Marietta van Rooyen, Executive Chair: Assessment College
This article is a report on the Assessment Colleges Continuous Practices Development Workshop at the Indaba Hotel, on the development of the reviewed NQF. Our inputs are based on the Joint Statement of the Ministers of Education and Labour, as well as the subsequent publications and drafts that were published by the two Departments.
Our guest speakers were Meg Pahad and Dr. Paul Steyn. Meg did a presentation on the conceptual draft of an Occupational Quality Assurance Framework. She is a consultant working for the Department of Labour in a consultative team that is drawing up conceptual draft documents. Dr. Paul Steyn of Educor, a member of the HEQC and the Umalusi Board, delivered a presentation on the recently published Higher Education Qualifications Framework. Marietta presented a summary of the Joint Policy Statement and Gerda presented her impressions of the draft information regarding the Foundational Learning Certificate. We will touch on some pertinent points these speakers made.
We also enclose the results of the discussions from the workshop on possible consequences of the proposed new legislation and regulations.
The Joint Policy Statement
The Joint Policy Statement actually has a very positive and reconciliatory message. The document states clearly that the policy seeks to '.cut through the doubt and incipient confusion and set out a clear line of advance that will protect the gains we have already made, upholding the objectives of the NQF and provide a sturdy platform for future development.'
The Ministers also ask for the support of all the many stakeholders: "Good leadership and goodwill will be required on all fronts in order to ensure a well managed transition.' It is very encouraging to see that the document also calls for people to stop over-emphasising one form of learning over another, as this causes the devaluation of some forms of learning. It goes on to say that ETD practitioners must regard each other as colleagues and potential collaborators, rather than competitors.
The danger of creating silos of learning is greater than ever in the new structures that will have a separate framework as well as a separate quality council for each of the three areas of learning. These are higher education, further and general education and trades and occupational training.
An interesting new notion introduced is the one of education, training and skills development. This must however not be seen as an exclusion of development of people and communities.
One of the most profound changes will be that each quality council will be generating standards and/or qualifications in their own area. SAQA will be able to judge whether these qualifications can be registered, based on the criteria for registering of the qualifications on the NQF. Furthermore it seems that the responsibility for ensuring mobility and portability will rest on the broad shoulders of SAQA.
Professional bodies, both statutory and non-statutory, are fully recognised as having design and quality management roles in their occupations and professions. They will be able to choose how they are going to be affiliated to the CHE, Umalusi and the QCTO.
Besides the QCTO, the other new body that will feature is the HRD Coordinating Committee. Not much is said about this committee, how it will be made up or what its functions will be, except that they will be there to ensure interdepartmental collaboration.
SAQA will remain the dedicated national oversight body for the development of the NQF.
Quality Assurance Framework for Occupations
Meg Pahad had us on the edge of our chairs when she explained the conceptual thinking behind the QCTO. It was especially interesting to see the latest model of the reviewed NQF. She explained some new thinking regarding the quality assurance of providers and workplaces which includes what is presently called a curriculum.
The task team working on the draft documents is thinking creatively and is striving for a "light touch' in provider accreditation. Meg explained the thinking behind the QA of learning programme implementation, and assessment of occupational competence. The concept of assessment centres seems to dominate the quality assurance scene. The quality focus will be on the assessment and results achieved by the learners from each institution. This means that we are now going to look at the outcomes rather than the inputs delivered by providers. This seems to be a sound way to look at quality, provided the assessments are transparent and open.
Accredited assessment centres will also be able to offer RPL assessments and RPL services to learners. Does this mean that ordinary providers need to apply to be RPL centres?
The participants were quite pleased with the open and friendly way the DoL team is approaching the quality framework.
The Foundational Certificate for Occupational Qualifications
Gerda presented an overview of the present thinking on the Foundational Certificate, previously called and Access Certificate. She noted that the key concerns at present are the fact that fundamentals are proving to be a major obstacle for learners in the system. This is due to the fact that fundamentals have to be on the same level as the exit qualification, and is trying to emulate the equivalent grades in schools.
The proposal on the table is to do foundational mathematics and foundational communications only on one level. This will be an entry requirement to the occupations and not a part of the qualification. This certificate will thus not be credit bearing and will reside outside the NQF. The big question is whether people with a further education and training certificate will have to be assessed again on the Foundational Certificate.
Assessments will be available frequently and will be cost effective. The turn-around time will be fast and effective, and the quality assurance will lie with the QCTO.
This certificate will probably only be implemented in 2009.
The Higher Education Qualifications Framework
Dr. Paul Steyn presented a comprehensive overview of the HEQF as gazetted in October 2007. The idea of ten levels is not new, as it has been mooted for a couple of years now. The different qualifications, volumes of learning and credits are well laid out in the document.
Paul explained the so called "nested approach' adopted by the HEQF. He also explained how a qualification is constructed around 120 credits per year on NQF levels 5 to 8, but around 180 credits on levels nine and ten.
Once again the idea of credit accumulation and transfer (CAT) is supported in theory. It is however still to be seen whether any higher education institution actually takes CAT seriously. One of the interesting facts from the Higher Education Act that was highlighted by Paul is the admission to public education institutions clause (37) which states that the council of a public higher education institution determines the admission policy of the institution. There is thus no automatic recognition of any credits achieved on the NQF.
A fascinating point that Paul made was the idea of FET colleges being able to offer vocational education and training up to level 10. This is not provided for in the present model, but should not be excluded. Another interesting point he made was to suggest that the Higher Certificate on Level 5 and the Advanced Certificate on Level 6 are actually vocational qualifications belonging in the FET Colleges.
Paul made the point that progression and mobility is mostly absent between institutions and even between faculties within institutions. This is something that needs to change.
Issues and Consequences from the Workshop
A group of people stayed to debate and discuss consequences of the legislation for providers and learners. Here are the results:
The spirit of reconciliation and tolerance reflected by the Joint Policy Statement is very positive, but needs to be taken to its conclusion
Rationalisation of ETQAs may yield good results
Clear lines of authority between the departments themselves and between quality councils and various other bodies
Focus on assessment as a means of assuring the quality, rather than using input as criteria for accreditation
External provider/assessment centres - independent/ unbiased assessment. (NB: Questions relating to external assessors not having specialised knowledge and skills to conduct assessments)
Assessment guide/Curriculum standardisation
Focus on better assessment instruments
Level 5+ in vocational training could raise the profile of FET Colleges
Clear split between the vocational, academic and occupational.
Possible Negative Consequences
Registered qualifications need to be realigned with changed NQF structures and foundational certificate
Time and cost implications for providers already active in a relevant field
Centralisation of QA functions into the QCTO will only work if the QCTO works
Properly trained and skilled officials required within the QCTO, who can distinguish between a "light touch' and a stranglehold
Cooperation between DoL and DoE quality councils need a lot of attention.
The lack of trust in the ability and ethics of providers is obvious. If HE institutions can assess their own learners for exit qualifications, why not other providers? Provided that the assessment, moderation and verification systems work, there should be no problems
Entry for emerging providers may be very hard
The documents are unclear about the matter of registration of occupational providers with the DOE
Implementation of the transitional period will be difficult
Positive consistency within sectors - standardised and centralised SETA info
Common standardised ETQA approach
QA focus on output vs. input will require much training and information sharing
Practical implications of revisions such as the cost of redesigning of programs and assessment tools
Will SAQA have relevance and respect with regard to their authority?
The public needs more clarity on who is funding what
What is meant by "assessment centres' and what criteria are to be used to appoint them?
Foundational certificate: potential to be a barrier. How will it be implemented and rolled out?
Portability and articulation between streams
Entry registration for National Certificate Vocational (NCV) Level 5? Leading to what?
Implementing HEQF before new NQF without any mention of the QCTO
New system and complexities introduced to the system
Practicality of Credit Accumulation and Transfer (CAT) system with regards to funding and subsidies
Foundational Learning Certificate exemption unclear
Status of whole vocational programs at level 2 to 4 unsure
Integrated summative assessments of QCTO not clear
System now even more complex?
Cost implications for providers to redo everything, become familiar with new regulations and systems and do some mind shifts.