Introduction and Background5 October

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Introduction and Background5 October

    Introduction and Background, 5 October 2006, Leiden

Welcome to all.

    Many of you present here have been involved from the start with what are now often called the Dublin descriptors, the reference points in the Qualifications framework for the European Higher Education Area. It is a pleasure thus to meet old friends again. It is also a pleasure to welcome new friends for whom the origin is not that known. To take you all to the same level of “enlightenment”, I focus on the origin of the descriptors, and their development in the past

    6 years.

In 1999 the Bologna declaration was signed.

    Various countries started implementing its goal, higher education structured in two main cycles, of which one was a Bachelor. For The Netherlands, Flanders, Germany for instance this meant that a one tier structure, with programmes leading directly to a degree comparable to a Master, had to be split into two tiers, a Bachelor and a Master. Where to draw the line? How to discern a Bachelor from a Master programme?

    For accreditation of programmes, introduced in some countries, cycle descriptors were developed.

    The Netherlands and Flanders co-operated in preparing accreditation and wondered how their cycle descriptors would compare with descriptors elsewhere, where a similar kind of quality assurance was in place. To investigate this we organised a tour to various capitals in Europe. At the end of the tour we organised a meeting with the governments and respective quality assurance agencies we had met. It was September 2001. That meeting concluded: We face similar challenges, we should take them up jointly, learning by doing (no need for more studies on paper) and use an open process accessible via internet. That was the start of the joint quality initiative and the website

    Against this background we took up comparison of cycle descriptors. They were developed or used at that time in three settings.


    Germany ZEvA

    UK subject benchmarks statements

    Ireland, Spain work in progress


    Incidentally (or not) they were all described in terms of "learning outcomes". When the German and Dutch descriptors were translated into English we used different words, but we also had the feeling that the meaning of those different words was not that different. And we wondered: if we mean the same, could we use the same words for what is considered similar and express in different words what is really different.

    Thus we scheduled a meeting, which happened to be in Dublin.

    We analysed the existing descriptors, and decided at the meeting to focus on what we shared; on what was expressed in common. We first agreed on what outcomes were shared by all and then noted these down in sentences that we all understood in a similar way. That gave rise to the Dublin descriptors for the Bachelor and Master, or in Bologna terms, descriptors for the end of the first cycle and the end of the second cycle.

    The Dublin descriptors consist of 5 lines: one on knowledge, the second on application of knowledge, the third on problem solving, the fourth on communication, the fifth on lifelong learning abilities. No distinction was made between education oriented more at entering a


    profession versus more academically oriented education, as such distinction was not shared in all countries. The descriptors encompass both.

    They were first presented at a Bologna seminar in March 2002 in Amsterdam: The European dimension of quality". Step changes, which focus on the differences between the cycles, were also provided then.

The descriptors were considered useful and are in use since.

    In Swiss they were used for rethinking the nature of higher education. Please keep the descriptors general was the request of the Swiss quality assurance agency. It makes them useful for such countrywide rethinking process.

    They were tested in quality assurance processes, the TEEP project, and the outcome was that they should be more elaborated, to be useful for assessments of quality of programmes. Of course next to these shared general descriptors additional learning outcomes can be taken up. Thus we noted that ZEvA, the quality assurance agency in Hannover, Germany, requested the mastery of another language next to German.

    In Flanders the descriptor for bachelor was elaborated into one more geared to a professional bachelor and another more academically oriented. These descriptors were incorporated in the Flemish legislation.

    In the Netherlands the descriptors were included in the accreditation framework as general reference points. Also in the Netherlands additional criteria were developed for more professional oriented programmes and more academic oriented programmes.

    At the Berlin meeting in 2003 ministers of higher education encouraged the development of an overarching Qualification Framework for the European Higher Education Area. They also asked to explore how shorter higher education may be linked to the first cycle. In line with this descriptors for the doctorate, the third cycle, were developed in March 2004.

    And upon request of the working group for the overarching framework a descriptor for a short cycle within the first cycle was developed by the end of 2004.

    The entire set of descriptors was taken up as appendix 8 of the proposal on the Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area. From this set, the three cycle descriptors were adopted as the three points of reference for all countries. Use of the short cycle descriptors was left to individual countries.

    This document, appendix 8, is made available in your papers, and at the desk.

    Since then in EU context and the Lisbon process ministers had asked for an overarching qualifications framework for vocational education and training, which was later expanded to being a framework also encompassing general education and higher education. The EU was asked to ensure that this qualifications framework would be in line with the qualifications framework for Higher Education adopted in the Bologna process.

    The EU-Cie made a proposal and came up with other kind of draft descriptors. These have been amended since. Recently the EU-Cie published its final proposal. Also this document is made available in your papers and at the desk.

    This brings us to the reason for this meeting. The EQF next to the QF-EHEA raised a lot of questions.

    First: why different words. The Dublin descriptors encompass both professional oriented higher education and academic oriented education.

    We are glad that Mike Coles is here to shed light on why different words, while after all the highest levels of the EQF are considered of the same level as the 3 cycles of the QF-EHEA.


    Then it seems that some have the impression that the EQF replaces the QF-EHEA. To this I should say that the Bologna Working group on qualifications frameworks met last week and concluded that the Bologna countries remain committed to implementing the QF-EHEA. This framework is developed to compare higher education degrees, awarded by various institutions. The EQF is developed to provide a series of levels for lifelong learning, ranging from secondary to higher education.

Why is it me telling you this?

    When the Bachelor Master structure became introduced in the Netherlands, I worked in the ministry as account manager for quality assurance. It became my task to promote international co-operation of quality assurance agencies to ensure comparability and transparency in the cycles of higher education and to foster good quality higher education. It so happened that I chaired the meetings giving rise to the Dublin descriptors and I keep the joint quality website up to date. There you find translations of the descriptors and elaborations. That on my background and involvement.

    It is with pleasure that I arranged this meeting. We will be able to learn about various elaborations of the general descriptors and we can discuss our worries and trusts regarding the Bologna Higher education qualifications framework in relation to the new EU qualifications framework.

Marlies Leegwater Oct 5th 2006


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