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According to the National Coordination Point of the National Qualification framework (Koordinierungsstelle für den Nationalen Qualitätsrahmen, OEAD), Austria has developed the National Qualification Framework (NQF) for validating non-formal and informal learning based on the recommendation of the European Council of 20 December 2012. The Council recommended that member states establish national regulations for validating competencies acquired through non-formal and informal methods by 2018. The National Qualification Framework (NQF) is an instrument for mapping qualifications from the Austrian education system. The aims are to provide a transparency tool to facilitate the orientation within the Austrian education system and to support the comparability and comprehensibility of Austrian qualifications in Europe. The general aim is to record competencies acquired through non-formal and informal methods and give them visibility. This should give people who have acquired competencies outside of the formal qualifications system better educational and professional opportunities. The Framework is regulated by the Federal Law on the National Qualification Framework (Bundesgesetz über den Nationalen Qualifikationsrahmen, 2016).
Institutions and ministries can submit a request for the mapping of a qualification for which they are responsible to the National Coordination Point (NCP) at OEAD. The request has to transparently explain the applied level in reference to the respective descriptors as well as the learning outcomes. The NCP performs a formal and content-related verification with the help of external experts. The NQF-Advisory Board makes a statement if the NQF-Steering Group does not object to the mapping with a two-thirds majority, the qualification is published in the NQF-Register and is officially applicable. In principle, the eight national qualification levels relate to the respective eight European qualification levels.
The development of an Austrian validation strategy for recognition of non-formal and informally-acquired knowledge was developed by an inter-institutional working group as part of the Austrian Lifelong Learning Strategy LLL:2020. Pilot projects helped to raise awareness and boost acceptance and willingness to recognise non-formal learning in Austria.
WIK:I – What I can do through informal learning (Was ich kann durch informelles Lernen)
In further addition to the (digital) Volunteer Passport, WIK:I allows young people to collate and present their informally acquired skills. The focus lies on informal learning among peers, at leisure, within their families, in sports, in their voluntary and/or honorary activities, in their hobbies, in the context of jobs, etc. The WIK:I method is a guided self-assessment for young people.
Qualified WIK:I portfolio counsellors assist the young people in systematically documenting their informal learning experiences. Starting with collecting and describing personally significant activities ('what I do'), young people are eventually able to identify and describe the skills they gained in the process ('what I can do'). The description of skills is always linked to specific activities ('I can do this because …'). The benefit of compiling a portfolio is that young people gain an awareness of their informally acquired skills and a sense of direction for their subsequent education and career planning. Above all, it empowers them when they are required to describe and present their skills (e.g. in the context of job interviews).
The principles of the WIK:I method
- to focus on strengths and resources,
- to promote empowerment and initiative,
- to encourage self-reflection,
- to focus on dialogue and group processes (peer learning) as well as a biographical approach to learning.
Validation of non-formal and informal learning on the federal state level
As many initiatives and measures are part of duties of the federal states, it is possible to validate non-formally gained skills in some federal states. A good practice example is the Viennese Validation System ‘My Chance, I am able to do this!’ (Wiener Anerkennungssystem “Meine Chance, ich kann das!”). With this Viennese recognition system developed by the social partners, the Viennese vocational schools, the public employment service (AMS) and the Vienna Employment Promotion Fund (Wiener ArbeitnehmerInnen Förderungsfonds, waff), the city of Vienna offers a new way to the extraordinary apprenticeship diploma since May 2015. The Viennese recognition system is another milestone in the scope of the Qualification Plan Vienna 2020.
Validation of non-formal and informal learning in higher education
Validation of informal and non-formal learning is currently under development for the Austrian Higher Education system. VNIL in Austria cannot lead to a complete award of a higher education qualification. Still, it is possible to obtain admission to some Austrian HE institutions or to receive credits for prior learning within study programmes. Examples of VNIL initiatives in Austria:
- Limited Higher EducationEntrance Examination (Studienberechtigungsprüfung, SBP)
- Secondary School Vocational Examination (Berufsreifeprüfung, BRP): The General Higher Education Entrance Examination is for people who went through apprenticeship training or vocational education schools but did not take an examination entitling them to study at higher education level.
- Admission without final exams (Reifeprüfung/Matura, SBP or BRP: Under certain conditions, higher education institutions admit applicants who have not taken the final exams (Reifeprüfung/Matura) or any other exam mentioned above.
Youthpass is an official, European certificate for the recognition and documentation of non-formal and informal learning experiences in the extracurricular youth sector. The Youthpass is issued for Erasmus+ projects. With the Youthpass the participants of these projects can collect their experiences and document their gained knowledge.
The Austrian Academy of Continuing Education is a validation system for the qualification and recognition of adult educators. Adult educators’ qualifications are recognised according to set standards based on qualification profiles. Launched in 2007, wba acknowledges prior learning results and offers guidance and counselling as far as the acquisition of missing skills is concerned. It is directed towards individuals who are actively involved in adult education in Austria and beyond and want to take part in a certification process.
Exemplary areas of work:
- managerial positions in institutes of vocational and non-vocational adult education, responsibility for educational matters, the planning, organization and support of learning processes
- (career) guidance and counselling or
The National Coordination Point of the National Qualification framework (Koordinierungsstelle für den Nationalen Qualitätsrahmen, OEAD) presents comprehensive information on the National Qualification Framework (NQF) on the dedicated Website qualifikationsregister.at. Information is inter alia provided on what the NQF is and how an application is made.
WIK:I (depicted above) is an initiative of Department for Families and Youth at the Federal Chancellery in cooperation with ‘Ring Österreichischer Bildungswerke’ and the ‘Federal Network of Austrian Youth Information Centres’ (Bundesnetzwerk Österreichische Jugendinfos, BÖJI).
Therefore, youth information disseminate the offer in the target group of young people. It is presented on the youth information website Jugendportal and workshops are held by seven regional youth information centres. WIK:I is also presented on the Website of the governmental department competent for youth affairs (Bildung und Beschäftigung). The Ring Österreichischer Bildungswerke continuously offers training courses for youth work counsellors.
Competence Checks (Austrian Public Employment Service)
The Austrian Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) offers ‘competence checks’ for asylum seekers. These checks include the validation informal learning.
The project ‘Competence Checks for Women’, which has been implemented by the bidding consortium Update Training, ABZ Austria and Bfi Wien on behalf of the AMS since autumn 2015, was honoured by the United Nations with the ‘United Public Service Award 2019’ (Auszeichnung) in the category ‘Gender Equality’ for the Europe region. The competence checks are carried out in the respective mother tongues for the first time anywhere in Europe in order to raise the qualifications of the refugees for rapid integration into the labour market. Thus, gender-specific hurdles were removed and equal opportunities were ensured for female refugees in order to give women equal access to work and training. The competence check helps to concretise career aspirations and accompanies them to an Austrian educational qualification and into working life.
Since many procedures and initiatives for validating non-formally or informally acquired competencies belong to the formal education system and/or aim at a qualification equivalent to one of the formal systems, the same quality assurance activities as in the formal system are relevant. However, due to the wide distribution of responsibilities across various ministries, there is no overall quality assurance framework for the validation of non-formal and informal learning. Nevertheless, measures for ensuring the quality of validation arrangements play a vital role. Evaluation is carried out in different ways and with a different frequency (if at all) for the different measures, projects, or initiatives. Evaluation studies are usually carried out by independent experts or by researchers from universities and are usually commissioned by the institution providing the validation measure or by the responsible ministry.