Higher Level GNVQs

The first phase of consultation on Higher Levels of GNVQ has just finished, and follows on from the earlier consultation exercise into Higher Levels of NVQ awards. The extension of qualifications to the Higher Levels within these two areas will represent the completion of the two vocational frameworks. The consultations have raised important and fundamental questions, in particular, how the vocational frameworks will align with the academic framework. What will be the purpose of GNVQs in the Higher Education framework?

The distinctions between academic and vocational frameworks continue to converge. Within Higher Education some awards are very much academic, e.g. a Degree in Musical Studies, others purely vocational, e.g. an NVQ in Land Based Conservation. However, between those two extremes there are many awards, both degrees and diplomas, which straddle the vocational and the academic, e.g. BA Business Studies Degree and HND Business Award. Many disciplines do not fit neatly into an academic category or vocational category and in this respect the notion of Applied qualifications is helpful as a bridge.

The Consultation Paper GNVQs at Higher Levels also highlights the changing pattern of Higher Education and professional development. The number of students participating in Higher Education has grown dramatically over the past 30 years and continues to grow. Higher Education has been transformed from a provision for an elite minority to one in which more than half the population now participate at some point in their lives. Alongside this growth there have been changes in provision and delivery modes. There are calls from a variety of sources for greater change to cope with the density of the Higher Education population. The recent CBI report on Higher Education,Thinking Ahead [1994], calls for greater emphasis to be placed on core skills, and identifies a range of skills which are wider than those currently present in the first three levels of GNVQ.

When the Government’s policy to introduce GNVQs was announced in Education and Training for 21st Century [May 1991], this placed GNVQs and academic qualifications in a five-level framework. The introduction of GNVQs at Level 4 and the setting of national standards would result in bringing many Higher Education diplomas and certificates within a national framework.

Clearly, issues around the equivalence of standards between awards at Level 4 will have to be addressed. The relationship between NVQ and Level 4 and degrees and Level 4 GNVQs would need to be established.

GNVQs could be designed and promoted as a bridge between NVQs/professional
qualifications and degree courses, to align and facilitate credit transfer between qualification routes. There is additionally a growing need to be able to compare qualifications between member states within the European Union and with those from other countries.

There is a need to introduce greater coherence into the qualifications system, and yet still recognise the diversity of the need of the learners and the end users.

There are of course a whole range of further questions which would need answering in the event of Higher Level GNVQs being introduced. For example, which bodies or organisations should be recognised as awarding them? These issues have raised a whole range of views and responses in the consultation. Clearly, there are areas of vested interest here. Will Higher Education Institutions take the lead, or should it be Further Education Institutions, who have had long involvement in such important awards as Higher National Certificates, Diplomas and Professional awards? After all, FE currently delivers over 8% of Higher Education.

Where do the awarding bodies sit in all this? Currently the three major vocational awarding bodies are responsible for the GNVQs Levels 1-3. Should that continue, or should there be a new awarding body, or should each institution be given powers to award the qualifications?

A recent conference organised with Network Training discussed the issues arising out of the consultation paper for Higher Levels of GNVQ. Prior to the conference, a questionnaire was circulated to the colleges and the response was extremely high, approaching a 30% return rate.

Colleges generally welcomed the development of the Higher Levels of GNVQ and felt that the Further Education sector should play a significant role in their development and delivery. Concern was expressed about the future of the Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, of which the sector is justly proud. These are important awards that have their own integrity. This area has recently been reviewed by BTEC, the main awarding body for these qualifications, and we wait to see what their future policy is on Higher Vocational Qualifications based around HNCs and HNDs. Sixty-seven per cent of the respondents felt that the Higher Levels of GNVQs should adopt a similar format for specifying outcomes as with the current GNVQs at Levels 1-3. However, many felt that there should be a much dearer definition of the outcomes. Ninety-seven per cent felt that the Higher Levels of GNVQ should be unitised and awarded separately to allow credit accumulation and transfer.

The questions relating to core skills produced some interesting comments. One of the distinct advantages of GNVQ is the presence of core skills and all the respondents wanted to see core skills promoted at the High Levels, although there may be a need to involve a wider range. Seventy-eight per cent wanted core skills as a significant feature of the awards, whether through mandatory, optional or additional units. Forty-one per cent wished to see the core skills as mandatory and to be determined separately for each GNVQ programme of study, whilst eighty-four per cent wished to see core skills included in the additional units, which could encourage students to extend their achievement and continued learning. Eighty per cent wished to see the Higher Levels being assessed by a combination of portfolios, tests and examinations. Many felt that the exact nature of the assessment should depend on the outcomes that were being assessed and the programme of study being undertaken by the students. Ninety-seven per cent wished to see the assessment based on units in order to allow units to be assessed separately, as and when required.

Questions concerning the nature of the award drew a range of responses.

*    37% per cent wanted the Higher Levels to be based on broad foundation qualifications within particular vocational areas.
*    57% focused on specialist awards to meet the transition and progression needs of the different students.
*    52% per cent felt the criteria should attempt to accept both broad-based and specialist awards.

The issue of the alignment of awards produced a varied response.

*    30% felt standards of the award should align with two thirds of the content of an Honours degree.
*    63% wanted to see the alignment with the standards achieved after two years of a 3-year Honours degree.
*    30% wanted to see a total review of standards.
*    64% felt that the award should provide a foundation for progression to Higher Level NVQs and professional qualification.
*    75% felt that Higher Levels should be designed and promoted as a bridge between NVQs and professional qualifications and degree courses, and for there to be credit transfer between these routes.
*    84% were positively in favour of the introduction of Higher Level GNVQs.

The full results of the questionnaire and its analysis have been sent to NCVQ.
The development of Higher Levels of GNVQs is important as it will represent the completion of a coherent curriculum framework.

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