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Qualifications, reverse order and competences

Javier Bará Temes - Director of AQU Catalunya

2010, the date set by the European ministers responsible for higher education for the complete implementation of the new degree system, is just next year although, as we are frequently reminded, it is more of a starting point than one of arrival. The ministers are busy sharpening their pencils and preparing an extraordinary meeting for next year. With regard to the meeting held last month in Louvain, the ministers insisted on the issues from previous declarations and stressed three in particular: a) The social character of higher education and the objective of providing equal opportunities for access and equal possibilities for all students to complete their studies. b) Lifelong learning, which requires flexible learning paths, including part-time studies, as well as work-based routes. c) The development of national qualifications frameworks, with the aim of their complete development by 2012.

Looking back, the implementation of the European Higher Education Area in Spain took place in a carefully set out reverse order; first, the Master's and postgraduate programmes (2005), then, in 2007, undergraduate programmes (and, with hindsight, Master's degrees again), and, at the present time a ministerial commission is working intensely on developing the Spanish Qualifications Framework (MECES), a key element in the design of degree programmes. Needless to say, this reverse order has made things unnecessarily complicated, it has created contradictions and led to a continuous chopping and changing, and will make an overall review of everything that has been carried out more than probable in the not-too-distant future, either in a gradual or sudden way. To give an example, it will be interesting to see how the qualifications framework integrates (or undoes) the specifications that expand on the ministerial orders that establish the ‘requirements for the review of university degrees that qualify for the practice of professions in engineering and technical engineering', which in certain cases define up to 70% of the programme credits.

Nevertheless, a good (and not just any old) qualifications framework is an essential benchmark for a diverse yet consistent degree system, which allows universities to exercise their autonomy, take best advantage of their specific characteristics and strong points and introduce innovations and imaginative proposals while paying indispensable attention to the interests of society in the education of quality-level university professionals. In this context of greater freedom to design and deliver degrees, the emphasis on accountability focuses on the certification of outcomes. It is therefore to be expected that accreditation processes in the future will increasingly focus more on the evaluation of attainment of the learning outcomes, and it is the assessment of student learning that is the point at which the students' achievement is established.

The European standards for quality assurance (ENQA, 2005) set out that students should be clearly informed about the assessment strategy being used for their programme, what examinations or other assessment methods they will be subject to, what will be expected of them, and the criteria that will be applied to the assessment of their performance.

In short, the new degree programmes started already during the last academic year and those that will start in September bring teachers face to face with the task of evaluating not only knowledge and understanding, but also competences that are both generic, as defined in the general European qualifications framework (previously known as Dublin descriptors) and set out in Spanish Royal Decree 1393/2007 in the appendix, and specific, with those that have been introduced in each specific degree programme. In these circumstances, AQU Catalunya has produced a series of eleven guidebooks on competence assessment for academic staff in Catalan universities, produced, by way of a competitive call and coordinated by the AQU, by teams of academic staff in Catalan universities who are familiar with the context, and with the objective that the guidebooks are realistic, ejemplary and useful.

We trust that the effort made by the groups of academic staff, to whom we wish to express our gratitude, turns out to be of real use and beneficial.


Generalitat de Catalunya

Via Laietana, 28, 5a planta 08003 Barcelona. Spain. Tel.: +34 93 268 89 50

© 2008 AQU Catalunya - Legal number B-21.910-2008