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Recognition of prior learning by competences' validation in selected European countries.

1. Background and Resources

Lifelong learning is an important, although problematic, concept. Definitions of lifelong learning have varied considerably since the term first emerged in policy discourse several decades ago. At various times it has been used to refer to adult education, continuing education (i.e. any non-formal education occurring after completion of formal education), and most recently, as an all-encompassing phrase referring to all learning that occurs throughout an individual's lifetime (i.e. formal, non-formal and informal). Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the term is still used in these varying ways depending on the relevant context. For the purposes of this report, lifelong learning will be used as defined in the CEDEFOP European Training Thesaurus. For the purpose of ensuring consistency of terminology, we refer to the CEDEFOP European Training Thesaurus (Cedefop, 2007) to define several key concepts relating to current discourse on recognition of prior learning. Underlying the importance of lifelong learning in the changing world, there is a common effort to improve accessibility, quality and efficiency of lifelong learning, at European level. This come along with challenges and opportunities associated with changing labor markets and rapid technological progress. On the other hand, there is an explosion in the availability of a diverse range of formal and non-formal learning opportunities. This has resulted in increased interest in formal methods for recognizing and documenting prior learning to ensure that employers, workers and trainers and instructors are able to accurately assess individuals' qualifications, skills and knowledge. Furthermore, awareness of the importance of informal learning has grown.

In this respect, we are running now the Leonardo da Vinci Transfer of Innovation project, "The Value of Work for Individual Position on Labor Market" (VOW+IPLM) (2013-2015) aims to improve the quality of validation of competence assessment process in Romania. It is coordinated by National Scientific Research Institute for Labor and Social Protection from Romania and involves partners from six different countries: Romania, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Poland and Iceland. The project transfers the results from a previous project "The Value of Work" (VOW), developed by a consortium coordinated by "FRAE-Education and Training Service Centre," an organization from Iceland. The projects work is to collect a series of best practices on recognition and validation of the competences acquired in formal/in-formal ways at the work place, to transfer and adapt the innovative model of competence recognition, developed in the previous project VOW, creating an innovative evaluation platform, that will help the employees, and not only to consolidate their career through lifelong learning.

2. Objective and Method

The purpose of this article is to make known the overview of the current state of development of initiatives aimed at increasing opportunities for recognition of prior learning (RPL) in VOW-IPLM partners' countries, revealing the similarities and differences between countries. The documentary resources for this report include the individual country reports submitted by each of the project partners namely: Romania, Iceland, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Turkey. The main analyzed items are: legislative and regulative frameworks, qualifications and competency standards, about validating authorities, types of learning that can be accredited.

3. Systems of Competence Validation

Romania. Romanian authorities have developed their legislative and regulatory frameworks for RPL in line with developments at the European level and existing frameworks are mostly consistent with current European policy. Consequently, there is a good level of consistency in their approach in that institutional capacity has been developed in tandem with the frameworks. Both non-formal and informal learning should be validated.

A comprehensive system of qualifications frameworks and occupational and competence standards have been developed to support RPL. These describe educational levels, skills associated with specific occupations and general and occupation-specific competences. Standards are developed by public authorities at the national level.

Romania has taken a very rigorous approach to authorizing validating authorities to ensure quality and capacity. Validating authorities must be certified by the National Authorities for Qualifications after proving that they meet the rigorous standards outlined in the current legislative and regulative framework.

In Romania, there is a good framework at legislative, institutional, methodological level for validation of competences, respecting the European Principles and Guidelines. Also, some projects were implemented with good results among which we can find example of Best Practices. However, there are not clear evidences that these activities are in strong correlation with the stakeholders needs or have impact on labor market, while not very many workers/individuals applied for competence validation so far.

Iceland. Recognition of prior learning has been a priority for employer and employee organization for the past 10 years. Legislation passed in 2008 and 2010 mandates that individuals have opportunities to have prior learning accredited. Furthermore, accredited prior learning must be recognized in the formal educational system. Credits awarded through RPL can be applied to both vocational education and training and upper-secondary academic courses of study.

How prior learning is assessed depends on the context of the assessment. Where certified trades are involved, qualifications are assessed against occupational standards published by the "Occupational Councils." Where traditional formal education is involved, qualifications are certified against the National Curriculum Guidelines, the most current of which are formulated around outcomes-based learning. Where the purpose of the assessment is purely related to professional advancement, qualifications are assessed against occupational profiles. The formalization of occupational profiles other than those covered by the Occupational Councils is a fairly recent development.

Any organization that meets the requirements set out in the legislation on upper-secondary and adult education is a valid authority. This includes all public upper-secondary schools, both academic and vocational, recognized private upper-secondary schools, and all learning providers that have been certified according to the requirements as described in the legislation on adult learning.

Credits awarded as a result of RPL are equivalent to credits awarded by formal educational institutions. Individuals' credits are entered into the national database used by all upper-secondary schools to maintain student records and can be applied to current or future studies in the formal system. Formal educational institutions are required to recognize credits awarded as a result of RPL. The same applies to RPL in the VET system.

Germany. Germany presents a particularly complicated case due to the complexity of its educational system and the relationship between the Lander and the federal government in regards to legislation. Because of the way that competences concerning education and qualifications are distributed among political levels there is currently no comprehensive national legislative framework governing RPL. Despite the lack of a comprehensive legislative framework, there are various sectoral initiatives that provide some acknowledgement of prior learning. Germany has a long history of maintaining detailed descriptions of various professions, in particular those related to certified crafts and trades. These "occupational profiles" are constantly maintained and updated to reflect current occupations and the skills and knowledge required for them.

In the case of higher education, the universities are the sole validating authorities; in the case of VET, the "competent authorities" include Chambers of Crafts, Chambers of industry and commerce and Chambers of farming. Various initiatives involved in RPL recognize their own validating authorities and oversee their training.

What type of learning is recognized depends on the context in which the RPL takes place. Non-formal learning is assessed in most existing systems and ongoing initiatives. Informal learning may be assessed under certain conditions (for ex. an individual taking the External students' examination must prove that they have been employed in the relevant occupation--or one related to it--for a period of no less than one and a half times the duration of the formal training required for that profession).

Poland. There is currently no legislative or regulatory framework regarding RPL in Poland. There is growing awareness of the need to provide opportunities for individuals to have their prior learning accredited and documented. Authorities have outlined their strategy to address this need and are working with various stakeholders to develop initiatives in line with current EU policy. Poland's existing qualifications framework is very thorough in terms of the professions that it describes. However, skills and professions are linked only to formal education and cannot be effectively mapped to non-formal and informal learning on the basis of existing standards. The development of a new qualifications framework is underway. The new qualifications framework will be oriented toward learning outcomes, as is the trend throughout Europe, and will be more flexible in regards to non-formal and informal learning.

Current accreditation systems in Poland are only intended for validation of formal learning. Although prior experience is widely recognized and valued, there is no formal system for recognition of learning acquired outside of the formal educational system.

Spain. The authorities have now institutionalized most important aspects of RPL and made the process available to the public. However, in the Spanish experience we see a trend similar to other countries where the development of RPL has been primarily top-down with little involvement on the part of the social partners aside from isolated projects; there is a framework in place but use is very limited.

A comprehensive qualifications framework and competence standard has been developed to support RPL. It is modular constructed and allows for partial validation of competences against a nationally recognized standard.

Validating authorities operate at the regional level but are coordinated at the national level. This allows regions to tailor efforts to specific labor market needs to some extent. This has, however, also hindered uptake of RPL by directing efforts toward limited professional categories.

Prior learning is assessed against a national standard. Full qualifications are documented in diplomas and certificates equivalent to those awarded through formal education.

Turkey. Legislation relating to the RPL has existed in Turkey for almost two decades, but there are limitations regarding access to formal education provisions on the basis of accredited prior learning. Current frameworks are in progress and much remains to be done. The road forward looks very promising. Turkish authorities are working very closely with key stakeholders to develop legislative and regulatory frameworks, develop infrastructure and to raise general awareness of the importance of lifelong learning. Turkey's aim is to develop a comprehensive system for RPL that includes well-defined standards to facilitate validation of prior learning. Qualifications and competency standards are currently being developed with that aim in mind.

No system of validation has yet been implemented. Non-formal learning is already accepted in some contexts. Frameworks and standards currently under development are expected to provide for the validation of both non-formal and informal learning.

4. Final Remarks

The selected countries represent a very diverse range of approaches to RPL. In all of these we see a range of strengths and challenges. Because of the variation of RPL support infrastructure in each country, the innovativeness of individual pilot projects can only be assessed on the basis of the context in which those projects are implemented. Experiences in Iceland and Romania suggest that a comprehensive legislative and regulatory framework that provides a clear mandate for the recognition of prior learning, defines the roles of relevant actors and outlines procedural requirements is an important precondition for a systematic approach to RPL. It could be argued that less legislation and regulation provide a level of flexibility that allows for diverse approaches to meet a variety of needs. The stakeholder involvement is critical to the success of RPL initiatives. Important stakeholders include employing organizations and individual employers, unions, regulatory bodies for crafts and trades, educational institutions (formal and non-formal) and authorities (local, regional and national).


Cedefop (2007), The European Training Thesaurus, Retrieved from http://lib server. cedefop. europa. eu/ ett/en/

Cedefop (2010), European Inventory on Validation of Non-Formal and Informal Learning. Thessaloniki, Retrieved from about-cedefop/projects/validation-of-non-formal-and-informal-learning/european-inventory-scope.aspx

Cedefop (2014), At the Interface of Learning for Employability, Retrieved from Country Reports on innovative validation processes


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Author:Velciu, Magdalena
Publication:Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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