The European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) is an initiative of the European Union, which aims to help citizens of European countries to acquire and compare professional qualifications (certificates, diplomas) more easily, and thus support job mobility and lifelong learning.
Establishing ECVET and the basis for its current use
ECVET was established by the Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 June 2009. It was one of the European Union’s responses to the need to adapt the competences of Europeans to the needs of employers (e.g. by increasing the adequacy of vocational education and training to the conditions on the labor market) .
Over the ten years of implementation, ECVET has made a significant contribution to improving the quality of experiences in the context of learning and job mobility by using and documenting units of learning outcomes. However, the concept of ECVET points was not broadly applied and the whole initiative did not lead to the development of a European credit transfer system for VET. At the same time, the ECVET Recommendation influenced the concepts of development of vocational education systems in a broad sense – units and learning outcomes were used not only in initial vocational education, but also in lifelong learning, higher education, and were also used to increase the visibility of informal outcomes Learning.
It can therefore be said that the key principles of ECVET related to flexibility (e.g. units of learning outcomes) have proved to be useful in a wide range. ECVET tools to support the mobility of learners in VET (eg learning agreement and partnership agreement) are also widely used. These solutions will be further developed on the basis of other EU instruments, such as, for example, instruments supported under the Erasmus + program. For post-secondary and tertiary vocational qualifications, it is possible to apply the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), which is already in use. On the other hand, the ECVET Recommendation itself has been replaced by the Council Recommendation of 24 November 2020 on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social justice and resilience.
Elements of ECVET
ECVET is a set of elements (principles, concepts, tools) that can be divided into three groups, relating to: the structure of the description of qualifications (learning outcomes and grouping them into sets / units), solutions enabling the accumulation and transfer of achievements and the promotion of foreign mobility ( cooperation networks, documentation).
Accumulation and transfer of achievements
For ECVET, the key concepts are achievement, credit accumulation and transfer. What do they mean in practice?
Achievements are broadly speaking, acquired knowledge, skills and social competences (collectively referred to as learning outcomes) that have been checked and documented (or digitally), such as a certificate, certificate or diploma. The ECVET logic is based on thinking about learning through the prism of achievement – accumulation and recognition.
Credit accumulation is the accumulation of learning outcomes (defined for a set / unit of learning outcomes or qualifications) for which an individual has obtained a validation process. The accumulation of learning outcomes is phased and may lead to the acquisition of a specific qualification.
Credit transfer is the fact that learning outcomes previously confirmed by other entities through validation can be considered by the entity awarding the qualification (or unit of learning outcomes) as components of the requirements for a given qualification. This means that the institution issuing the certificate honors such achievements that were previously subjected to a process of verification (evaluation) by another entity. In this way, the ECVET system allows avoiding the repetition of part of the education programs and eliminates the need to re-confirm once achieved and confirmed learning outcomes.
ECVET fields of application
ECVET is currently a set of rules – a concept whose assumptions are applied in various areas. This is also the case in Poland, where its status is not regulated by law. ECVET in Poland is not usually mentioned by name (with the exception of learning mobility projects), but its elements and principles are applied in several areas:
1. Learning mobility projects
2. Vocational training within the education system
3. Market qualifications operating within the Integrated Qualifications System
4. Higher education
It should be noted that in higher education, ECVET is used the least frequently – so far in two types. The first of these are projects implemented at state higher vocational schools – where ECVET is used to integrate apprenticeships with study programs and to award additional qualifications. The second case is postgraduate studies, which were described on the basis of principles consistent with ECVET – qualifications awarded after graduation have been included in the IQS – so far there have been several of them (in this case without referring directly to ECVET).
ECVET in learning mobility
The most common area of using ECVET is learning mobility projects in the form of foreign internships and internships. ECVET principles and tools support the planning and organization of learning mobility by partner institutions, and are also intended to support learners in using learning outcomes obtained abroad for further education or professional development. The information on this page is mostly aimed at people planning or implementing learning mobility projects with ECVET: international project coordinators in educational institutions and vocational training specialists – trainers, instructors, teachers and methodologists, as well as other people who will be involved in project implementation and cooperation with foreign partners.
The application of ECVET is based on planning learning mobility in terms of broadly understood skills and competences that participants acquire as a result of mobility. ECVET tools help to plan what skills and competences are to be in an orderly manner – they are saved as the so-called “Learning outcomes”. A traineeship or apprenticeship program is then planned around the goals thus formulated, as well as methods of documenting, verifying and recognizing the learning outcomes achieved. Individual elements of knowledge, skills and social competences usually combine in various ways and interpenetrate each other – the ECVET system provides for combining them into coherent sets – units of learning outcomes. Specific methods of documenting and confirming (e.g. observation, examination, test, work preparation, etc.) are also planned for individual outcomes or units of learning outcomes – this way, the basis for issuing additional documents confirming the acquired skills is built. It is common practice in mobility projects to issue additional certificates and the Europass mobility certificate is mandatory. These documents stay with the mobility participants forever – the technical language of ECVET refers to ‘accumulation of achievements’. They can use them in the future to better present their experiences in the context of educational and professional development (e.g. by gaining new qualifications, applying for a job).
Cooperation between entities from different countries, differing in language and culture, and the need to organize a number of organizational, technical, personal and substantive issues, make the documents – a Memorandum of Understanding and an agreement about the Learning Agreement.
ECVET in vocational education in the education system
In Polish vocational education as part of the education system, the principles of ECVET are applied in solutions that support the accumulation and transfer of achievements (Dębowski, Stęchły 2015; IBE 2012). One of them is the very structure of qualifications – there are full qualifications in the education system (diplomas corresponding to professions, e.g. IT technician), which consist of partial qualifications (certificates / certificates corresponding to qualifications distinguished in the professions, e.g. network operating systems and computer networks administration ). This approach facilitates the phased, and thus – flexible obtaining of full qualifications or obtaining only those partial qualifications that we need at a given moment. In addition, partial qualifications consist of sets of learning outcomes.
Another solution that favors the accumulation and transfer of credit is the use of several sets of learning outcomes common to many qualifications. Until recently, these units were identical (see the core curriculum for vocational education from 2012), but in 2019 there were changes that diversified (although they retained a comparable structure).
Another solution combining vocational education with ECVET objectives is assigning qualifications – both full and partial – to the Polish Qualifications Framework (PQF) level (IBE 2020; IBE 2018), although the PQF levels themselves are not part of ECVET.
ECVET in the market qualification in the IQS
The Integrated Qualifications System – established in Poland under the IQS Act of December 2015 – aims, firstly, to integrate qualifications operating in the country and to ensure the quality of qualifications acquired outside the education and higher education system, and secondly, to increase the credibility of qualifications obtained in Poland on the European labor market. With the establishment of the IQS, the possibility of creating and awarding new qualifications, the so-called market qualifications. Qualifications are made up of sets of learning outcomes, each set has a title, an assigned PQF level and a specific indicative workload needed to obtain a given qualification. It is possible to define requirements for validation of individual sets of learning outcomes, which enables their independent and phased acquisition – this in turn affects the flexibility of the learning process.
All market qualifications reported to the IQS are developed by entities interested in improving employees’ competences in a given area. These include associations, foundations, training companies and businesses. The reported qualifications vary in many respects: target groups, scope and complexity of the required learning outcomes, or the amount of time needed to acquire them.
ECVET is part of a wider spectrum of EU policies that support social development and opportunities for self-fulfillment by citizens of the Member States
Policy for lifelong learning and professional mobility of citizens is one of the most important areas in the European Union’s development strategy. The Member States’ strong emphasis on these areas results from changes in the European labor market and the growing problem of unemployment. Rapid technological development and competition from developing countries require increasingly higher competences of employees, as well as constant care for the topicality of these competences. One of the most important socio-economic challenges facing Europe in the coming decades is the process of population aging. In the near future, older people will constitute a significantly larger proportion of the workforce than it is today. This will intensify the problems related to the adaptation to the needs of the labor market of a large number of adults, whose competences acquired during school education have become outdated. The dissemination and growing importance of lifelong learning is therefore an urgent need. To this end, the European Union has developed a number of instruments to support the implementation of the policy for mobility and lifelong learning, which, apart from the ECVET system, include in particular:
»European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) applied in the field of higher education;
»A portfolio of Europass documents that record learners’ qualifications and the learning outcomes achieved;
»European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF), to which the national qualifications framework created by individual Member States relates;
»European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Education and Training (EQAVET);
»Recommendation on the validation of learning outcomes achieved through non-formal education and informal learning.
What’s next for ECVET?
The Council Recommendation of 24 November 2020 on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social justice and resilience has replaced the ECVET and EQAVET Recommendations.
ECVET principles will continue to function in the educational space. As for the use of the term ECVET itself and further attempts to create a European credit system – one can only speculate that they will probably not continue, or at least the approach will be changed.
The vision of creating a European system of achievements in vocational training has been faced with several objective difficulties that are not wholly insurmountable, and yet no effective recipe has been found to solve them. It is worth mentioning here that the vision of the European achievement system in vocational education and training was inspired by the functioning of the ECTS system in the European Higher Education Area – an area characterized by a much greater coherence and tradition of international cooperation. Because the obstacles to the development of ECVET in Europe are mainly:
– The diversity of vocational education and qualification systems in European countries. These systems are usually linked by similar nomenclature of professions, but they differ in everything else – the structures of schools and qualifications, participation of education in the workplace, competency profiles of qualification holders (only one dimension of differentiation is the distinction between ‘narrow specialization’ and ‘broad profile’), examinations, the scope of general education accompanying vocational education, as well as the value of vocational education in a given labor market and in society, for example expressed in the level of earnings or social prestige.
– Difficulty in comparing learning outcomes and therefore in determining the adequacy of achievements. The ways of describing qualifications and formulating learning outcomes adopted in individual countries differ significantly. Apart from linguistic differences, the level of generality of descriptions and the scope of the indicated aspects also differ (e.g. to what extent they focus on the description of professional tasks, to what extent they describe the necessary knowledge).
– Lack of strong traditions of cooperation between vocational training institutions between countries.
Nevertheless, the above-mentioned Council Recommendation of November 2020 announced the continuation of activities in the field of learning mobility and international cooperation in the spirit of ECVET, perhaps in the coming years this cooperation will bring new ideas for building a credit transfer system.
Perhaps they will be closely related to building a European approach to micro-credentials (covering various forms of skills credentials – from small qualifications, through achievements corresponding to sets of learning outcomes, to very small ones, such as digital badges).