Convergence under the Bologna process and the impact on professional recognition
The Bologna process has had a significant impact on higher education systems across Europe – but this impact has been uneven with regard to professional recognition. Its overall impact to date on the recognition of professional qualifications relates to improved comparability of qualifications. This was reported by a third of competent authorities. Yet there has been little substantive impact as a result on the time it takes to recognise qualifications. Four out five competent authorities reported that the time required for the recognition procedure has remained constant over the last 2 or 3 years.
Impact of the Bologna degree cycle structure on professional recognition
The Bologna cycles support transparency by exposing fundamental differences in the structure and level of training. However, only 20% of competent authorities think that the Bologna cycles have made the recognition process quicker or easier.
Impact of ECTS on professional recognition
The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) has greater potential to support improved recognition of qualifications. From a competent authority perspective, the more detailed information contained in the Diploma Supplement and ECTS transcripts more practically supports the recognition procedure by providing a consistent and comparable overview of subject content. However, the use of ECTS in applications for recognition remains relatively uncommon.
The approach to introducing credit systems, with significant autonomy for higher education institutions, has led to difficulties in developing a uniform approach at national level. Significant differences remain across countries (and within countries) in the approach to credit allocation. These differences relate to whether the calculation is based on workload as opposed to just teaching/contact hours, and whether a concern for competent authorities than consistency in the definition of credit itself (i.e. what is included). Around half of interviewees for the case studies were satisfied with the notion of ECTS being allocated according to the student workload (and not only according to teaching hours), but a core of competent authorities remain uncomfortable with this approach.
Impact of learning outcomes on professional recognition
At present, competent authorities have relatively little experience in using learning outcomes as part of the recognition process. Learning outcomes are the least well-known element of the Bologna reforms among recognition professionals. Very few competent authorities (13%) among those interviewed for the case studies believed that the introduction of learning outcomes has made the recognition of professional qualifications easier or quicker. This is explained not only by the rareness of its inclusion in applications, but also by the tendency for learning outcomes to be presented in generalised terms (i.e. they can lack sufficient detail to support the recognition decision) and a perceived disjuncture with the current input-based Directive 2005/36/EC requirements. However, there is an expectation that this will change over time given the ongoing development and implementation of national qualifications frameworks and the learning outcomes approach in general.
Future impact of the Bologna reforms on professional recognition
The main barrier to the Bologna process supporting recognition relates to a lack of full and consistent implementation of the reforms. While the Bologna process aids student mobility, the reforms are complex and not yet fully embedded to the point of having a significant impact on professional recognition. There is also the prospect that the Bologna reforms lead to the development of new, more flexible approaches to higher-level learning (within the context of lifelong learning). This may pose additional challenges in the future to competent authorities which are used in most cases to applying recognition on the basis of traditional models of initial professional training as the culmination of an individual’s formal education at a young age.
In terms of the role the Internal Market and its policies might play in supporting the Bologna process to impact on professional recognition, there were a number of references to supporting common platforms (or something similar) as a means of harnessing the common approaches to qualifications supported by the Bologna reforms. The introduction of learning outcomes perhaps provides a new basis for such joint action...
The role of quality assurance in supporting the potential use of agreed learning outcomes
For many stakeholders, the development of common or minimum approaches to quality assurance and accreditation underpin the potential use of learning outcomes in a professional recognition context. Yet only half of competent authorities thought that the fact that institution awarding the qualification is quality assured at national level is a ‘very important’ dimension in deciding on the recognition of foreign qualifications (where the profession is not regulated in the country where the qualification was awarded).
The more practical consideration for competent authorities using outcomes-based approaches was quality assurance at the level of the qualification – and specifically in the context of assessment methodologies. Through the case studies, lack of understanding of and confidence in the assessment of achieved learning outcomes was the most commonly voiced reason why an outcomes-based approach is not currently practicable. What is required is that approaches to quality assurance are aligned between countries, and also that their benefits for and impact on qualifications are bettercommunicated...
Dealing with older qualifications under the EQF
As it currently stands, there is a lack of concrete evidence that older qualifications will be mapped to NQFs linked to the EQF. The current focus of national authorities is on qualification reform and development work. There is discussion in the countries developing NQFs about the position of old qualifications. In practice, it appears possible to use a ‘best fit’ model to apply level to older qualifications. It is recognised that doing so may mean that eligibility and progression provisions do not necessarily apply to the older qualification. However, the presumption that provisions should be extended to holders of former qualifications is the important element – and this is already seen in the specifications for some NQFs. Executive Summary of the Study evaluating the Professional Qualifications Directive against recent EU educational reforms in EU Member States.