The 3rd and final meeting of the Peer Learning Group on National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) took place in Riga, Latvia on 18 and 19 September, hosted by the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science, and opened by the State Secretary, Ms Liga Lejina.
Although this is the last in the planned series of meetings of the group, the event resulted in an excellent opportunity to consider options for further collaboration. This positive outcome was due to, amongst other factors, the active engagement of the participants; four delegations from Central Asia countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan); a Polish delegation; the hosts, the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science and the Academic Information Centre of Latvia; experts from Estonia and Lithuania; the European Training Foundation (ETF) and a delegation from the World Bank project team in Kazakhstan.
The core concept of the meeting was “learning from comparison”, in terms of contexts, structures, processes, challenges and solutions; the essence of peer learning.
The first session allowed the participants to compare how national coordination structures for NQFs have developed in different countries, with the conclusion that the development of an autonomous agency responsible for organising Qualifications Systems and developing and maintaining Qualifications Frameworks tends to be the preferred solution in Europe, and an interesting potential approach for Central Asia. A self-assessment exercise, based on the ETF Toolkit, was conducted by each national delegation, and the group identified common challenges in the setting up of coherent and comprehensive qualifications systems out of a fragmented set of standards originally produced for other purposes.
The second session explored the use of level descriptors in Higher Education (HE) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) with a focus on EQF Level 5, in which VET and HE often overlap.
The third session introduced the Horizontal Comparison project launched by the EQF Advisory Group, coordinated by Poland and involving seven EU member states; in spite of the complexity of the content, the presentation was of great interest to the national delegations and raised the idea of comparing existing qualifications with the same name amongst Central Asia countries.
The beginning of the second day saw representatives from the Baltic Countries and Kazakhstan comparing different ways of validating and recognising learning outcomes achieved through informal and non-formal learning, with the participants expressing mutual interest in continuing cooperation in the future.
The remainder of the second day was devoted to exploring possible ways of continuing the positive collaboration that has developed through the series of Peer Learning Group meetings. An overarching proposal was to set up a Working Group to compare in detail the existing systems and qualifications in place in the four Central Asia countries, currently in different phases of NQF development, to improve transparency and mobility. This group would continue to receive some light form of support from the CAEP Team and input from relevant EU experts, but ownership of the process would pass to the Central Asia countries themselves. The ETF toolkit could be used for collaborative benchmarking and specific interest groups would be set up on ensuing themes. The possibility of running webinars in collaboration with ETF, was also considered an interesting option. Examples topics suggested included; “Creating different pathways and qualification types in VET”, “What distinguishes occupational standards from qualification standards based on learning outcomes?” and “Sharing experiences of independent assessment standards”.
Following on from the discussions, more specific proposals for follow-up collaborative activities will be formulated by each country team in the coming weeks, and a set of resulting recommendations will be drafted in October. It was clear that the positive working environment created in the Peer Learning exercise had increased not only the level of confidence among the teams, but also the awareness of the long-term benefit of continued cooperation. Precious feedback was given to the CAEP Team, also in view of the next Peer Learning exercise on Quality Assurance and Accreditation, due to start in October. The three key success factors were considered to be; the definition of the collaborative agenda, the responsiveness of the Central Asia delegations, and the participative discussion approach fed by competent and concise presentations. A particularly positive remark concerned the significant impact of PLG on the coordination of existing developments of NQFs in Kazakhstan, where the NQF is going through a process of substantial renewal. Positive signs of policy attention to PLG results were also demonstrated in the other CA countries.