The EQARF recommendation strengthens the role of Member States and European Commission for the adoption and further development of the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework, following a top-down approach. Following the recommendation, Member States are invited to device an approach aiming at improving quality assurance systems, establish a Quality Assurance National Reference Point for VET, participate in EQAVET network and undertake a review of the implementation process every four years.
Quality assurance mechanisms, approaches and tools at system level (i.e. national, regional, and sector level) are important for creating a quality culture in VET. Quality management in VET should be seen as an overall system, in which policy makers, stakeholders, social partners and VET providers have an important role. There is an interrelation between on the one hand quality assurance approaches at national, regional and sector levels and on the other hand internal quality management approaches at VET provider level. Needless to say, the role of VET provider organisations in adopting and further developing their own quality management approaches is very important. Quality of VET at system level presupposes the prevalence of a culture of quality at VET provider level. The VET provider organisations are called to design and deliver VET programmes, each one of them responsible and accountable for its own pedagogical outputs, the return on investment and most of all the employability of their trainees. The aggregate pedagogical outputs of VET providers constitute the VET provision at system level.
Internal quality culture is first of all sensitisation towards change, introduction of innovations and continuous improvement on one hand and willingness to engage into a learning and a learning to learn process. This, although seems evident for organisations providing learning, is not always so, for a numbers of reasons (strong tradition, rigid institutional framework, management style etc.). Quality culture demands to have open antennas and perceptiveness of stimulus coming from the context. Changes in training technology and therefore in resources needed, changes in qualifications and therefore in learning outcomes required, expansion and need to assure quality in a decentralised system, changes in the competition and therefore seeking for ways to cope with this situation or just the simple need to survive in a very tough economic context are some examples of factors that push VET providers to adopt their own quality approach and culture.
Quality management is a basic pillar of any organisation affecting the performance of the organisation and the quality of the outputs (products and services). In particular in VET, quality of pedagogical outputs has an impact at individual level and at society level. At individual level, quality of pedagogical outputs affects the trainees in multiple ways, including self – esteem and confidence, employability, flexibility to adapt to changing demands of the labour market, geographical and sector mobility, transferability and accumulation of learning outcomes. At society level, quality of pedagogical outputs affects inter alia the employment, the growth and development of regions and sectors, the social and vocational rehabilitation of disadvantaged groups, the culture towards learning and innovation and the long-term economic sustainability.
The need to promote vocational education and training and make it more attractive is another driver for creating a quality culture. VET providers need to improve their status in the overall training system and provide high quality pedagogical outputs and better employability prospects as alternative to other educational pathways.
At European level, quality assurance is strongly linked to transparency of qualifications and mobility of learners and workers. At a macro-level quality assurance is linked to and supports the implementation of European instruments and tools (EQF, ECVET, Europass). At VET provider level, quality assurance plays a vital role in building mutual trust and transparency.
Quality assurance must not be seen as an institutional requirement or as unnecessary administrative bargain, rather than as an integral prerequisite in all processes and procedures of a VET provider. Quality management should underpin the performance of any VET provider organisation. It is important that quality management approaches are adapted to the policy, vision, mission and particular characteristics of a VET provider organisation and not solely conform to institutional requirements. The particular characteristics of a VET provider that have to be taken into consideration are: the type of training (initial/continuing, formal/non-formal, school-based/work-based), the level of VET, the type of beneficiaries (young people, unemployed, disadvantaged groups, etc), the type of funding (private/public) and the type of organisation (size, governance, profit/non-profit). An effective quality management system should respond to characteristics and needs of each organisation as well as to national, regional and sectoral policies and practices for quality assurance.
The creation of quality culture at VET provider level relies on commitment and engagement of management, administrative and pedagogic staff to quality management. The top management should take all necessary measures to provide the required resources, in terms of staff, facilities and equipment. All members of staff should have a role and be engaged in quality assurance. A designated management representative should ensure quality management that is quality planning, quality assurance and continuous quality improvement.
Finally, the effectiveness and efficiency of VET is important. Whatever the source of funding, public or private, there is an interest from stakeholders to assure the return on investment.