The national quality programme for VET in Denmark
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Issue In Denmark many vocational colleges have on their own initiative – and in particular since 1991 in connection with a broad reform of the Danish VET system – established projects, co-funded by the Ministry of Education , aiming at the development of their own methods and systems for quality assessment and quality development. By decentralisation measures and a more withdrawn role of the government the colleges have acquired much more autonomy. This has led to an enhanced interest by the government towards quality care measures as a way to secure the efficient and qualified “production” of colleges in a new setting where the traditional detailed steering principles have been abandoned. (S.N. 01/11/99)  The Danish system of vocational education has seen a devolution of decision-making powers similar to that carried out in Finland. The increased scope for independent action that vocational education establishments have been accorded has led to the development of new systems intended to allow central administration to supervise the vocational institutions also under the new conditions. The Danish Ministry of Education has drawn up a quality programme for vocational education and training to ensure that the quality of the instruction delivered by the institutions will meet the standards set for it. Further, every vocational institution must formulate a quality programme, with the Ministry lending its assistance. To make this possible the Danish Ministry of Education has been obliged to establish a new assessment centre.  (O.P. 08/05/01)
Measure Quality assurance is provided by the interaction between objectives and framework conditions which are laid down by the central government and the leeway provided at local level. In 1995, the Ministry of Education published a “Strategic plan for systematic quality development and impact assessment in the vocational college sector”. This programme which presents the framework of educational policy is based on results of innovative projects which many colleges have been conducting since 1991.
    The programme constitutes a framework plan by the Ministry and comprises the college level as well as the interaction between social partners on various levels. The strategic plan represents a systematic approach. It covers all fields of activity that contribute to towards improved quality. Moreover, it promotes a coherent approach since it integrates most of the management instruments implied in vocational education and training. Since the VET system is continuously being reformed and new approaches are required, only a “snapshot” evaluation can be made. Consequently, the snapshot will only focus on whether quality meets current and anticipated requirements of the labour market rather than whether it meets standards defined in the past.
    Every college is obliged to introduce a mechanism for quality assurance. In the framework of the self-assessment process in colleges, questions from strategically selected fields have to be answered, covering all college activities relevant to quality assurance. Answering these questions requires the individual school to have a clear plan and systematic methods to respond to changing demands. All 115 VET colleges today have a quality assurance programme. (S.N. 01/11/99) 
Defined briefly, quality in vocational education means education that prepares workers whose competence corresponds with the qualification requirements of working life and that produces appropriate numbers of  appropriately qualified workers at the right time for the right place. Naturally, this must be accomplished efficiently and cost-effectively. Assessing and assuring the quality of such activities entail two things: 1) there must be someone who knows what education and training contents are needed and how much workforce is needed and 2) the system must operate in accordance with these goals. A national quality system can focus on one or the other aspect or on both depending on the bodies to which these tasks have been assigned.
    If the central issues coming under item 1 have been centralised at national level, the task of a quality system is a) to establish standards for educational and training contents and objectives and b) supervise and promote activities in keeping with these standards in the vocational education establishments. If item 1 issues have been assigned to the vocational institutions themselves, a national quality programme will cover only the issues under sub-item b). This would entail, largely, the creation of frameworks, for example in the form of funding projects, but also supervision and the implementation of assessments of individual vocational institutions.
The problem with decentralised systems that emphasise the independence of the vocational education establishments is that the establishments' expertise and resources cover primarily instruction and its economical delivery. What they lack is expertise in identifying and anticipating the qualification requirements and quantitative labour needs of working life. This problem stems from the fact that those who have taken a vocational qualification find employment in such a broad range of enterprises that the vocational institutions simply cannot extend their networks to cover the whole enterprise field; the occupational area where those with a completed vocational qualification find a job forms a market that can be mastered only through solid research expertise and through resources allocated also for creating and maintaining such expertise. As for the enterprises, they are not experts in education and instruction, with the result that there must be a special "interpreter" capable of translating the enterprises' needs into the language of education and training; this requires a new resource.
    Here the national level can help from its own resources, either by allocating funds for implementing projects or by creating models and methods and procedures that make it possible to master the qualification requirements and quantitative labour needs of working life. As regards models, methods and procedures, the difficulty lies in developing practices that would be suitable for the vocational education establishments because many sufficiently reliable and detailed systems often require of their users a period of study and long-term practice on the principle of learning by doing. Designing simple systems that are easy to use demands time and resources. As a result, in many cases central administration eventually sets up centralised systems after all, supervising that vocational institutions come up to standards handed down from above. (O.P. 08/05/01)
Impact Even though the responses to the Ministry´s questionnaire are forwarded to all VET colleges, this does not mean that they are being patronized by the Ministry; it serves primarily as a guideline and food for thought  - based on the assumption that it is neither possible nor desirable to prescribe a definite concept with methods, objectives and values of vocational education and training.
    Quality assurance programmes in the VET sector are currently being intensified. In the next few years, new instruments will be implemented: benchmarking will be introduced on a national level, greater emphasis will be put on quality control of output and external auditing will also be introduced. At present, performance parameters are under consideration. The results of internal quality surveys will be published to some extent and used for specific improvements, however, not in order to sanction colleges for non-compliance. 
    The quality issue in education is given top priority and the Danish government has now decided to establish a new national assessment center which will cover all educational establishments in Denmark from 2000. 
(S.N. 01/11/99) 
Given this, the Finnbase description is rather abstract in relation to the challenges that quality systems are expected to meet in practice. It is not enough to merely decentralise and devolve; attention should be paid also to ensuring that the vocational education establishments' increased scope for independent action will actually produce the desired result. Quality systems should be more than an administrative model creating frameworks and preconditions; they should involve a great deal of work making it possible to turn established national-level methods and procedures for identifying qualification-related and quantitative education and training needs into a form that the vocational institutions can use, at the same time constantly improving the methods. (O.P. 08/05/01)
Reference A broad presentation of the main elements of systematic quality development in Danish VET is given in the “Strategy paper" (in English) formulated by the Danish Ministry of Education (MoE) in September 1995. More detailed presentations (in Danish) of strategies and results are to be found in the publications MoE 1996a and MoE 1999a. An interim report written for CEDEFOP by Nielsen 1996a presents the whole discussion and measures in English. A comparative report by Nielsen & Visser 1997a gives a deeper insight into the similarities and differences between quality care systems at college level in Denmark and the Netherlands.  (S.N. 01/11/99)   
Author Soeren P Nielsen Olli Poropudas

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