The Netherlands integrates VPL in its national education and training system as well as in the world of work particularly in the field of human resources management and development. In the Netherlands VPL is a fairly organised system at the national level, however, at the ground level the system is more complex as different stakeholders have roles and responsibilities according to their vested interests.
Challenges and opportunities
The Validation of Prior Learning (VPL), called Erkenning van Verworven Competenties (EVC) in Dutch, is an important procedure in the Netherlands for establishing parity of esteem between: (a) skills acquired on the basis of formal learning; and (b) skills recognised on the basis of a system of assessment regardless of the learning pathways whether formal, non-formal or informal.
National standards, policy and framework activity
The first official policy statement on VPL and lifelong learning of the Dutch government was in the context of the publication De Fles is Half Vol! (The glass is half full!) (Ministry of Economic Affairs, 2000). This means acknowledging the principle of recognising the potential of learners rather than their deficits.
Legal provisions on VPL in the Netherlands are embedded in the existing Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Higher Education (HE) laws.
In VET, the Law on Adult and Vocational Education (WEB, 1996) formed the basis for developing the formal VPL policy in 1998.
In HE, the Law Wet of het hoger ondewijs en wetenschappelijk onderzoek (HHW – Law on higher education and scientific research) regulates the exemption from part of the higher education study based on VPL. HE institutions are free to translate this regulation into rules on education and exams according to the programme of study in question (OERs – Onderwijs en examen regelementen).
VPL can also be used for entering higher education. Adults over 21 who do not meet the formal entry requirements can undergo a formal procedure known as the “21+test”, which tests the required level in Dutch, English and the specific subject of the programme. A number of institutions have replaced this test with VPL.
The use of VPL leads to qualifications only in secondary vocational education (at levels 1-4 of the Netherlands Qualifications Framework (NLQF)) and in higher professional education conducted in universities of applied sciences and in the Open University.
Currently standards in VET, HE and also adult education are being formulated in terms of learning outcomes and competences. This is stimulated through the country’s referencing of its National Qualifications System (NLQF) to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF). The National Coordination Point (NCP) for the implementation of the NLQF, established by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences, records all national qualifications in the NCP register. All other qualifications are first assessed; thereafter they have the level determined by the NCP and only then recorded in the register. There are separate registers for courses in vocational secondary education (CREBO, Centraal Register Beroepsopleidingen) and accredited programmes in higher education (CHRHO, Centraal Register Opleidingen Hoger Onderwijs).
Since 2013, validation of learning outcomes has been seen from three perspectives:
- VPL for validating a personal portfolio, without linking it directly to standards in the NLQF;
- VPL against sector standards;
- VPL that aims at formal learning and qualifications via the NLQF.
The main stakeholders in the Dutch VPL are: (1) the national authorities, which facilitate the development and implementation of VPL (law, finance); (2) the social partners, which encourage organisations to use VPL (through sectoral regulations and training funds); (3) schools and universities, which provide access to their standards through VPL procedures; (4) companies and organisations, which guide their employees towards VPL; and (5) the citizens who can build their personal portfolio for VPL procedures, with or without support from VPL providers.
The National Quality Code initiated in 2006 ensures the quality of VPL processes as well as the quality of VPL providers (PLW, 2009). It is based on the European Common Principles of Recognition and Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning. To begin with, the Kenniscentrum EVC (Knowledge Centre) was the main institution for supporting the Quality Code for EVC (based on a national covenant of 2006). However in 2010, the minister of education took over responsibility of the Quality Code. The reason was to ensure better comparability of providers, as well as the transferability of the outcomes of assessment between providers across sectors. In 2012, the government and social partners (employers and trade unions) signed the EVC-covenant making VPL a tool for career guidance in the labour market (Vsl EVC, 2012) in addition to it being a tool for promoting further learning and qualifications. All parties agreed that:
- The Quality Code must be customised to meet the learning needs of the individual;
- Every VPL procedure must end with a standardised VPL report called Ervaringscertificaat (Certificate of Experience). This report states that the individual has a documentation of the competences he possesses;
- Accredited VPL providers must be listed in the VPL database.
The future plan is to evaluate the quality of assessors on the basis of a national standard; there should be a training course for assessors; and VPL assessors should be distinguished from general assessors as the latter require specific competences (Dungen et al., 2012).
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Centre for Lifelong Learning