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Article
Publication date: 13 November 2017

Stan Lester

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the problems of applying competence standards to professional-level work, noting limitations in functional approaches and drawing…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the problems of applying competence standards to professional-level work, noting limitations in functional approaches and drawing on developments in professions and on a recent Erasmus+ project to propose a more adequate alternative.

Design/methodology/approach

An approach to describing competence based on previously reported developments in some self-governing, principally British professions was used to inform an Erasmus+ project that created competence standards for five higher-level occupations in different European countries.

Findings

The original developments in professions and further work through the project both endorse a model of competence that is based on standards of practice, applies holistically to professional or occupational fields rather than focusing on work roles and functions, respects contextual factors in defining competent action, and necessitates situational interpretation and judgement.

Practical implications

Descriptions of professional competence need to avoid being overly constrained by assumptions about the roles that practitioners might perform or the context in which practice takes place. They need to reflect the ethos and ethics of the field as well as more transversal aspects of professionalism. Descriptions of this type are likely to reflect factors that are also valued in higher education.

Originality/value

The model of competence that is proposed appears to have a good level of validity for high-level professional work, and provides an approach to describing practice that is not limited to particular national contexts.

Details

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, vol. 7 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2042-3896

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Article
Publication date: 26 March 2018

Stan Lester, Anna Koniotaki and Jolanta Religa

The purpose of this paper is to describe a revised approach describing occupational competence, with particular reference to its application in two European countries at…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to describe a revised approach describing occupational competence, with particular reference to its application in two European countries at the level of specific occupational fields and in relation to the models used in national vocational education and training (VET) systems.

Design/methodology/approach

An Erasmus+ project involved partners in five countries developing and trialling competence standards, following principles developed from approaches that have recently emerged in some British self-governing professions.

Findings

The model used in the project avoids the narrowness that was characteristic of earlier British approaches to occupational competence. It provides a template that can be used for articulating the essentials of practice, including in emerging fields and those that cut across professions and occupations. It is also flexible enough to provide underpinnings for different types of VET system without making assumptions about the way that economies, labour markets and education systems are organised.

Practical implications

A number of factors are outlined that improve the applicability of practice-based competence descriptions, including starting from occupational fields rather than job roles, focussing on the ethos and core activities of the field, and using concise and precise descriptions that are not limited to specific roles and contexts.

Originality/value

A tested, practice-based model of competence is put forward that can be applied at the level of broad professional or occupational fields, is neutral in respect of national labour markets and educational systems, and offers a means of developing a common “language” of competence at a European level.

Details

Education + Training, vol. 60 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0040-0912

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Article
Publication date: 8 January 2018

Stan Lester

The purpose of this paper is to review three international frameworks, including the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), in relation to one…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to review three international frameworks, including the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), in relation to one country’s higher professional and vocational education system.

Design/methodology/approach

The frameworks were examined in the context of English higher work-related education, and areas of mismatch identified. These were investigated to identify the extent to which they were due to weaknesses in the national system or to limiting assumptions contained in the frameworks.

Findings

Assumptions based on stages of education are problematic in the context of lifelong higher and professional education, while more open, lifelong-learning oriented assumptions can be too skeletal to aid comparisons between systems of initial vocational education and training. Particular problems are identified with assumptions contained in the ISCED that do not reflect the reality of professional education.

Practical implications

International frameworks need to take account of patterns of learning that take place outside of formal institutions and throughout life, but which lead to equivalent outcomes. Nevertheless, it is not adequate to substitute assumptions based only on the level of achievement.

Social implications

The assumptions underpinning the ISCED in particular mean that equivalent achievements in different systems can be classified differently, leading to under-reporting of individual achievements, a lack of comparability in international statistics, and potential for policy distortion.

Originality/value

The paper builds on the work of Hippach-Schneider et al. by providing additional evidence, from a different national context, for issues relating to the ISCED in the context of higher professional and vocational education, and extends this analysis to the two major European frameworks.

Details

Education + Training, vol. 60 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0040-0912

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Article
Publication date: 30 April 2021

Stan Lester

This paper examines architecture as an example of the evolving context of qualifying routes in UK professions.

Abstract

Purpose

This paper examines architecture as an example of the evolving context of qualifying routes in UK professions.

Design/methodology/approach

The background and current state of architectural education, qualifying routes and regulatory frameworks in the UK is presented as a case-study, and compared with practices in professional education and qualifying more generally including the use of Degree Apprenticeships.

Findings

Architecture has since the 1960s maintained an entry-route that is premised on periods of full-time academic study plus full-time practice. While a minority part-time version of this route has always existed (and is now being expanded through Degree Apprenticeships), variations seen in other professions such as experienced practitioner entry and accelerated routes from cognate fields have so far been lacking. Pressures for reform are emerging both from external changes affecting the profession and from the high cost of qualifying in relation to median incomes in the sector.

Practical implications

There is a need for more flexible and less expensive routes to qualifying as an architect, with substantial scope to use practices from other professions and areas of higher education to recognise existing levels of competence and improve crossover with other design and construction fields.

Originality/value

This is the first review of architectural qualifying requirements that has been made in the context of professional entry more generally.

Details

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, vol. ahead-of-print no. ahead-of-print
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2042-3896

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Article
Publication date: 13 February 2017

Stan Lester and Jolanta Religa

The purpose of this paper is to review the use of “competence” as a concept and through the use of occupational competence standards in six European countries.

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to review the use of “competence” as a concept and through the use of occupational competence standards in six European countries.

Design/methodology/approach

Partners in an Erasmus+ project in each of the six countries prepared a review of the use of “competence” in their countries using a common template. The authors of this paper reviewed additional literature, summarised the individual country reviews and provided an analysis and commentary.

Findings

“Competence” is becoming a widely used concept across Europe, but its interpretation and application both vary. Between them, the countries in the study illustrate the use of separate occupational standards, both as a national strategy and developed by self-governing professions; as well as competence embedded directly in qualification and training specifications. The use of separate standards as a mandatory component in national vocational education and training systems is questioned, while the use of appropriate standards for licensing and qualified status is largely endorsed.

Research limitations/implications

The country reviews were conducted principally from the perspective of informing the developments taking place in the project, so were not comprehensive and also differed in emphasis between countries.

Practical implications

The study points to the need to avoid promoting any particular model of occupational competence at a European level, as opposed to seeking common ground that will aid mutual recognition of qualifications. It also cautions against the uncritical transfer of models and policies from one national system to another.

Originality/value

The paper provides additional evidence against “policy borrowing” without careful consideration of context, and contrasts the use of competence standards as part of a system-wide strategy with their tailored application for specific purposes.

Details

Education + Training, vol. 59 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0040-0912

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Article
Publication date: 6 July 2020

Stan Lester

The purpose of this paper is to report on a study funded by the Edge Foundation, an independent educational charity, to investigate what is needed in order for English…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to report on a study funded by the Edge Foundation, an independent educational charity, to investigate what is needed in order for English higher education to operate degree apprenticeships (DAs) on a sustainable basis.

Design/methodology/approach

The study, conducted in 2019–2020, took the form of a literature review, semi-structured interviews with employers, institutional staff members and apprentices in three fields, and an open online survey.

Findings

This study illustrates a high level of support for DAs amongst those who are involved in them, whether as educators, employers or apprentices. Degree Apprenticeships aid public-sector recruitment, support progression routes and social mobility within the existing workforce, and contribute to recruitment and productivity in public services and economically critical industries. Practices in the organisation and delivery of apprenticeships are variable, but a clear need is illustrated for strong institution–employer partnerships, integration between on- and off-the-job learning, expansive workplace learning environments, and co-ordination of assessment and quality assurance. There is also a need for external bodies to provide a consistent policy and funding environment.

Practical implications

The findings illustrate the need for strong partnerships, for programmes that are designed from the ground up as apprenticeships, and for effective integration of apprentices into the organisation's working environment.

Originality/value

This study updates and adds to the literature on DAs and work-integrated higher education. It emphasises three aspects that have hitherto been given little attention: the value of DAs for public-sector recruitment and for creating social mobility within the existing workforce, and the importance of ensuring apprenticeships are aligned with organisational objectives.

Details

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, vol. 10 no. 5
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2042-3896

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Article
Publication date: 11 April 2016

Darryll Bravenboer and Stan Lester

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the benefits of reclaiming the idea of professional competence and challenges fragmented approaches to academic qualification and…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the benefits of reclaiming the idea of professional competence and challenges fragmented approaches to academic qualification and professional recognition. It is argued that academic programmes that are integrated with the requirements for professional recognition can resolve the potentially unhelpful differentiation between “theory” and “practice” and between “knowledge” and “competence”.

Design/methodology/approach

Three contextualised case studies are presented to demonstrate a range of possibilities for developing academic programmes that integrate professional competence in the fields of construction, aviation and management.

Findings

It is argued that the examples described provide some evidence that where competence is conceived of as a matter of open on-going professional development, it can be effectively integrated and aligned with the intended outcomes of academic qualifications. Furthermore, that the examples described demonstrate that the idea of professional competence can operate to ground knowledge in practice contexts and ensure that professional values are positioned as a requirement of being qualified.

Originality/value

The diversity of the examples provided across three distinct sectors illustrate the potential for wider curriculum development opportunities for higher education practitioners. The need to align professional body recognition with academic qualification for higher and degree apprenticeships may also indicate significant implications for policy in this area. The cases presented provide evidence that academic qualifications can be developed that are at the same time recognised by employers as delivering a professionally competent workforce. This kind of development activity can provide both an incentive for employers to pay for education and training and opening opportunities for career progression for those in work.

Details

Education + Training, vol. 58 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0040-0912

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Article
Publication date: 11 February 2014

Stan Lester

– The purpose of this paper is to examine whether the idea of competence in its various forms provides a sufficient basis for developing standards of professional practice.

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine whether the idea of competence in its various forms provides a sufficient basis for developing standards of professional practice.

Design/methodology/approach

Three existing studies of professional standards and qualifying processes are drawn upon, carried out by the author in 2007, 2009 and 2012.

Findings

Professional standards frameworks are informed by several different approaches to competence, although an external or activity-based approach – similar in principle to that used in UK occupational standards – predominates. However, there are limits to the extent to which a competence-based approach can adequately represent complex professional work, and there is scope to improve the relevance and robustness of frameworks through introducing the idea of capability. Evidence is presented to show that this is beginning to occur in some of the better-designed recent frameworks.

Practical implications

Using the idea of capability in professional standards is likely to have two implications. One is that standards focus at a high level on the work of the profession rather than on specific job roles, and the other is that pervasive themes such as ethics, judgement and professionalism are written into the standards in a way that ensures they apply across the breadth of practice rather than become treated as separate topics or areas of competence.

Originality/value –

Professional standards frameworks have generally been considered purely in terms of competence. The idea of capability introduces approaches that make them more able to respond to factors such as emergent contexts, evolving and contested practices and the need for intelligent judgement and lived ethical practice.

Details

Higher Education, Skills and Work-based Learning, vol. 4 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2042-3896

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Article
Publication date: 11 May 2015

Stan Lester

The purpose of this paper is to make a case for creating a strand of negotiated qualifications in the English (and more generally UK) vocational education and training…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to make a case for creating a strand of negotiated qualifications in the English (and more generally UK) vocational education and training (VET) system, using the approach established through Ufi-Learndirect Learning through Work (LtW).

Design/methodology/approach

The paper identifies some limitations in the recent Whitehead review of adult vocational education in relation to people already in work. Drawing on research into learning at work, modifications to the VET qualifications system are proposed based on the LtW approach.

Findings

The VET qualifications system assumes a purpose of preparing people for occupational entry and developing essential competence. The needs of adults already in work can be accommodated provided that they can be fitted within structures reflecting this assumption. It is less able to meet the bespoke needs of individual workers or employers. The LtW approach, which enables individual accredited programmes to be negotiated, offers a way forward that preserves the integrity of the qualification system.

Practical implications

Implementing a LtW-type approach in the VET sector is structurally more difficult than in higher education, although less likely to encounter academic resistance. The main challenge is likely to come from the need to modify regulatory rules and design principles for vocational qualifications.

Originality/value

Individually negotiated qualifications have been resisted in VET due to largely unfounded fears about reduced rigour and loss of control of content. The proposed approach offers a means of meeting individual needs while retaining the integrity of the qualifications system and reducing the proliferation of units and content within it.

Details

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, vol. 5 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2042-3896

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Article
Publication date: 10 April 2007

Stan Lester

This paper sets out to examine whether the process of accrediting prior experiential learning (APEL) as used in UK universities is the most appropriate approach for…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper sets out to examine whether the process of accrediting prior experiential learning (APEL) as used in UK universities is the most appropriate approach for providing academic recognition for work‐based projects and learning.

Design/methodology/approach

Work‐based projects that had already been assessed in the context of a professional qualification were re‐examined to identify how they might be used towards a master's degree and what if any additional work the candidates would need to complete.

Findings

The study finds that in most cases it appeared that the candidates would be able in principle to gain a full master's degree based on their existing work and associated reflection and writing‐up, without the need to carry out additional investigation or projects.

Research limitations/implications

The findings are based on a small sample of individuals from a specific field (the conservation of cultural heritage), and while the findings are clear and appear to have wider applicability they can only be regarded as pointers for practical trialling and further investigation.

Practical implications

The findings suggest that the current approach to APEL used in UK universities needs to be expanded so that awards can be made substantially on the basis of already‐completed workplace projects. A trial of this approach is proposed using candidates from the cultural heritage sector.

Originality/value

The paper proposes a basis for changes to credit practice that will provide better scope for individuals to use and build on workplace activities in gaining academic awards.

Details

Journal of Workplace Learning, vol. 19 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1366-5626

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