Benchmarking the Advanced Programme: English


This article was first published on the ECCTIS Blog

The Independent Examinations Board in South Africa has recently added the Advanced Programme: English to their suite of qualifications.  The IEB conducted a pilot study of the AP: English in 2011, with the national roll-out being launched in 2012.  The AP: English is a new qualification offered by the IEB in addition to the National Senior Certificate, intended to provide the opportunity for students to study English in further depth and increase the number of students following programmes including English at tertiary level.  It followed the launch of the then newly developed National Senior Certificate and AP: Mathematics in 2010.

Following the benchmarking study undertaken in 2010, which examined the NSC and AP: Mathematics, this study sought to benchmark the AP: English against UK qualifications.  It confirmed that the AP: English can be considered comparable to GCE Advanced level standard.

Exemplar GCE A level programmes were used to assist with the benchmarking study.  The majority of the core components of the GCE A level programmes were also covered by the AP: English, although some differences were observed in the entry requirements and the content of the programmes.  However, these differences were deemed to be due to cultural differences between the two systems rather than an indication of disparities in academic level.  There were clear links between assessment standards and objectives, as well as the depth and breadth of the programmes in providing the skills required for tertiary study. This resulted in the following comparable level:

Independent Examinations Board Programme Comparability
Advanced Programme English Is considered comparable to GCE A level standard

Further information on the IEB AP: English can be found on the IEB website.  For information on the project work undertaken, please contact mailto:projects@naric.org.uk.

 


Technical and Vocational Education and Training in Turkey – Part 1


This article was first published on the ECCTIS blog

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is a hot topic in Turkey. As the local and global economies increase in competitiveness, the need for a labour force equipped with appropriate, quality-assured qualifications to meet the demands of the business environment also increases. The Turkish Ministry of National Education and Council of Higher Education (the bodies responsible for TVET in Turkey) are only too aware of this, and between 2003 and 2012 have invested over €9billion in developing the sector. This year alone, the Ministry of National Education is anticipated to allocate 37% of its total investment budget directly into the TVET sector. Resulting from this continual and substantial investment has been the development of an established and wide-reaching TVET system which delivers education and training in more than 130 occupations.

Much of the development of the TVET sector in Turkey has been attributed to the successful cooperation between educational institutions, schools and the social partners, which has ultimately eased the transition of TVET students from the institution to the work place. No wonder, then, that as part of their continuing work to enhance mobility through improved recognition and understanding of qualifications, the ECCTIS Ltd Research & Consultancy Team want to learn more.

Consequently, they are participating in a Study Visit to the Turkish province of Mersin at the end of May (funding provided under the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission). The premise of the visit is to explore themes around the valuable contribution of partnerships to education, and will be attended by a range of stakeholders from across Europe including the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the UK. During the week-long visit, participants will learn about the Turkish TVET system, initiatives of the local authority to promote and help improve TVET in the province, and examples of good practice in cooperation between institutions and social partners. Of particular relevance to the work of Research & Consultancy will be learning about the ways in which partnerships between government, private institutions and social partners have aided the recognition of TVET qualifications in Turkey, and how this has this helped increase the uptake of qualifications by students and the appreciation of qualifications by employers and industry.

With so many stakeholders attending from across Europe, the study visit is bound to be both interesting and insightful. Watch this space for reflections on the visit!

May 2013

*Disclaimer: The content of this publication is the sole responsibility for the publisher and the European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information.


The Diploma Supplement and the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR)


This article was first published on the ECCTIS Blog

At the Berlin Ministerial meeting in 2003, the UK and the other Bologna signatory countries committed themselves to the introduction of the Diploma Supplement. The agreed objective was that the Diploma Supplement should be issued automatically and free of charge to every student graduating from 2005.

In the UK, in 2013, this target has yet to be achieved, but what is the current situation with Diploma Supplement implementation and why has it proven so difficult to achieve?

The UK National Europass Centre (UK NEC) has a particular interest in the Diploma Supplement, because it is responsible for promoting the Diploma Supplement in the UK as one of the five documents that comprise the Europass Portfolio.

The Diploma Supplement: Background and status of implementation

The Diploma Supplement was designed jointly by the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and UNESO/CEPES and derives from a pilot programme that ran from 1996-1998. It is issued to students by Higher Education Institutions on the successful completion of a qualification. It provides information about the qualification, institution and qualification framework to aid recognition by credential evaluators, admissions officers, employers, individuals, etc.

The results of the 2011 UK Higher Education International Unit European Activity Survey of UK HEIs indicates that, of the 70 institutions that responded to the survey, 79% currently issue the Diploma Supplement. Of these, 82% use the standard European format; 73% issue them automatically.

One reason why the Diploma Supplement has not been ubiquitously implemented across the UK Higher Education Sector is because of the existence of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).

The HEAR

The HEAR is specific to the UK and is the product of the Burgess Implementation Steering Group. It derives from a 2007 report Beyond the Honours Degree Classification. The HEAR is a concise, electronic document produced by a higher education institutions (HEIs), which provides a record of a student’s achievement during their time in higher education.

The HEAR conforms to the data fields for the European Diploma Supplement template, but it differs from the Diploma Supplement in a number of ways, including:

  • It is an electronic rather than paper document.
  • The title of the document (HEAR Diploma Supplement).
  • It is an on-going record that is updated throughout the student’s career with the institution (although the HEAR Diploma Supplement is the exit document issued on completion of the qualification). It can be accessed by the student at any time.
  • It contains information about the student’s non-academic achievement that can be verified and validated by the institution.

The relationship between the Diploma Supplement and the HEAR

The Diploma Supplement template and the guidelines governing its completion are inflexible. This is because the document is jointly owned by the European Commission, Council of Europe and UNESCO-CEPES.

Higher education institutions have the option to apply for the Diploma Supplement Label – a quality label which requires applicants to follow stringent guidelines to ensure consistency in the content and format of the document.

Because of the differences between the Diploma Supplement and HEAR, there has historically been uncertainty as to whether the HEAR complies with the Diploma Supplement template, and whether it meets the Diploma Supplement Label requirements. Some HEIs have, understandably, been reluctant to introduce either document until the issue is resolved.

In October 2012, the Burgess Implementation Steering Group published their final report entitled Bringing It All Together: Introducing the HEAR. The report proposed that higher education representative bodies commend the HEAR to be adopted sector-wide for students entering education in the academic year 2012-2013 (Universities UK and GuildHE have subsequently commended the HEAR to the sector).

Concurrently, clarification was sought from the European Commission as to whether the HEAR DS could meet the Diploma Supplement label requirements. The European Commission’s response was that they had no issue with the title of the document, or its electronic nature, and raised no objection to the inclusion of additional information so long as “it can provide genuine added value in a national context”.

Conclusions

The European Commission’s indication that the HEAR Diploma Supplement can meet the requirement for the Diploma Supplement Label has opened the door to a common UK position for the implementation of the Diploma Supplement.

These developments are a significant step towards widespread adoption of the HEAR Diploma Supplement across the sector. Indications from the Burgess Implementation Steering Group are that over 100 HEIs have already signed up to issue it.

The UK NEC will be paying close attention to future developments in this area, and is particularly interested in whether any of those institutions issuing the HEAR will apply for the Diploma Supplement label and test the question of what non-academic additional information the European Commission considers provides genuine added value to the document?


Technical and Vocational Education and Training in Turkey – Part 2


This article was first publish on the ECCTIS blog

Like many other countries in the world, aspects of public perception towards technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in Turkey need to be addressed. In Turkey, public perception of a quality education still favours the academic route and an understanding persists that students who opt for vocational education are less able. The approach to resolving this perceived disparity between the two educational routes has been to focus on promoting TVET through real-life examples of best practice and has resulted in the prejudice against vocational education slowly being broken down, and its reputation as a viable, valuable option for young learners gaining strength.

At the end of May the Research & Consultancy team participated in an EU-funded study visit* to the Turkish province of Mersin, where the impact of this approach was really experienced first-hand. The programme consisted of discussions and meetings with key stakeholders in the TVET sector, providing an opportunity to share experiences and perspectives on best practice in Turkey and more widely in Europe. In theory the purpose of the visit was to explore issues around the valuable contribution that partnerships can make to TVET, but in practice it explored the broader issues of competency-based and modular TVET curricula, teacher training for TVET teachers, Lifelong Learning, the importance of the Vocational Qualifications Authority, developing TVET in compliance with the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), working towards a system of credit transfer (ECVET), and raising awareness and ownership of TVET. Specific to Turkey, three interesting aspects emerged as a result of the study visit:

  1. The sheer amount of investment in education in Mersin

The education system in Mersin benefits from investment from all directions, both public and private, and government departments and educational institutions use this in order to deal with lack of funding and financial reserves. The private sector takes its social responsibility towards the future population and education very seriously, and companies and businessmen invest in schools and school buildings. The government stimulates these investments by giving tax reductions. In turn, schools are experienced in representing themselves to the community in order to secure and maintain funds.

  1. The centralised nature of investment in education

Interestingly much of the government investment in education seems to be controlled by central rather than regional government. This means that the regional education directorates have little autonomy in the allocation of funds to specific areas of education, and as such development in the sector follows the national agenda.

  1. The selectivity of students within the TVET sector

An aspect of the TVET sector in Mersin that varied significantly from the UK system was that the schools visited as part of the programme remained highly selective in nature. The TVET sector in the UK has been designed to widen participation in education to those less able or interested in an academic education. However the study visit revealed that TVET schools and colleges in Turkey remain highly selective in their recruitment practices and thereby ensure that they select only the brightest and most capable students. Although this is beneficial for the schools, it may be that students who might have once needed this route into education are now being denied it due to competition for places.

More commonly across all the participant countries (including Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the UK) it was recognised that the employability of students when they exit the education system is an area that requires attention in order to ensure they have the relevant skills and competencies to enter the workforce. Key observations were:

  • Lithuania has a well-developed approach to enabling university students to be work ready. There is open dialogue between students and local employers, facilitated by universities and enabling students to know what is required of them to increase their chances of employability. This helps students in several ways, including the ability to tailor their specific courses according to local business needs, the ability to build relationships with businesses, and developing thesis topics which are relevant and contribute to real business situations.
  • Poland has identified that there are two streams of work-enabling education – vocational and higher. In vocational education there is a lack of skilled trainers to develop young people’s employability skills and in higher education students are not work ready. They are currently pursuing a two strand strategy to improve higher education student work-readiness by firstly focusing on skills required by the market and secondly focusing on universities developing research knowledge.
  • Finland has noted an increase in the number of unemployed graduates, attributed to a lack of employment skills. Although Finnish education policy is reducing budget allocation to Polytechnics (seen as a continuation of vocational training) the universities are not capturing the students unable to obtain places at Polytechnics. Competence based training, or learning in the workplace are both popular for vocational training in Finland.
  • In the UK it is recognised by businesses that most graduates are not work ready and lack basic employment skills. To overcome this, a number of universities are developing programmes to enhance their students’ employability through enhancing professionalism, reflection and critical learning, lifelong learning, communication, and teamwork skills. In such programmes students engage with employers throughout their awards, either through a range of work related opportunities such as projects, assessments, visiting speakers or work opportunities. Academics are encouraged to build networks with employers and to undertake research or consultancy work where appropriate.

These observations indicated similar approaches adopted by the participating countries in cooperation between education institutions and key stakeholders and an appreciation of the importance of close cooperation as the best way to maximise resources and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the education system.

Participation in the study visit was an enlightening experience and highlighted current issues in education systems across Europe. Having explored the theory of partnerships in education, the Research & Consultancy Team is now hoping to continue putting this into practice by realising future partnerships in education. In line with UK NARIC, ECCTIS Ltd’s purpose to facilitate mobility, such partnerships will centre on easing transitions for students both across and within education systems.

June 2013


Fraud: a growing problem in education, and how to guard against it


‘I didn’t know fraud was so common, so widespread’ – that’s the comment UK NARIC hears again and again from the university and college staff who attend its fraud workshops and seminars.

UK NARIC has been running its fraud training for over eight years – so we have trained a lot of staff from HE institutions. And in that time, we have had to develop the training year-on-year, because fraud has definitely become more common, and the fraudulent techniques adopted have become more elaborate.

The rise in numbers of international applications has increased the challenge for admissions staff – there are more applications to be sifted and checked, and from a greater variety of places, so staff have to learn and become familiar with an ever-wider array of qualification certificates and ID documents.

UK universities and colleges are in an uncomfortable position at the immigration front line. Due diligence on applications has to be completed, and the evidence and audit trails all have to be there, to justify decisions taken and to demonstrate to the Home Office auditors that robust systems are in place.

Establishing with certainty the identity of an applicant is first base. Fake ID documents are a growing problem, but so too are genuine documents obtained illegally. Check across all documents supplied looking for discrepancies in the name and in age/date of birth. Any changes in name, eg due to marriage, should of course be supported by the necessary further documents – marriage certificates etc.

Be aware that there is a growing trade in fake EU passports – a popular choice as these give entry to any EU country without a visa. You will need to learn passport security features and check that documents have all of these. Some inexpensive equipment will help – most security features can be checked with a magnifying glass and a black light (UV-A lamp).

Social media can be a useful help to you. Check on a person’s ‘web imprint’. Do their Facebook posts match their claimed age and educational history? Do locations match – during their claimed years of study, have they been posting online from the university town you would expect? Facebook and other social media image uploads can also help with checking passport photos.

This certificate was submitted to UK NARIC. Is it real, or a fake? Applying the simple checks given provides the answer. Some fake certificates are easy to detect, others are more difficult.

This certificate was submitted to UK NARIC. Is it real, or a fake? Applying the simple checks given provides the answer. Some fake certificates are easy to detect, others are more difficult.

When it comes to qualifications, the first challenge is to check that the issuing institution is fully recognised. With such high numbers of applications coming from India and China, you may well encounter certificates from an unrecognised institution – there are many of them in these huge countries. Those of you who are subscriber members of UK NARIC will know that you can access full listings of recognised institutions in each country using our online data banks.

The next stage is to check if the certificate is genuine. If you are receiving a good number of international applications, you can and should build a library of certificates over time, to act as a live reference base against which incoming certificates can be compared.

Check certificates for all the obvious things first – all spelling should be correct; check all alignment – are type and graphics all properly centred and is everything straight? Check that dates are rendered correctly and that they make sense in terms of the qualification. A more advanced level of checking would be to examine the signatures on the degree certificate – not only that the signature matches the genuine signature for the person named, but also that the Vice Chancellor or Principal named is correct in terms of the date of issue of the document.

Print quality is not always a good guide to genuineness. Some recognised and well-established institutions in developing countries issue degree certificates that are not especially ‘well printed’. But type and graphical alignment will still be accurate.

UK NARIC would always advise that you do not rely on the degree certificate alone, but that you also obtain a transcript. This gives you further information to check against – module marks can be checked against the final degree classification; award titles should tally; course duration can be checked against the standards and norms for the country. If you cannot obtain a transcript from the applicant then you can request one direct from the institution.
A good general knowledge of countries’ education systems is a useful asset for anyone doing these sorts of checks. UK NARIC offers advice and support to universities and colleges in all these areas – visit www.naric.org.uk to find out more.

Steve Miller, May 2015 This post was originally published on The PIE News Blog.


Reflections: Cuba


2015-03-28 03.12.17 croppedAt the famous Buena Vista Social Club in Havana, where audience participation in the evening’s entertainment is obligatory, the compere asked members of the audience their country of origin. When several US tourists identified themselves, they were mock-jeered, before the compere said “we like everyone here”. This friendly and welcoming attitude towards their traditional adversary was one I encountered on several occasions during my recent visit to Cuba – it certainly didn’t feel like US tourists need hide their nationality for fear of hostile reception.

The improving diplomatic relationship between Cuba and the USA has recently been in the news. In a moment of deep significance, Barack Obama and Raul Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas conference and, shortly afterwards, the USA announced it would be removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In this respect, 2015 feels like a watershed moment for Cuba. Are we soon to see free movement between the two countries and a steady flow of American investment and tourists into Cuba? The general impression has been that, once American tourists are free to travel to Cuba, the unique dynamic in the country will be irrevocably altered. So, is 2015 the last chance to visit the ‘old’ Cuba?

My preconception that US citizens weren’t already travelling to Cuba was rapidly dispelled. One night at the Hotel Nacional indicated to me that American tourists are already present in large numbers and accepted.

In terms of travel options, my departure flight to Nassau nestled neatly alongside 5 flights to Miami (3 different airlines) that afternoon. So the transport links are already established and, if the current rapprochement continues, will doubtless proliferate.

In reality, the watershed moment appears to have passed. Raul Castro’s assumption of power in 2006 has led to a sustained series of cautious economic reforms, aimed at decentralisation of decision-making, de-collectivisation, wider use of market prices and expansion of self-employment.

Raul Castro has repeatedly indicated that the current reforms take place within the scope of socialism, but the revolutionary slogans in public areas and on government buildings (e.g. ‘Hasta la victoria siempre’) now feel like vestiges of a fading era. The iconic 50s-era cars prevalent across Havana are now, as often as not, in prime condition and catering for tourists. There were a few examples of battered old cars, clinging onto survival, but these were as likely to be Ladas as they were Chevrolets. The picture changed outside of Havana; however, in general, cars were noticeably healthier than I’d been led to expect.

Cubans can now buy and sell houses and cars, and travel abroad. They can surf the internet, albeit not cheaply. According to the Economist in 2013, farmers can sell almost half their output to the highest bidder, rather than 100% to the state. In the Vinales tobacco growing region, my experience was that cigar making farmers were allowed to retain 10% of their produce for sales to other locals or to tourists. In either case, this has made a substantial difference and the flow of CUC (‘convertible’ pesos, the tourist currency established on a par with the US dollar) into local economies is making a discernible impact upon general living standards. Homestays, for instance, boasted impressive TVs and furniture, although facades continued to crumble, perhaps deliberately to avoid drawing attention to new money.

CUCs are the easiest method for Cubans to supplement their set salaries. The reforms are therefore leading toward the slow and gradual rebirth of the middle class, with restaurants, guesthouses, shops and farmers all becoming small businesses and earning good money from tourism. Income inequality may well become an issue, but unlikely to the extent that made Cuba ripe for revolution in the 1950s.

2015-03-22 02.00.42 croppedThe transitional nature of current Cuban society is perhaps possible to illustrate with reference to clothing. Uniforms – both at schools and for government workers – remain standard issue, and school children still wear the red neckerchiefs characteristic of a communist state. But people are finding ways to express their individualism. For instance, women in governmental jobs (e.g. airport security) seem to compete with each other to see who can wear the most outrageous pairs of tights.

And as you walk around Havana, a noticeable number of locals wear T-Shirts featuring the Union Jack or images of London. “Why?” I asked the tour guide. “It’s a metaphor”, came the reply. “They are expressing a preference for a different way of life, without being overtly subversive by wearing an American-themed shirt. Or maybe it’s a nice design and uses the same colours as the Cuban flag – you decide.”

It is possible to see ‘old’ Cuba, but it’s already disappearing. Time will tell whether the current reform process proceeds after Raul Castro steps down but, for now, it looks as though the pace of change will quicken by the year.

Paul Norris, April 2015


Reflections: Morocco


Morocco Hassan II Mosque detail“Play it again Sam”

Although never said these words are probably the most famous quote associated with Casablanca; however the city offers so much more than the backdrop to the famous 1942 film.

A former French colonial post Casablanca is a busy, bustling, modern city that hasn’t bowed to pressure and change to meet the needs of the sun-loving tourist.   The city is the most Westernised in Morocco but still retains an Islamic heart.  Highlights for a tourist include the King Hassan II Mosque and Casa’s Medina.

The purpose of the visit was to attend the British Council’s Bringing the Learning Home seminar on international partnerships and developing skills for employment.  UK NARIC has previously had very little involvement in this area but it quickly became apparent that there is a significant strategic role for the UK’s national agency to play alongside the British Council.

International skills and education partnerships exist for a number of reasons; to develop and share best practice (including QA, curriculum development, delivery and assessment), to generate additional income, to improve student mobility and for education providers to learn from each other.  Each individual partnership is unique and outcomes vary accordingly.  Some programmes may have a micro-impact where the main benefit is experienced by the students only; others might have a macro-impact with the institution changes its behaviour as a result of the partnership; some partnerships have even had a national-impact where the partnership findings have resulted in a change to education or skills policy.

Key to the success of partnerships is an in depth understanding by each partner of the educational systems involved and an appreciation of where the partnership outcomes will fit into the education and skills frameworks.  This is where UK NARIC can and do help.  The data contained UK NARIC’s online databases and the findings of our benchmarking work can help ensure that partners are better equipped to succeed.

But what of Casablanca and Morocco?  It is always difficult to judge a country from one city and a city from a four day visit; however, some traits did become clear.

Although not the capital of the country, Casablanca is a very lively and busy place.  Industry and commerce are everywhere.  On most streets in the centre of the city there are vendors adding colour and atmosphere.  The markets in the medinas are an experience not to be passed up; they are a delight to each of the senses!

There is the constant buzz of transport accompanied by a symphony of horns, hooters, bells and back-firing engines.  Getting around the city in the red taxis is not for the faint hearted, but it does add to the overall excitement.

Morocco Hassan II MosqueThere are oases of calm.   The King Hassan II Mosque, set on an Atlantic headland, appears a million miles away from the bustle of the city centre.  A thirty minute stroll back into the city also takes you past the excellent La Sqala restaurant and ever popular Rick’s Cafe.

Returning to partnerships; it was evident from the conference that there are many opportunities available for UK education providers in Morocco; and it is equally evident that they are interested in partnering with UK providers.  Morocco’s education system is based on the French Napoleonic system and is similar to other systems in North Africa.

Secondary School

Morocco was a former French protectorate, so the education system is modelled on the French education system

Secondary education is supervised by the Ministry of Education.

Upon completion of secondary school, students get the Baccalauréat, this is the secondary school award that gives access to higher education in Morocco and it might be suitable for entry into overseas institutions (it is all down to institutional discretion).

Vocational Education

Technical and vocational courses are available at secondary school level where students are awarded the Baccalaureat Technique.  At the post-school level vocational courses are usually two years; the highest technical award is a Brevet de Technicien Supérieur.

Higher Education

Higher education is offered by universities and Grandes Ecoles and is under the supervision of the Ministère de l´Enseignement Supérieur (Ministry of Higher Education).

The awards from recognised HE institutions are comparable to standards of the reciprocal UK HE awards.

In short, although not closely linked to the UK’s system Moroccan awards are broadly comparable to the standard of UK awards.

There are a lot of opportunities in Morocco especially for those interested in partnerships and TNE.