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Degrees versus SVQs

The most notorious outcome of a Government review is to call for another review. In that sense there is no disappointment in the UK-wide investigation by Gordon Beaumont of the top 100 national vocational qualifications and their Scottish equivalents. The 1995 criteria from the Scottish Vocational Education Council and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications should be reviewed in 1999, Mr Beaumont recommends. He also suggests there should be no further structural changes before the end of the year 2000. Some hope.

Vocational qualifications have been in place for eight years and Mr Beaumont is urging the Government to confirm that they are here to stay. But there does not yet appear to be a strong consensus about their value. His study found majority support among employers. But he goes on to admit: "(The qualifications) have been trying to please everyone but have ended up pleasing no one." Some employers find VQs too narrow, focusing on specific job competences at the expense of broader skills and flexible capabilities; others argue exactly the opposite.

This may be more of a problem south of the border than in Scotland where the key core skills of literacy, numeracy, problem-solving and so forth have been embedded in Scotvec's qualifications. It may also be that the marketing effort mounted by Scotvec will improve take-up by making employers and students better informed. It has to be said, however, that the experience from south of the border (as relayed by yet another review, from the Institute of Employment Studies) appears to be that the more employers know about vocational qualifications, the less they like.

Scotvec conducted a specific survey of more than 50 centres covering 18 vocational qualifications to complement the Beaumont inquiry, and believes there is "great support" from employers and candidates. But the council will be the first to admit that wider understanding among employers leaves much to be desired, that the bureaucracy associated with assessment in particular remains a major issue, and that some employers will simply opt for the candidate with a degree. It is a fair agenda to occupy the Scottish Office, Scotvec and the national enterprise organisations for some time.

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