The national qualification structure for senior secondary vocational education in the Netherlands
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Issue The main issues which gave rise to the new Act and in particular the development of a national qualification structure were:
# the different legislation rules for various parts of (senior secondary) vocational education -especially for apprentice training and full-time vocational education-, resulting in a highly differentiated and fragmented structure of vocational education.
# the difference in status between apprentice training and full-time vocational education; on the one hand at the lower qualification levels apprentices were favoured by employers; on the other hand full time vocational education did gave access to higher education whereas apprenticeship training did not.
# the high number of drop outs / unqualified school-leavers of the various training courses in combination with few opportunities for transfer from one course to another and no existing practice of accreditation of prior learning.
# improve the responsiveness to occupational practice.
# improve the responsiveness to individual needs.
    The debate on these issues goes back to the beginning of the eighties. A high level of youth unemployment, inadequate transition from school to work, shortage of well qualified professionals and a diversified, fragmented, not client-oriented and rather obsolete vocational education and training system were detected then as the main problems. Several committees were established to formulate solutions (1983, 1990, 1993). In 1993 the Ministry of Education and Science formulated the first outline of a new, comprehensive act for vocational education. A national qualification structure which intended to harmonise the various existing training courses was one of the main measures within these outline. (E.B. 15/11/99)
Besides of being shared by maybe all/most European countries and educational systems the issues seem to be very multiple/broad in scope and reflect, on the one hand, problems in the relationship between working life and education and, on the other, structural problems within the education system. (R.M. 16/12/99)
Measure The Adult and Vocational Education Act (WEB) entered into force on 1 January 1996. This new law aims at harmonising all the various types of vocational and adult education into a single statutory framework. The WEB comprises several measures which have been introduced at different moments. On 1 January 2000 the final measure will enter into force. One of the central measures was the introduction of a new national qualification structure for vocational education, into which a new educational model has been incorporated. This new qualification structure conforms to the international qualification system SEDOC. It came into force in the academic year 1997-1998. 
    The qualification structure consists of four qualification levels. Qualification level 1 refers to competence in simple operational work (assistant); qualification level 2 refers to competence in operational work (skilled worker); qualification level 3 refers to professional workers (work competently and independently); whereas level 4 refers to middle management or specialist work. The programmes within the qualification structure consist of two different educational pathways: 1) a vocational pathway (BOL), in which the percentage of vocational practice training is between 20 and 60%  (comparable to the former full-time MBO); 2) an apprenticeship training pathway (BBL), in which the percentage of vocational practice training exceeds 60% (comparable to the apprenticeship system). The vocational training pathways (BOL and BBL) at level 4 give access to higher education (HBO,  qualification level 5). 
The various vocational courses are offered by Regional Training Centres (ROC’s), the creation of these centres was another important development within the framework of the WEB. (E.B. 15/11/99)
The attempt to solve a great number of multiple problems by a broad but integrated reform program / legislation (WEB) is very ambitious and obviously worth of trying. 
    The program seems to consist of an integration of three processes: (educational) integration of four of the five SEDOC qualification levels, integration of the two VET paths and (?)integration of adult and youth education.
    How closely does the system follow the Brittish NVQ/GNVQ models?
    How, in fact, are the 22 national education bodies  organised? Separately for the qualification levels and/or for sectors/ subsectors?  (R.M. 16/12/99)
Impact The 22 national vocational education bodies, organised according to occupational categories and representing employers, employees and educational institutions within this category, play a central role in formulating and `maintaining’ the national qualification structure. They are responsible for formulating the exit qualifications, i.e. what students at the various qualification levels should be able to do in actual practice, and categorise these exit qualifications into partial qualifications. There exist now nearly 700 qualifications which are approved by the Minister of Education. Nevertheless the formal aim of the implementation of the national qualification structure, only 45% of these qualifications can be obtained by both educational pathways; the other 55% can only be obtained by one of the two educational pathways. As one of the main aims and also requirements of the national qualification structure is transparency, the enormous number of qualifications can be considered a serious problem both for employers, employees and students. Also, with respect to lifelong learning and employability questions are raised about the specificity of the formulated qualifications. Changes in occupational practice rather ask for higher order cognitive skills such as problem solving skills, organising skills and evaluating skills than specific `how to do’ skills.
    There is a starting debate whether and how the concept of core competencies should be the basis of formulating qualifications. Another problem has to do with the provision for youngsters who have not obtained a qualification within the first phase of secondary education. In former days there existed various non qualifying courses to help these students `on the road again’.  Nowadays every student has to attend a qualifying course immediately; supporting activities should be part of the qualifying course. In theory this seems to be the best solution, in practise these youngsters might drop out more often. This also has to do with the fact that   flexibility of the system, in particular the possibilities for transfer between courses, has not been accomplished yet. 
    Before 1 January 2002 the Minister of Education, Culture and Science has to prepare a evaluation of the implications and effects of the WEB. One of the central objects of evaluation will be the national qualification structure. (E.B. 15/11/99)
The number of qualifications - 700 now, how many more there will be - seems to be quite high and imply narrowness of the qualifications. 
    Is there any pressure to formulate (too) many (too) narrow qualifications in order to satisfy immediate short term needs of the labour market only? 
    Are the forms and objectives of vocational education for adults and youth identical - to the degree that the system does not serve optimally one/none of these groups, especially the youth?
    How integrated will be the levels of qualifications (within a branch) - are lower qualifications included into the higher ones so that the students may flexibly continue toward higher levels?  Are all qualifications on levels 2 and 3 absolute 'exit qualifications' in the sense that these people have (in practice) no path and access to higher education? (R.M. 16/12/99)
Reference The English version of brochures and the website of the Ministry (1996a) gives Information about the WEB, policy-measures, etc. Onstenk (1998a) focuses on the concept of key qualifications in relation to the formulation of national qualifications. The quandary of `specificity’ and `coherence’ or transparency referring to formulating and implementing a national qualification structure is tackled by De Bruijn and Howieson (1995a). Heijke & Borghans (eds; 1998a) expand on the relation between education and the labour market, in particular the transparency of the labour market. (E.B. 15/11/99)  
Author Trudy Moerkamp/Elly de Bruijn Raimo Mäkinen

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