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Policy Transfer in Vocational Skills Development: Dual System and NQF Promises

By Markus Maurer, the Zurich University of Teacher Education.


Does the dual system live up to expectations? How do we go beyond implementing it in its traditional form? What are the experiences with the implementation of national qualifications frameworks (NQFs)? What are the key challenges of certification systems and the role of NQFs?

These were some of the key issues discussed and debated at a recent conference on vocational skills development (VSD).

The specific focus of the Zurich conference was on the transfer of two models that emerged in industrialised countries and have been frequently used for reforming VSD systems in transition and developing countries: the dual training system, and NQFs.

The first of these two models, discussed on the first day of the conference, was the dual system training model, which represents the core rationale of the VSD systems in a number of Western European countries, in particular Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The discussions showed that the dual system as such cannot be exported wholesale. This used to be done in previous decades, when agencies from German-speaking countries not only promoted to combine on-the-job training with learning at vocational schools, but advocated system-wide changes and three to four year-long training programmes. Today, many donors, including for instance the Swiss Development Cooperation, have a more pragmatic approach and focus on shorter courses, many of which also aim to strengthen skills in the informal sector. Though there was an intense debate on how such programmes can be made sustainable, there was a consensus that a combination of workplace-based training with school-based learning is important to VSD. There was also an agreement that the private sector is only interested in investing in training when this involvement pays off for the enterprises, and that trust between private sector and public training agencies cannot be crafted overnight.

Somewhat more controversial were discussions on the second day of the conference that centred around NQFs. To start with, representatives of three international agencies presented their strategies to deal with this increasingly popular approach. Whereas Michael Axmann from the ILO, referring to a study conducted recently by the agency, strongly questioned the value-added of qualifications frameworks, Arjen Deij from the ETF was more optimistic in this regard. Deij’s arguments were also supported by Madhu Singh who underlined that the framework model was, if applied correctly, a means to strengthen pathways to lifelong learning, an issue that has always been important to UNESCO. Case studies from different countries (including Albania, Bangladesh, India and South Africa) showed that implementation of qualifications frameworks is indeed a challenging task, particularly when policy makers decide to redesign entire training programmes – which is not always in line with the needs of labour markets.

Policy transfer is still clearly an important ingredient of international cooperation in VSD. The transfer process reflects political interests as well convictions by donor countries about how VSD could, or should, be organised. But the transfer process is also being promoted by actors in many partner countries who are looking for model solutions to resolve pressing issues in their education and training systems. Clearly, international cooperation in VSD – even if it strongly relies on models from economically more developed countries – will be successful only if it is based on a mutual and (at least partly) research-based learning process that acknowledges the dynamics of the specific contexts where VSD programmes are being developed.

About the Conference

On 13th and 14th September 2012, an international Conference on Policy Transfer in Vocational Skills Development took place in Zurich. It was organised by the Institute of Education of the University of Zurich in cooperation with the Centre of Development and Cooperation of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (NADEL), NORRAG and the Swiss Forum for Skills Development and International Cooperation (FoBBIZ). The conference focused on the transfer of globalised VSD models, such as the dual system and national qualification frameworks.

A complete record of the conference can be found here. A publication with articles based on the presentations made at the conference will be edited in the course of 2013 by Markus Maurer and Philipp Gonon. It will be published in Peter Lang’s series “Studies in Vocational and Continuing Education”.

Markus Maurer, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the Zurich University of Teacher Education where he is currently establishing a research unit with a focus on vocational education and training. Prior to his current position, he was a senior lecturer at the University of Zurich. Email:

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1 Response

  1. Mike

    I’ve gone through the presentations and wish that I’d been at the Conference. The contributions and conclusions regarding the dual system and the transfer of ‘globalised models’ coincides with my understanding of the situation. Furthermore. my sense is that the commitment to and excitement over NQFs has faded in the last few years. And, from the half dozen examples with which I’m acquainted, there are still some schema that require, for example, a master plumber on, say, Step 5 to obtain, for instance, a degree in medieval history before proceeding to Step 6. [I do recognise that some frameworks attempt to address that anomoly.] I seize the opportunity to advocate ‘Professional, Technical and Vocational Training (PTVT)’ as the apposite entity.

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