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Wrapping up the ECER 2017 experience – Part Three: Discussions on common qualification frameworks and credit transfer systems

August 29th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous blogs I have started a series to report on my experiences at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2017) that took place last week in Copenhagen. With my first post I presented a thematic overview (and working agenda) on reports to come. In the second post I gave insights to my own presentation on the role of “Begleitforschung” (Accompanying research) in the Learning Layers project. With this third post I will make remarks on sessions that discussed national/international qualification frameworks and trans-national credit transfer systems. Here I do not try to cover entire sessions (which may have had several themes under a ‘common’ umbrella). Instead, I try to make transparent some red threads that I could follow across similar sessions and presentations.

The rocky road to qualification frameworks … and looking how they work

Before I start my reporting on the contributions to this theme in ECER 2017, I prefer to share some memories of ECER conferences about ten years ago. In ECER 2015 one of the highlights was the contribution of a large consortium of researchers discussing a policy study – the “Maastricht study” on the attainment of the goals of the Lisbon study. This discussion was informative, analytical and critical as well. It raised several themes to be followed. Yet, there was no direct follow-up. Instead, in the next conferences until 2009 major emphasis was given on the making and functioning (?) of the European Qualification Framework (EQF). This discussion was polarised between fundamental critique and interim reports from the EQF-processes. The tensions in these debates were put into concept with the metaphor “The Holy Trinity” referring to three functions that the EQF tries to fulfill without achieving any of them.

In the light of the above presented experiences it was interesting to see, how the discussion on qualification frameworks was brought back – now from a wider international perspective. Stephanie Allais from South Africa had worked in an international study that had analysed the making of national or trans-national qualification frameworks in different global regions. She had been involved in an earlier study and now there was a follow-up phase. Here I cannot go into details of her presentation. My impression was that in many cases making of the framework was characterised by writing existing structures and educational practices into the given format – instead of rethinking and reshaping them. In this respect the frameworks hardly fulfilled the function of policy development or transfer of innovation. Therefore, it was appropriate to discuss, whether the introduction of such frameworks has been mostly useful or useless but harmless or downright counterproductive regarding the development of educational practices.

In another session Stephanie presented a picture on the development of VET in three African countries – South Africa, Ethiopia and Ghana – with an emphasis to highlight the current developments at the level of educational practices. Furthermore, in her presentation Christiane Eberhardt discussed the differences between the German approach to recognition of prior learning v.s. the Australian approach to allow ‘skilled migration’ as precondition for visa.

To package circles into squares with credit transfer instruments … and how to do it in a smart way

Another session, managed by Sandra Bohlinger and her project team, brought into picture the work with credit transfer instruments. The presentations and the underlying two projects focused on healthcare sector – as a particularly interesting field from the perspective of European/international mobility. This was highlighted by the project team and in addition by the European policy expert Torsten Dunkel who reported on recent policy developments.

Here I need to remind us, how the theme ‘credit transfer’ was discussed in VETNET about ten years ago. Whilst the making of qualification frameworks was perceived as a push towards atomisation and fragmentation of holistic VET cultures, the role of credit transfer was perceived in a different light. Obviously, also in that exercise the risk of atomisation was there. But yet, the pioneer projects with the model VQTS tried to substantiate the credit transfer process by analysing work tasks and the development from novice to expert. Here the slogan was ‘putting Dreyfus to work’ (with reference to the well-known work of Dreyfus & Dreyfus).

In the light of this background it was interesting to see, how the newer projects had positioned themselves and what kind of tools (including both pedagogic and digital tools) they were developing. Here I will not try to present the contributions of individual presenters. Instead, it is worthwhile to mention that it took us some time to get an appropriate picture on the (limited) ambitions of the project. There was a risk to interpret their work as preparation for atomistic curricula – instead of tools for light-weight credit transfer procedures. And here, it was easy to get a false impression that the tools would be intended for costly and time-consuming (and commercialised) recognition processes. From this perspective the project team gave us the necessary clarification and we could focus on their real achievements.

– – –

I guess this is enough of these themes. The presentations of ECER 2017 will be published on the Vetnetsite, see the section 2017 Copenhagen Presentations. Background information on the discussion on these themes in the previous ECER conferences is available in my blog articles on the Vetnetsite (see

My journey with the VETNET network – Insights into the evolution of European vocational education and training research: The years of stabilisation of the VETNET community 2001 – 2006 (Part 3)

and

My journey with the VETNET network – Insights into the evolution of European vocational education and training research: The years of consolidation 2007 – 2011 (Part 4).

In my next post I will focus on studies and presentations that discuss vocational teacher education.

More blogs to come …

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