This paper notes the very limited evidence that exists for national qualification frameworks (NQFs) having had successful impact, yet also acknowledges the continued faith in them as an answer to failing skills systems.
The author notes that there has been relative success but that it has to do with good initial starting conditions. Thus, Scotland, a country which already had “strong institutions, a relatively strong economy, and relatively high employment”, as well as a small population, succeeded. Moreover, its success also owed to developing its system incrementally, over a relatively long period of time. Yet the vast majority of those attempting NQFs have neither Scotland’s fundamentals nor the perceived time to implement incrementally.
The author focuses strongly on the notion of NQFs as borrowed policies, pointing to the inherent problems in such borrowing. These include the perennial issue of how far context is important. There is a strong sense that the reform process both sees lack of strong institutions as the problem that needs solving but also assumes that new institutions can be borrowed and transplanted without problems. She also notes that the borrowing tends to be within a snapshot of a system frozen in a policy or an institutional arrangement, rather than the necessary reading of the system as an evolutionary process.
As evolutionary, political processes, the author sees NQFs as infused with power. However, as policies, NQFs are full of a language of consensus that suggests that all are winners. At the same time, at the level of implementation, they are replete with a highly technical language that effectively excludes most stakeholders from participation and democratic oversight.
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