NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS FRAMEWORK AS A TOOL TO SUPPORT DEVELOPMENTS IN LIFELONG LEARNING
Following the political transformations of 1989, the number of students in Poland has increased significantly – the participation rate exceeds now 50%. Little progress, however, has been made in implementing the concept of university-level lifelong learning (LLL). The percentage of students aged 30+ in Poland is twice lower than the EU average.
An expansion of the LLL system is therefore seen as one of the key objectives for the Polish higher education. In recent years, the Law on Higher Education was amended twice and each time regulations intended to stimulate and support developments in this area were added. In 2011, the National Qualifications Framework for Higher Education was introduced, and in 2014 new regulations, that allow for special, highly individualised study programmes, preceded by the recognition of prior non-formal and informal learning were adopted.
To support the efforts of higher education institutions in implementing necessary changes, the project “Higher education institutions as LLL integrators” is currently carried out by the Educational Research Institute within the broader context of the development of the Polish Qualifications Framework for LLL. Five institutions of different profiles have been selected to develop and implement solutions that will subsequently be promoted at the national level as examples of good practice.
In the paper, the case of one of the institutions participating in this project, namely the Warsaw University of Technology (WUT), is discussed in some detail.
One of the goals of WUT in the area of teaching and learning, defined in “WUT Development Strategy”, adopted by University Senate in February 2012, is to develop LLL services that would allow for an integration of (formal) qualifications, competences and experiences of a prospective student with the WUT educational offerings, so that to provide him/her with an individualised learning path that best suits his/her educational objectives.
A key assumption underlying the actions taken to achieve this goal is to exploit as much as possible the benefits coming from the introduction of the National Qualifications Framework for Higher Education and upcoming introduction of the Polish Qualifications Framework for LLL (PQF). The following observations can be made in this context:
- A shift towards the “learning outcomes culture” stimulated by legal regulations has significantly increased the understanding and acceptance of the concept of recognition of prior non-formal and informal learning by the academic community.
- Defining learning outcomes and PQF level for each module, programme etc. available for prospective students (LL-learners) allows for design of flexible learning paths, composed of modules, short programmes etc., taken over an individually decided period of time, combined, if necessary, with recognition of prior learning, that can lead, in particular, to a partial or full qualification.
- The discussion is taking place on the development of short-cycle programmes leading to qualifications at level 5 of the PQF (equivalent to level 5 of the European Qualifications Framework for LLL), currently non-existent in Poland. Such programmes – when combined with recognition of prior learning – may allow for the design of individually tailored learning paths that would require just slightly more than one year of studying to receive a university diploma.