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Due to Germany’s federal structure, there is no common legal framework and standardised system for the validation of non-formal and informal learning at national level and across education sectors in the country. Validation of non-formal and informal learning is taking place in all education sectors. There is a lot of different approaches at the various levels.
The validation of non-formal and informal learning achievements in Germany has become an issue particularly in connection with the introduction of the German Qualifications Framework (Deutscher Qualifikationsrahmen, DQR). As early as in 2011, various groups of experts (from cultural education, adult education, youth education, sports, youth associations and social partners) were tasked by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) to explore how competences acquired in non-formal and informal settings could be incorporated into the DQR. At this stage already, it was discussed whether it would be possible to formally give equal recognition to competences acquired in this manner and if so, how this could be done. In 2010 already, an expert opinion (Expertise) was submitted on the subject that examines possible options in the context of the German education system. It proposed the following options:
- Maintenanceoftheformaleducationsystem: Assessment and validation of informal and non-formal learning against the backdrop of the standards and criteria applicable to formal learning; maintenance of existing certificates
- Competence-centredsystem: Competence-centred revision of standards and criteria while giving equal recognition to informal and non-formal learning achievements; extension of audit and assessment processes and certificates
- Parallelsystem: Besides the existing formal system, a separate competence-centred system should be introduced that serves to assess, audit and certify agreed standards concerning informally and non-formally acquired competences.
In fact, none of these options came to fruition, despite the backing of the European Council Recommendation on the validation of non-formal and informal learning of 2012. Calls for a validation system were rejected by the DQR bodies citing “lack of remit”. As expected, the preferred option – to assess and validate non-formal and informal learning outcomes against the standards applicable in the formal education sector – meant that the majority of outcomes continued to remain unaccounted for. In the DQR process there was strong resistance against efforts to introduce validation for non-formal and informal learning, the outcome of which would have formal force. Given this process, the phrase that is now being used in this context is “validation of vocationally relevant competences”.
Strong objections to use of the German Qualifications Framework (DQR) as a recognition and validation instrument come above all from representatives of the formal education sector (Vertreter des formalen Bildungssystems), who insist that the DQR should only serve to create transparency between the vocational and academic education sectors. They fear that, one, an extended DQR could give individuals access to European or even international systems that are outside the control of formal education providers; two, they are against changing the profession and qualification systems and related salary-grade and privilege schemes; and three, they object to the dissolution of the training and apprenticeship system as practised under Germany’s dual system.
Hence the same validation processes (Validierungswege) for non-formally and informally acquired competences continue to apply in Germany that have been in place since 2011:
- Higher education entrance qualification: aptitude examination (Begabtenprüfung), university access without “Abitur”,
- Possibilities afforded under the Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz, BBiG) e.g., crediting of previous vocational education and training (berufliche Vorbildung) or equivalence of examination certificates (Zeugnisgleichstellung) [sections 7, 8, 43(2), 49, 50],
- IT continued professional development system,
- External examinations [for individuals meeting the requirements of general lower secondary school qualification (Hauptschulabschluss), higher education entrance qualifications (Abitur) up to the requirements of section 45 of BBiG or section 37 of the Trade and Crafts Code (Handwerksordnung, HwO)],
- IT continued professional development system,
- Professionally acquired competences credited towards university degree courses.
A new development which, however, is less relevant to the subject of validation is an act for improving the assessment and recognition of VET qualifications acquired abroad (Gesetz zur Verbesserung der Feststellung und Anerkennung im Ausland erworbener Berufsqualifikationen), “Anerkennungsgesetz” for short. It came into force on 1 April 2012 and serves to improve the recognition of professional qualifications of individuals from what are known as third countries. However, it has had no real impact on the situation.
The validation processes mentioned here only relate to the processes recognised in the education system such as equivalency assessments for formal qualifications or the crediting of prior qualifications towards (parts of) a course of education. At the same time, the non-formal education sector and the labour market operate a large number of their own “competence balancing” (Kompetenzbilanzierung) methods and certificates, not all of which are recognised in the formal education system.
BMBF has launched an initiative known as VALIKOM. It is not part of the formal system, but serves to identify and validate “vocationally relevant” (berufsrelevante) competences to determine equivalent professions. VALIKOM covers all the steps of a classic validation scheme: 1. Information and advice (identification), 2. documentation, 3. assessment and 4. certification. The process is aimed at individuals aged 25 and over who demonstrate prior professional experience (also from abroad), but who have no vocational qualification. Their competences are documented in a portfolio, but can also be demonstrated by means of work samples, professional interviews and/or a trial period spent working in a company. “Certification” is effected by means of a validation certificate issued by the chambers (of industry and trade) that confirms partial or full equivalency with the profession in question. However, this does not give the holder any entitlement to the formal education system, neither a formal vocational qualification. It can only be used on the labour market, so as such corresponds to the existing “qualification analysis” scheme. This make it akin to the process of recognising higher education qualifications, which is done by matching foreign higher education qualifications against the anabin database of German qualifications. However, it gives the individuals in question no claim to access to the education system.
Experience has shown that the relevance and significance of these certificates that are produced for the “labour market” is weak. Germany’s highly formalised education and training system has a strong effect on the labour market and its flexibility. Formal education qualifications are among the most important ways to gain access to the primary labour market.
Information on ways to get recognition of non-formally and informally acquired competences in line with Germany’s vocational training or higher education system is provided on the following websites: Recognition in Germany (Anerkennung in Deutschland) (for vocational training) and the anabin information portal for foreign educational qualifications (for higher education qualifications). Each university has its own system of recognising credit points or examination results gained elsewhere.
The lack of a general validation mechanism for non-formally and informally acquired competences means there are also no general quality assurance instruments. However, naturally each of the crediting and recognition systems described above have quality assurance procedures and instruments as described in the relevant laws and ordinances; vocational training and higher education institutions also have their own agreed instruments.