2.1. Freedom of programming

In nearly all countries the nature of the relation between the central administration and the providers of education depends on where the education concerned is set in the education system. In national state-funded education systems mostly three sectors are distinguished: primary, secondary and tertiary education. The extent to which an educational establishment is autonomous differs according to the sector to which the education offered by the establishment belongs. Some examples show these differences: In primary education it is common practice to organize the education at national level through so-called national curricula. In secondary education final exams are often designed and organized at national level.

The education offered in the higher education sector is based on the principle of autonomy, which means that the educational establishments concerned are free to determine their curricula and their final exams and that they take the responsibility for it. Since higher professional education (hpe) is part of the higher education sector the principle of freedom of programming applies to hpe-providers as well. Consequently, hpe-curricula leading to one and the same qualification can differ considerably.

However, the freedom of hpe-providers to decide on the content of study programmes is subject to the condition that they take into account the demands from society and from the students. So, freedom in this respect means that the programming and the student assessment are free from state interference (i.e. curricular/didactical autonomy at institutional level), but not free from ‘the outside world’ (i.e. subject to national standards set up in close cooperation with the labour market.)

So, regardless of the curricular differences within one discipline, even regardless of the distinction between hpe-disciplines, the mere fact that all hpe-programmes are aimed at labour market recognized qualifications has resulted in a basic and common pattern: the basic features of hpe-programmes which reflect how hpe-providers do ‘take into account the demands from society’.

2.2. Basic features

The basic features presented below apply to 1st stage hpe-programmes (qualification at CEDEFOP level 4)[1] and to 2nd stage hpe-programmes (qualification at CEDEFOP level 5). In this respect it is essential is that both qualifications are recognized by the economic sector (or occupational area) the hpe-programmes are aimed at. In other words: the design of hpe-programmes mainly is determined by two points of reference: ‘nature and level of occupation’ and ‘labour market recognized qualification’.[2] This implies the following:

·         The determination of the objectives of hpe-programmes is the outcome of an agreement between hpe-disciplines and the occupational areas concerned. HPE-objectives are derived from so-called occupational profiles or occupational standards set up by the economic sector concerned. HPE-objectives describe graduates’ competence by clearly defining the knowledge, skills and attitude to be acquired by the students in order to obtain the qualification desired.[3]

·         HPE-curricula (description of the planned teaching&learning) are designed in close cooperation with the occupational area concerned. Obviously, curriculum-design belongs to the particular expertise of educators. However, in the design-process mechanisms are incorporated in order to secure feedback from the occupational area concerned.

·         Practical training (in-school and out-school) is a substantial component integrated in the hpe-programme.

·         Assessment of students: the occupational area concerned is involved in the assessment of student’s competence in particular in the assessment of student’s performance during the out-school practical placement period and in the final assessment. This involvement is well defined and structured and it regards both the assessment-methods and the assessment as such. (Occupational areas are represented in exam committees.)

·         The entrance level of first stage hpe-programmes coincides with the exit level of the corresponding secondary vocational education programmes and with the exit level of secondary general education. Due to this heterogeneous influx hpe provides for special student’s guidance mechanisms.

·         The entrance level of second stage hpe-programmes coincides with the exit level of the corresponding first stage hpe-programmes.

·         HPE-programmes are also characterized by new ways of educating and training focused on the skills and attitudes described in occupational profiles. (HPE-curricula: cf. § 5)

·         HPE-programmes incorporate mechanisms to secure that the occupational area concerned is involved in the programme-evaluation. (Quality assurance: cf. § 7.)

[1]  In some countries called: college education

[2]  “Qualification” in this respect must be considered as to be a starting qualification that enables the hpe-graduate to enter into a particular occupation.

   Only after some time of working experience and specific in-company training the (then former) hpe-graduate is fully qualified for the post he occupies.

[3]  See also § 5