hence, the approach developed can be used not only for the transfer of competences acquired internationally, but also for other purposes where the transparency of competence profiles is highly important. Competence profiles (in addition to other documents) can, for example, provide important information about knowledge, skills and competences acquired by graduates of VET schools or colleges for future employers or personnel managers. This is of particular importance in those cases when curricula are rather focussing on input criteria and not much information about learning outcomes is included. The transparency of competence profiles is also highly important on the interface between VET and HE. We assume that the VQTS model can also be used for making visible the overlapping areas of the competence profiles of VET and HE qualifications. This is the focus of the follow-up project VQTS II8, which started at the end of 2007 and is funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme. The follow-up project will further elaborate and develop the VQTS model for enhancing permeability and progression between VET and HE. For this purpose, a Competence Matrix will be created based on the principles developed in the VQTS project but with a broader scope. In the Competence Matrix presented in Figure 1 and in the first VQTS project, the focus was on the skilled worker level and on VET programmes from secondary level education. A Competence Matrix useful in recognising prior learning in HE should make visible at least some parts of Competence Profiles of HE programmes and therefore must include some
8 For further information see www.VocationalQualification.net.
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steps of competence development relevant for HE. All competence areas and steps of the competence development do not necessarily need to be included in Competence Profiles because, in this context, the only relevant areas are those that overlap between outcomes of prior learning and learning outcomes in HE. The Competence Matrix development should include expert opinion from the world of work, from VET and from HE. An important question will also be the «granularity», i.e., the degree of detail and precision of the steps of the competence development. In order to enable the use of the VQTS model for APL, one should ensure that the scope of the single steps of the competence development is not too broad. One single step should not be too «high» because this would make it difficult to identify equivalence between learning outcomes of VET and HE programmes. Competence Profiles can be formed using procedures similar to that described above. Depending on the APL approach, the Competence Profiles can show either the relevant competence areas and steps of competence development of a VET programme (recognition of certificated learning outcomes) or an individual»s competencies gained in non-formal and informal learning environments (non-certificated learning gained from experience usually unrelated to an academic context, for example, workplace learning, life experience, and family and voluntary work). After identifying the relevant steps of competence development of the study programme in HE, the overlapping areas and thus equivalence can be identified. To visualise the process of forming Competence Profiles of a VET programme and of a HE programme in order to identify equivalence, the «key-lock-principle» could be used as a metaphor: A key has to be shaped to fit perfectly into the cylinder of the lock. If the key does not fit the shape or if the lock has to be changed, something has to be added or removed. When making VET and HE programmes more adaptable, this would mean that they should be refined to be more compatible. In other cases this could mean, for example, that a graduate of a VET programme would have to gain additional learning outcomes in order to fulfil the entrance requirement of the HE programme («something is missing and has to be added»). Or, in another example, he or she would get credits for previously acquired learning outcomes (the acquisition of the learning outcomes will be «removed» from the HE programme). The results of this process can not only be used to recognise learning outcomes on an individual basis but also to promote sustainable advancement from VET to HE by establishing new partnerships between VET and HE providers. Examples would include: _ a joint definition of Competence Profiles for the admission into training programmes/courses at HE, _ tuning or adapting training programmes/curricula in VET and HE to be more compatible, _ coming to an agreement about the possibility of giving credits for already acquired learning outcomes that will count towards an HE award.

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4. References
Adam, S. (2008): «Why is the recognition of prior experiential learning important and what are the national and institutional implications of this for lifelong learning?» In: New challenges in recognition: Council of Europe higher education series No. 10 Pp. 27√48 Becker, M., Luomi-Messerer, K., Markowitsch, J., Spöttl, G. (2007): Berufliche Kompetenzen sichtbar machen √ Arbeitsprozessbezogene Beschreibung von Kompetenzentwicklungen als Beitrag zur ECVET Problematik. In: Berufsbildung in Wissenschaft und Praxis 03/2007. Cedefop (2004): Terminology of vocational training policy. A multilingual glossary for an enlarged Europe. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Available at: http://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/img/dynamic/c313/cv1_en_US_glossary_4030_6k.pdf Accessed on 2 May 2008. FH Campus Wien (2008): Elektronik √ Bewerbung. Online: http://www.fhcampuswien.ac.at/studium/technik_und_management/bachelor/angewandte_elektroni k/bewerbung/ (05.06.2008) Humpl, S. & Nindl, S. (2008): Perspektiven von der Schnittstelle zur Nahtstelle: Rahmenbedingungen für die Überwindung systemischer Grenzen im berufsbildenden Ausbildungssektor. Paper presented at the ≈1. Österreichische Konferenz für Berufsbildungsforschung∆, 3.-4.7.2008 in Steyr. Land Oberösterreich (2007): OÖ bundesweit Vorreiter mit neuem Ausbildungsmodell: Von der Lehre über die Werkmeisterschule zum FachhochschulStudium. Online: http://www.ooe.gv.at/cps/rde/xbcr/SID-3DCFCFC398901839/ooe/PK_Sigl_Fachhochschule_22.5.2007_Internet.pdf (05.06.2008) Luomi-Messerer, K. & Markowitsch, J. (Eds., 2006):VQTS model. A proposal for a structured description of work-related competences and their acquisition. Vienna: 3s research laboratory. Markowitsch, J., Becker, M., Spöttl, G. (2006): Zur Problematik eines European Credit Transfer System in Vocational Education and Training (ECVET). In: Grollmann, P., Spöttl, G. Rauner, F. (Eds.): Europäisierung Beruflicher Bildung √ eine Gestaltungsaufgabe. Hamburg: LIT Verlag. Pp. 173√197. Markowitsch, J., Luomi-Messerer, K., Becker, M., Spöttl, G.(2008): Putting Dreyfus into Action. How to solve the core problem of the European Credit Transfer System in Vocational Education and Training (ECVET). Journal of European Industrial Training. Volume 32, Number 2/3 Pp. 171√186. Statistik Austria (2008): Bildungsklassifikation International Standard Classification of Education √ ISCED 1997. Online: http://www.statistik.at/web_de/klassifikationen/klassifikationsdatenbank/weitere_klas sifikationen/bildungsklassifikation/index.html (04.06.2008)
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Vlãsceanu, L., Grünberg, L., Pârlea, D. (2004) Quality Assurance and Accreditation: A Glossary of Basic Terms and Definitions (Bucharest, UNESCO-CEPES) Papers on Higher Education. Online: http://www.cepes.ro/publications/Default.htm Accessed on 2 May 2008.

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