Scottish framework attracts global respect

As the European Union asks member states to sign up to a common structure of qualifications, Scotland is well ahead of the game

The least ambitious qualifications frameworks are also the most successful - which partly explains why Scotland's approach is admired the world over.

The country's more "modest ambitions for system change" were a strength, according to David Raffe of Edinburgh University.

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework had evolved over more than 25 years, had worked with the existing system, and not been directed from above; it was a "tool, not driver" and its "organic" growth exemplified the consensual nature of Scottish education. While there were some issues of concern - such as maintaining momentum - the Scottish way showed the benefits of "incrementalism and stake-holder ownership".

Professor Raffe, of the university's Centre for Educational Sociology, pointed to the pitfalls of the approach adopted in South Africa, which was in stark contrast to Scotland's. Post-apartheid, the existing system was considered an inadequate starting point; a "transformational" framework, driven by a central organisation, was deemed necessary.

Implementation, however, had been "patchy" and the impact not as fundamental as hoped. It became clear that a national qualifications framework alone could not create educational institutions, while the inflexible approach was resisted in some quarters.

Professor Raffe spoke at the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Partnership's international conference in Glasgow this week, where foreign delegates had high praise for their hosts' approach.

The Scottish framework was admired across Europe for its recognition of "every possible learning achievement", said Eva Gonczi, secretary and programme director for Collegium Budapest's Institute for Advanced Study, in Hungary. Scotland was a leader in lifelong learning and had brought work-based qualifications into the fold.

The European Union had set a target of 2012 for all member states to sign up to a pan-continental framework, allowing easier comparison of qualifications in different countries, and she believed Scotland was well prepared for this.

Jim Murray, acting chief executive officer of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, said the European framework and the similar Bologna Qualifications Framework - which deals with higher education - should increase workers' ability to move across the continent.

Yet there was much work to be done to get every country prepared. Some were far behind Scotland and did not yet have a national framework. In such cases, there was a danger of creating one to fit the pan-European framework, which did not pay enough heed to local circumstances.

Despite the lauding of Scotland, many people working here felt that, outwith educational institutions, there was still a worrying perception that academic qualifications were more valuable than their vocational equivalents.

Vocational qualifications still lacked credibility in some quarters, said Bobby Elliott, a qualifications manager for the Scottish Qualifications Authority who specialises in computing. He backed the idea of a qualification which could be achieved via one of two paths, academic or vocational. In the current system, parents still preferred an academic path leading to university, and the same was often true for employers.

Some employers insisted, however, that the stock of vocational qualifications had risen markedly. In the IT sector there was already "parity of esteem" with academic qualifications, said Microsoft's Bob McGonigle.

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