Certification of Sweden’s national qualification framework
Background – the Bologna processThe Bologna process was launched in 1999 through an agreement between 29 countries, one of them Sweden. One of its fundamental elements was to create a European area for higher education (European Higher Education Area – EHEA). The aim was to enhance Europe’s competitiveness as an educational continent and encourage mobility between the European educational systems and labour markets, create a transparent and comparable qualification structure and lay the groundwork for international recognition of different qualifications.
Since then the Bologna process has been the driving force behind reforms by many European countries of their educational systems to render them more comparable and explicit. Today 46 European countries are participating in the process.
The overarching aims of the Bologna process have been broken down into a number of concrete aims. The most important of them are the following:
- Clear and comparable qualifications. Joint reference frameworks that describe the level of a qualification in the educational system and the requirement to issue a Diploma Supplement as an annex to a qualification certificate.
- Three educational cycles that are based on and require each other.
- A comparable credit system to facilitate student mobility.
- Greater mobility for students and staff, for instance through mutual recognition of studies and professional practice.
- European cooperation on quality assurance, for instance through common standards and guidelines.
Within the framework of the Bologna process the European Ministers of Education have also agreed that each country should develop a reference framework for degrees and qualifications (qualification framework). The Swedish reference framework (adopted in November 2008, revised in October 2010) is attached as Annex 1.
The reference framework is a living document that is reviewed regularly and revised to take changes in the regulations, qualification structure etc. into account. During 2011 some new qualifications have been introduced to replace previous ones (mainly in teacher training), which is why a revision is soon likely to take place.
European qualification framework The Bologna process is followed up regularly through meetings at ministerial level. At a meeting of ministers in Bergen in 2005 a European qualification framework was adopted for qualifications in higher education (QF-EHEA). Its aim was to provide the requisites to enable different national qualification frameworks to be related to each other. It consists of a description of education at three levels, how national qualifications frameworks should relate to the reference framework as well as proposals on how the national qualifications ordinances should be designed and what features they should contain to enable comparison with the qualifications ordinances of other countries.
At the next ministerial conference in London in 2007 it was decided that the national reference frameworks should be evaluated against the European one (the Bologna process reference framework). By adopting a process of self-evaluation conducted by a working group including both national and foreign experts the national agencies could verify that their own national reference frameworks were compatible with the European one.
The Swedish certification process is presented in this report.
Directive for certification The guidelines on how certification is to be undertaken are provided in a document from 2005 that was produced by a special working group in the Bologna process and adopted by the Bologna Follow Up group. This document is attached as Annex 2.
The following items must be evaluated:
What has to be verified?
- The government agency responsible for the process has a mandate from its ministry for higher education.
- That there is a clear link between the national reference framework and the descriptors in the European framework.
- Qualifications listed in the national reference framework must be based on learning outcomes and linked to the ECTS-system.
- The national reference framework process must be transparent.
- The national quality assurance system must be compatible with the Bologna process (and the communiqué issued by the ministerial conference in Berlin in 2003).
- A reference to the national reference framework and its links to the European framework must be included in all Diploma Supplements.
- National responsibilities for reference frameworks must be determined by the appropriate decisions and promulgated or published.
- The agency responsible must verify that the national reference framework is compatible with the European one.
- The body that is responsible for the national system of quality assurance must express its opinion of the self-evaluation process.
- International experts must be involved in the self-evaluation.
- The results of the self-evaluation must be announced or published and in doing so all criteria must be mentioned.
- The ENIC and NARIC networks must publish a list of all the countries that have completed the self-evaluation process.
Implementation The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education has been assisted by a panel of experts consisting of the following members:
- Agneta Bladh, ex-President of Kalmar University College
- Carita Blomqvist, Head of Department, Board of Education, Finland
- Tue Vinther-Jørgensen, Head of Department, EVA, Denmark
- Staffan Wahlén, former analyst, Swedish National Agency for Higher Education
- Ulf Öhlund, ex-Head of Department, Swedish National Agency for Higher Education
- In addition Lars Petersson, Head of Department and Jean-Pierre Zune, analyst, both from the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, have taken part in the work of the panel.
- The certification process was presented and discussed at a conference attended by the HEIs and others on 15 April 2011.