Report on Quality Assurance in VET
On 27.11.2014 Centre for Tourism Training in Cluj-Napoca organized a focus group, which was attended by 10 people, each representing different institutions. The purpose of this focus group was to inform the participants about the notion of Quality Assurance and the EU regulations. Another purpose that the focus group indented to achieve was to find out whether the institutions which the participants represented developed a working Quality Assurance system. The target groups for Quality Assurance were: service providers in VET for tourism, the representative of the National Authority for Qualifications and employers.
The participants of the focus group discussed the following topics:
- quality assurance in VET,
- the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework (quality criteria, indicative descriptors, the set of quality indicators selected for Quality Assessment in VET),
- the use of the instruments for Quality Assurance in the organizations where the participants come from,
- Ts- the online tool for evaluating the effectiveness of the quality assurance system, developed on the basis of the EU recommendations.
The participants shared different opinions on how quality is achieved. One participant directly related quality with money. Another participant said that his institution has a reference framework which is generally available. He also suggested that for the occupational and training standards the trainers need to establish some criteria or competencies to be achieved by all those who go through a training system and to ensure that the requirements meet the market demands and that the skills which are acquired through training programs should comply with the current market demands. An interesting idea came from another participant who views the student as a product and not as a service. The quality of the services provides the quality of the product, which is the student and who has to be employed. Another participant shared the opinion that the market demands must be taken into consideration both for the employment needs and then for skills development, and that training providers must cover the necessary training needs of the labor market through courses which facilitate the acquisition of the necessary skills. The most important issue is the goal, but here both the organization and also the management of resources interfere. All these can be verified through a SWOT analysis. This participant appreciates the quality management system because it helps the organization to systematize. The ultimate goal is enriching labor activity. If education providers have a quality assurance system, the probability that the product reaches the employment increases. This participant was asked by the focus group leader if their organization is open to support education providers in doing practice. The participant answered yes, by arguing that the organization is in touch with the Faculty of Geography and its students. According to another participant, a quality assurance system should ensure the sorting of the products. Unfortunately it takes into consideration the quantity rather the quality. Quality must be implemented, must be planned. The focus group leader considered that you plan your entire strategy based on the objective you address (e. g if you related quality with labor market needs). According to the focus group leader there are differences between the quality of the provided services and the quality of the final product. Students should be given priority in employment. He states that without coherence there cannot be efficiency. But one can have efficient pieces but if they do not combine, they are not coherent. If you have a purpose which is not coherent with what you want to achieve, you won’t succeed. Another participant was concerned that some universities will take out from the curriculum a program for professional training as the market requirement change and do not longer need it. Another interesting point of view is related to the type of institution because if the professional training is carried out by a public institution, then it has a guiding character and if it is done by private institutions the call for quality standards are freely assumed. In terms of market price differences, one participant considers that certain dumping prices on the market in the field of professional training that if one sticks to analyze the cost element by element of what it means to make a program for professional training to a minimum level as the standard requires, one cannot enclose itself. One infers that quality standards and introducing a quality standard in the field of training should require each provider to meet the minimum required and this should be reflected in cost and thus there would be a fair competition on the market. It is important to have a final price distinction including the profit which derives from a better optimization of costs, but some differences from 10% to 100% of market prices show that certain processes are not met, because they wouldn’t have such cost savings. The quality standard can be assumed or not. The training program, competences and human and material resources establish some minimal standards. The focus group leader brings into discussion the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework from 18.05.2009 (quality criteria, indicative descriptors, set of quality indicators selected for Quality Assessment in VET) and asks the participants if they are aware of the indicative descriptors. The first criterion of the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework is related to planning. The planning is common to stakeholders: the student, the labor market, the service provider, the society and the state. The state is interested in one’s planning because it establishes a strategy and if one doesn’t plan its resources depending on then the state’s strategy, the state will not achieve its purpose. The product must be compatible with the requirements of the employers in order to increase employability. There is a question about an indicative descriptors of VET namely who establishes the targets that are set and monitored through specific indicators (success criteria)?
Also these indicators establish a system called benchmarking that would indicate what’s best on the market. The benchmark testing is a process of load testing a component or an entire end to end IT system to determinate the performance characteristics of the application. It is important for the test to be repeatable so that any changes of performance measurements that were made and captured would vary after a short period of time with only few percent each time the test is run. This is to assure the performance improvement or degradation of a institution or a graduate of a professional training course in our case. The concept of a benchmark wasn’t introduces yet in our country this is why we are working on projects to show and prove that the idea of creating this kind of system would improve the quality in the industry of job market. The participants that were in the meeting agreed on the fact that there is only competition and not necessarily quality and this benchmark wouldn’t reduce competition but would definitely improve and increase a bit the quality. The benchmark system is not just a testing system, it’s also a hope for a better future in the economical running. Because it’s still in the project phase there are many things to take into consideration. The first question to this is ,,Who will establish this benchmark system?”. At a national standard we can’t implement this kind of program because of the lack of database that would offer the necessary information. For start, a benchmark tool introduced in every institution would help create a nationwide spread database. At the moment there are few of these kind of systems but there are not seriously taken into consideration. Based on simple questions, we can give a full or particular account of the quality such as ,,How many graduates are hired in the first six months after completing a course of professional training?”. This question is an example of an objective criteria, where every professional trainer should say a plain unvarnished number of students, leading to the trainers’ accreditation – proof that he’s interested in his product the market. The benchmark test is not meant just for the institution but also for each trainer too see if his quality as a trainer advanced.
Benchmarking is not easy and often involves several iterative rounds in order to arrive at predictable, useful conclusions. Interpretation of benchmarking data is also extraordinarily difficult, more than that because of the constant evaluation and competition, the educational standard and job applications will lead likelihood to later improvement and advancement.