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Reflections on Ireland's education/training policy making-process leading to the National Framework of Qualifications: national and international influences

Author - Thomas Duff

 

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The 1999 Qualifications (Education &Training) legislation

The Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill was published in the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) where the Minister for Education commenced the Second Stage reading on 9 March 1999. In the context of its claimed learner focus, he outlined four principal aims of the Bill as follows:

    • to establish and develop standards of knowledge, skill or competence;
    • to promote the quality of further education and training and higher education and training;
    • to provide a system for co-ordinating and comparing education and training awards; and,
    • to maintain procedures for access, transfer and progression.
(Seanad Ιireann, 1999) The Bill established a National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) – the word 'TEASTAS' was dropped as it is identified in the Irish language as a certificate award and the use of it did not reflect the range of awards to be accommodated. There were to be two new councils – the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) – to take over the roles of existing awards bodies. Following the passing of the Act by the Irish Parliament the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland was established in February 2001; FETAC and HETAC were launched in June 2001. The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) had the task of developing and maintaining a National Framework of Qualifications which was launched in October 2003. A ten-level structure contains 15 award types – from level 1 certificate to level 10 doctorate – for which descriptors were developed. The Authority engaged in a wide consultation process in developing the Framework and it has been well received by all the interest groups in Ireland, including the learners.

Conclusion

The Act highlights the growing instrumentalist influence in policy provision with education/training systems increasingly becoming an important tool for governments in economic development terms. It also highlighted human capital theory, which is based on the assumption that vocational education is a productive investment and a means by which societies can achieve sustainable economic growth. Clearly there were a range of national, European and international influences involved in formulating the policy direction that led to Ireland's National Framework of Qualifications, but clearly no single model was paramount. However, NZ did provide an overseas example that fitted with the cultural and political precepts of education in Ireland. It is clear that policy formation is complex with many competing interests seeking to influence its direction.

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