Higher Education and Research

Credential evaluation
Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition

Nuffic, The Netherlands
Centre for International Recognition and Certification


1. Credential evaluation 3
2. Instruments for recognition 4
3. International educational trends 5
4. PLAR and Lifelong Learning in the Netherlands 6
5. Linking International Credential Evaluation and Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition 7
6. Examples of credential evaluation and PLAR 9
6.1 The teaching profession 9
6.2 The nursing profession 11
6.3 Medical Doctors 11
6.4 Refugees with various educational backgrounds 13
References 15

1. Credential evaluation

Nuffic is an independent foundation responsible for academic as well as professional recognition in higher education. It serves as the Dutch representative in the network of academic recognition information centres of the European Union (NARIC) and the Council of Europe and UNESCO (ENIC). The ENIC and NARIC networks closely follow the developments in higher education that have consequences for the recognition of credentials. In recent years they have had joint workgroups to discuss many topics regarding the recognition of credentials and provided tools to improve the recognition procedures. In that capacity Nuffic serves Dutch institutions of higher education, ministries and governmental bodies as well as private persons in the assessment of foreign qualifications, comparison of educational systems and the application of international agreements. Final decisions on admission, exemptions or access to professions are taken by the therefore appointed authorities.

The purpose of credential evaluation is to determine to what extent a foreign qualification meets the following requirements:
A comparable general educational level
A comparable general content
A similar function/goal, both from academic and civil perspective.

A qualified foreigner may need credential evaluation for various reasons. Generally, a distinction can be made between academic recognition and professional recognition. When a credential evaluation is needed for admission to a higher education institution, it concerns academic recognition. There is also academic recognition with a civil effect if someone wishes to use a Dutch academic title on the basis of a foreign qualification. The European Commission differentiates between cumulative academic recognition and substantial academic recognition. Cumulative recognition is when someone wishes to enter the first year of a course in the Netherlands after having completed a course in another country. Substantial recognition is when someone requests recognition for a part of a study that has been followed in another country (European Community Commission, 1994). The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) was developed to facilitate this last type of recognition. It is also possible that people follow parts of a study programme in different countries (without obtaining a degree). For this purpose, Nuffic has created ‘study programme evaluation’ instead of ‘credential evaluation’.

Another form of recognition is professional recognition; relevant for entry to the labour market (civil effect). Within professional recognition, distinction is made between ‘de jure’ and ‘de facto’ recognition. ‘De jure’ recognition means that legal demands can be placed on the education required for practising a particular profession. This concerns the regulated professions. Foreigners who wish to work in a regulated profession need a formal recognition statement of the authorised institution in the host country indicating that their qualification is comparable to the required national qualification. In the Netherlands, regulated professions are for example: doctors, teachers and nurses. ‘De facto’ recognition means that entrance in the profession is not subject to a specific higher education qualification. In principle, everyone is free to practice this profession. However, foreigners face the problem that future employers are unfamiliar with the foreign qualification, which makes credential evaluation also relevant for them.

2. Instruments for recognition

Several instruments have been developed to support international recognition of credentials. Some of these instruments are based on international agreements. They must increase the transparency of the educational systems of the affiliated countries and, ensure that the holder of the diploma receives fair recognition. Distinction can be made between instruments that have been developed to facilitate academic recognition and instruments that serve the improvement of professional recognition.

Lisbon Recognition Convention
The most important legal instrument for academic recognition is the Lisbon Recognition Convention (1997), which replaced 6 earlier conventions that had been drawn up by the Council of Europe or UNESCO. The convention concerns recognition for entry to higher education, recognition of study periods taken in other countries, and recognition of higher education credentials. According to the Lisbon Convention a qualification is recognised, as long as there is no evidence of substantial differences. The differences will be considered substantial when the qualified person cannot be expected to follow the same education or labour market pathway as a person qualified in the country itself. According to the Lisbon Convention, the responsibility for finding proof of substantial differences is for the recognising institution in the receiving country. To be able to apply the convention, the member countries are required to provide transparent information about their own educational systems and the recognition procedures and methodology that they use.

Diploma supplement
The second important tool for academic recognition is the diploma supplement. This is a product of the co-operation between the European Community, the Council of Europe and UNESCO. It is a model for providing the factual information about an educational programme and must be submitted, together with the diploma, by the educational institution. A diploma supplement can only be issued by the institution where the diploma was obtained and must be free of any value judgement, declarations of equivalence or recognition suggestions. It has become a common transparency instrument for universities, employers organisations and recognition centres. Information included in a diploma supplement is:
Information about the identity of the holder of the diploma
Information about the type of diploma
Information about the level of the diploma
Information about the content and the results achieved
Information about the function of the diploma
Additional information
Authenticity of the diploma supplement
Information about the national higher educational system

The third academic recognition instrument is the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). ECTS was developed with the objective of guaranteeing the recognition of credits and grades in student exchange programmes. An ‘ECTS credit point’ indicates the academic workload of a course or module. It relates to all the learning activities required to successfully complete the course (lectures, preparation for laboratory work, self-study etc). The educational institutions are responsible for translating their own credit system to ECTS-credit points.

European Directives
For professional recognition within the European Union, directives have been developed for the recognition of credentials that enable citizens to practice their profession in another EU member state. The two most important groups of directives are the Sectoral Directives and the General System Directives. The directives apply to the 15 EU countries and the other three countries of the European Economic Area (EER): Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. In the future the ‘EU associate countries’ will be added to this list.
The Sectoral Directives apply to seven professions (doctors, general nursing, dentists, obstetricians, veterinary surgeons, pharmacists and architects). For these directives agreements have been made about the minimum content and length of the study (harmonization of study programmes). The qualifications awarded are always recognised in the EU member states.
Persons who hold the necessary qualification are free to practice their profession as soon as they have been included in the relevant professional register. Because it appeared impossible to establish directives for all regulated professions, two General System directives were introduced. These directives concern the entrance to regulated professions which are not covered by the Sectoral Directives.

3. International educational trends

International developments in higher education have consequences for the recognition of credentials. The ENIC and NARIC networks keep up with these developments and try to react effectively. Over the last years the networks have been facing an enormous increase in available education. Recognised higher education institutions now often offer shorter training programs and postgraduate courses in addition to their regular courses. The offering of study programmes in higher education is no longer limited to the recognised higher education institutions; many private institutions also offer higher education programmes these days. As a consequence of globalisation, more and more new educational programmes are created as educational institutions co-operate with each other internationally. Besides, the study programmes and education offered over the internet is increasing. In addition to that, there is an enormous growth of the offering of ‘transnational education’, whether or not via franchising.

In 1998, four European Ministers of Education signed the Sorbonne Declaration. In this declaration the ministers argued in favour of increased mobility and co-operation in European higher education. This co-operation is necessary for the development of a united Europe, in which citizens are prepared for the knowledge society and become aware of communal values and standards. This was followed in June 1999 by the Bologna Declaration, which was signed by 29 Ministers of Education. The aim of the declaration is to create a European Educational Area, and in addition to that to enhance employability on a European scale. The aims envisioned in the Bologna Declaration are:
The implementation of transparent and comparable grades
The implementation of an educational system that is based on two cycles. The first cycle should take a minimum of three years, is required for entry to the second cycle, and should also be relevant to the labour market.
The development of a system of credit points (like ECTS), that will support the mobility of students. It is emphasised that these credit points must also be attainable from outside regular higher education (lifelong learning is mentioned here).
The overcoming of various practical obstacles that hinder the mobility of students and teachers;
The promotion of European co-operation concerning educational quality assurance;
The promotion of a European dimension in higher education.

One part of the Bologna declaration involves the international recognition of certificates and grades. As explained before, many agreements have been made already about the recognition of credentials. However, due to the educational developments described above, the practice of international credential evaluation has become too limited. In a society where mobility and lifelong learning are at the forefront, it is an anachronism to only evaluate formal qualifications. However, credential evaluators do not have the tools yet to evaluate the outcomes of non-formal and informal learning. Transparency instruments, such as the Diploma Supplement, do give extra information but only limited to the level of the formal educational processes. There is a need to shift the focus from evaluating educational processes to evaluating the outcomes of educational processes, e.g. defined in terms of competences. This need is also acknowledged by the ENIC and NARIC networks. A more competency-based assessment and recognition methodology will offer a solution for people who lost disposal of their credentials, who obtained their credentials a very long time ago, or who have gained learning experiences which cannot be included in a credential evaluation according to the current system (non-recognized forms of learning). An (internationally accepted) system for recognising competencies would therefore be important for facilitating lifelong learning. Credential evaluation will be a part of this system, but is not the same. The development of such a method has high priority on the agenda of the ENIC and NARIC networks.

Also within the Bologna process, the need for the development of strategies to promote lifelong learning was acknowledged. During the Bologna follow-up meeting in Prague (2001) an action line on ‘Lifelong learning’ was added to the initial list of 6 action lines that were adopted in 1999. Lifelong learning was considered as an essential element of the European Higher Education Area, to built upon a knowledge-based society and economy, and to improve social cohesion, equal opportunities and the quality of life. The importance of this action line was further underlined during the next meeting in Berlin (2003). It was emphasised that higher education has an important task to enhance the possibilities for lifelong learning at higher education level, including the possibilities to recognise prior learning and enable flexible learning paths. In Copenhagen (2002), 31 European Ministers of Education and Training, the European social partners and the European Commission stated that there is a need in Europe ‘to develop a set of common principles for the validation of non-formal and informal learning with the aim of ensuring greater comparability between approaches in different countries at different levels’. Upon this statement, the European Commission appointed a the ‘working group H’ in 2003, which task was to develop a set of such principles. As a result of this, the Council of the European Union adopted an initial set of principles for the identification and validation of non-formal and informal learning in 2004.

4. PLAR and Lifelong Learning in the Netherlands

In the seventies, by national policy ‘to create equal opportunities for all’, the possibilities for adults to participate in education were greatly increased in the Netherlands. Various kinds of "second-chance education" were introduced both at secondary vocational level and at university level. In the eighties, high levels of unemployment and cuts in public expenditure redirected adult education towards a more economic-effective approach, which caused an emphasis on adult vocational education and training. Education and training were considered instruments for the acquisition of ‘starting qualifications’ to secure (re-)entry into the labour market. In the nineties, the Netherlands set aims to become a knowledge-based economy. As a result, more emphasis was placed upon maintaining the employability of the workforce, especially through the continuous updating of knowledge and skills (CINOP, 2001).

In 1993, the Ministry of Education and Science published a policy document entitled ‘Continue learning (Blijven leren)’. In this document PLAR was mentioned for the first time as one of the instruments that could make formal education more accessible to adults. In 1994, a Commission was established by the ministry to formulate recommendations on PLAR. The recommendations were positively received by the government. One essential recommendation was that no new structures should be introduced, but that existing structures should be used as much as possible when applying PLAR.

In the mid-nineties, various pilot projects were set up to gain experience with procedures and tools that define and measure competencies gained elsewhere. Most pilot projects took place in the sector of secondary vocational education and adult education. Later, various evaluations were carried out to determine critical factors influencing success or failure of PLAR procedures (see Klarus and Nieskens, 1997; Thomas and Frietman, 1998). In 1998 an action plan was launched (Lifelong learning: the Dutch initiative) in which the government emphasized that better use should be made of the work place as a place for learning. Agreements with employers and trade unions (social partners) were made in the framework of the employability agenda, aiming to give a new impetus to the development of the Dutch PLAR system. Additionally a broadly based workgroup was set up by the Ministry of Economic Affairs to define a vision on PLAR as a tool for employability, in which employers, trade unions and four Ministries (Education, Culture and Science; Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries; Economic Affairs; Social Affairs and Employment) were represented. In June 1999, the workgroup presented a working paper as basis for discussion. The paper focussed on the aims of PLAR, operational constraints (the system requirements) and a workable procedure. To assess the current state of practice, a PLAR monitoring study was carried out in the second half of 1999 in various sectors (metal work, service/communications, welfare, construction, food processing and the civil service). The study showed that PLAR is still in its infancy. The workgroup advised that PLAR should be strengthened in areas where experiments are already taking place, and that a stimulus in areas where PLAR is new or not yet developed should be introduced (Ministry of Economic Affairs, 2000). In particular, attention must be given to: the civil effect of PLAR, the accessibility to PLAR procedures and quality assurance in the PLAR system.

One specific initiative that has resulted from the recommendations is that a national Knowledge Centre on APL has been set up in 2001. This centre is financed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. Its main tasks are research, collecting and distributing information and building and maintaining a network on PLAR. Under the umbrella of this Knowledge Centre APL, a “European Social Fund –Equal” project is carried out. This fund of the European Committee supports projects geared to reducing the inequalities in the labour market by empowering the underprivileged. In this project the Dutch centre tries to promote the use of PLAR procedures for specific target groups, such as refugees, asylum seekers, long term unemployed persons and disabled persons. The Knowledge Centre on APL was initially financed until December 2004. The evaluation of the project showed that the Centre succeeded in its task to enhance the development of PLAR initiatives an building a network. However, most PLAR initiatives are still carried out at experimental or project basis. To ensure a further implementation and anchoring of PLAR initiatives on a structural basis, the Knowledge Centre will still continue its activities until December 2007.

5. Linking International Credential Evaluation and Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition

International credential evaluation and prior learning assessment and recognition have different backgrounds. Credential evaluation arose from the need to evaluate the foreign credentials of students, teachers and professionals who more and more often crossed international borders (also as refugees!). Later, credential evaluation received more attention as a tool for reducing obstacles to mobility and therefore increasing mobility within Europe (for both economic and social reasons). PLAR arose from the wish to increase the potential of people in the labour market by stimulating lifelong learning.

Both methods serve the goal to increase mobility of people with knowledge and qualifications by enrolling them into education or the labour market. To achieve this, credential evaluation concentrates on the formal qualification obtained, the learning process preceding this qualification and the function of the qualification in the country of origin. At the same time, PLAR concentrates on the competencies that were gained (the result of a learning process), irrespective of the preceding educational process. Figure 1 below shows that both methods area means to enhance enrolment in education or the labour market.

Figure 1: The synergy between the goals of credential evaluation and PLAR

So far credential evaluation has taken place on the basis of the formal assessment of national qualifications only. However, differences in study programmes might be compensated by work experience or other forms of prior learning. In situations that a formal diploma is not recognised, the applicant should be able to follow a supplementary PLAR procedure. This procedure aims to chart to what extent work experience and other informal learning have contributed to the development of competencies. It might be possible that these additional experiences are sufficient evidence to allow the person into the profession. If not, the outcome of the PLAR procedure can indicate what additional educational program is necessary in order to receive a qualification.

Nuffic is presently involved in initiatives to extend the scope of international credential evaluation by developing procedures that include assessment of learning that has taken place outside the classroom. In 1999, Nuffic initiated the project Accreditation of Competencies in Education, Professional Training and Employment (ACCEPT). The aim of the ACCEPT- project is to explore the possibilities of expanding the scope of international credential evaluation (ICE) from the level of individual diplomas and study programmes to the level of competencies. Nuffic argues in favour of the development of PLAR procedures as a supplement to credential evaluation. Figure 2 shows how credential evaluation and PLAR could be integrated.

Figure 2: PLAR procedure supplementary to credential evaluation

6. Examples of credential evaluation and PLAR

6.1 The teaching profession
The shortages of teachers in the Netherlands has encouraged teacher training institutes, Ministries and schools to develop alternative routes to the teaching profession. At national level, a project was initiated by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, which gives people without teaching qualification, but with experience which is relevant to the teaching profession, the opportunity to take an aptitude test at a teacher-training institute in order to enrol in a specific, tailor-made teacher training programme. The aptitude test reveals the kind of additional training needed to become a qualified teacher. The test uses a lists of ten core-competencies as a framework of reference. The test consists of a portfolio assessment and an assessment task (a pilot lesson, and if necessary, one or more simulation assignments). A final decision is made based on the test results. If the outcome is positive, the candidate, the school which will employ the candidate, and the teacher-training institute establish an agreement on a training programme and supervision track. The training and coaching period has a maximum of two years. This assessment process corresponds to the steps generally taken in other Dutch and foreign projects on the accreditation of prior learning (see Scholten and Teuwsen, 2001).

In 2000, Nuffic started a pilot project to test a procedure for the assessment and recognition of competencies of foreign teachers, which was financially supported by the European Commission. Secondary school teachers with a foreign degree who wanted to take up their profession in the Netherlands took part in the assessment procedure. The pilot project was a small-scale project in which six candidates participated. It was carried out in cooperation with EDUCOM, an assessment centre which was responsible for the assessment of the candidates. In each assessment two assessors took part, one general didactical expert and one subject specialist. Nuffic was responsible for the overall organization and the monitoring of the project. Figure 2 provides an overview of the main steps of the pilot project.

Figure 3: Main steps of the Nuffic pilot project

The candidates selected for the pilot had a foreign teacher-training qualification, yet this qualification was not recognized by the Dutch authorities. The files of the candidates however showed that they had more experience apart from their formal education. This might have contributed to the development of the core competencies required to work as a secondary school teacher in the Netherlands (step 1 and 2). The candidates were asked to reflect on their personal development in the portfolio assessment (step 3). In addition, the candidates had to fulfil an authentic assessment task, involving the development of a lesson plan and conducting a pilot lesson in the chosen subject (step 4). The planning of the lesson was assessed during a criterion-referenced planning interview (using an interview guideline). The lesson itself was observed using an observation checklist. After the lesson the candidate was asked to complete a self-assessment form, and a criterion-referenced reflection interview was held by the assessors. The final decision (step 5) was based on the results gathered during the whole procedure.

Following the rationale of the project of the Dutch education ministry, candidates who obtained a positive recommendation would have direct access to the profession, initially as unqualified teachers. However, they need to formalize a training and coaching agreement with the school where they are to work and with a teacher-training institute. All together, this tailor-made study programme should be completed within two years. None of the pilot project candidates obtained a positive recommendation to start working as unqualified teachers immediately. The main reason being the unfamiliarity with the Dutch teaching jargon and Dutch teaching philosophy.
Evaluation of the pilot project showed that the principle of the assessment of competencies is welcomed, even though it is a complex process, especially when the persons who are being assessed have developed the competencies in different cultural settings. The national assessment procedure on which the pilot project was based needs further modification in order to be valid and reliable for foreign professionals. Most problems concern: a) insufficient Dutch language proficiency for teaching purposes, and b) inability to reflect on the relevance of previous experience for being a teacher in the Netherlands, c) unfamiliarity with the Dutch pedagogical approach and school system (see also Scholten and Teuwsen, 2001).

6.2 The nursing profession
Since healthcare is another sector that suffers from shortages of personnel, initiatives have also been taken to increase access to the nursing profession. One example is the FLEXIS initiative (Flexibele Leerroutes resulterend in Extra Instroom) ‘Flexible learning pathways resulting in an extra influx (of personnel)’, which was initiated by two funding bodies concerned with the employment situation in hospitals and homes for the elderly. The main purpose of FLEXIS is to facilitate recruitment of nurses by offering individualized, alternative routes to qualification. An initial study revealed that several alternative routes were already available in the healthcare sector, but that these were used mainly for the additional training of current staff. The most important features of the FLEXIS initiative are:
a) A focus on reaching specific target groups and developing knowledge on these specific groups

    The initiatives taken under the FLEXIS project focus on people who already possess at least some of the competencies required for providing care, but who for some reason cannot or could not follow the regular route to obtain a qualification. This could be the case when re-entering the labour market after a period of absence, or because necessary competencies were obtained in daily lives.

b) Development of flexible learning pathways and the use of existing pathways and PLAR procedures

    Existing routes to qualification should be adapted to the learning needs of these new groups of students. A pathway can be adapted in terms of duration (shorter or longer), content and/or organizational structure. A PLAR procedure should be used to determine what the student still needs to learn.

c) Development of ’learning regions’

    To achieve effective links between the needs of the employers (hospitals and other institutions providing care), knowledge available in the target group, and the possibilities for flexible learning pathways, it is best to establish a broad collaboration at a regional level. This is referred to as ‘a learning region’. It brings together representatives of the employing institutions, the institutions that train nurses, the regional educational centres, refugee organizations, agencies that specialize in PLAR, etc.

d) Recommendations for dissemination strategies

    In order to inform other regions of the development of alternative learning pathways the projects pays attention to the propagation of successful initiatives.

The projects that started within the FLEXIS initiative took place in different healthcare sectors. Most of the projects were aimed at lower qualification levels. Foreign degree holders were mentioned in seven projects as target group. A intermediate report from December 2001 states the following results: since the start of the FLEXIS initiative 21 project proposals were issued. 17 projects included a flexible learning route from which13 are still running. 317 persons started such a flexible learning route: 20 % of this group did not finish the educational programme (drop-out), 23% received a diploma and 57% is still studying at that moment. (Report meeting FLEXIS group, http://www.flexis.nl).

6.3 Medical Doctors
Medical doctors who want to practice their profession in the Netherlands need to register in the national professional register. The Individual Health Care Professions Act (BIG Act) sets the requirements on the quality of professional practice and clarifies the conditions under which a person has the right to use a national professional title. For foreign degree holders from within the EU or EEA the sectoral European directives apply and registration is generally unconditional. For other foreign degree holders it is more difficult to obtain registration. In 2000, 25 persons from the EEA requested registration and 257 persons from outside the EEA. 44 of these 257 persons obtained registration, 97 needed to fulfil an adaptation period and 116 were denied.

Foreigners who are denied registration in the BIG register may enrol in a medical study programme. The seven medical faculties in the Netherlands, however, have a restricted admission policy (numerus fixus). It is legally possible for faculties to admit foreign degree holders outside the numerus fixus, but this is only possible for a limited number of students.

Since 1996 the Commission for Enrolment of Foreign Doctors (CIBA) is responsible for the allocation of foreign doctors to one of the seven faculties. In 1996 and 1997 146 foreign doctors enrolled in a medical programme. The intake procedures of the faculties differ. Some faculties admit all foreign degree holders to the third year, whereas other faculties decide on exemptions after (on the basis of) examinations. Because of these differences faculties have now taken the initiative to develop an intake procedure that applies nationally.

The problem of access of foreign doctors to the Dutch labour market or to the Dutch higher education system is a problem that is addressed at a national level by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs. Within this discussion the use of a PLAR methodology is mentioned as one of the possibilities to improve the procedure.

The medical faculty of the University of Utrecht is one of the seven Dutch medical faculties. At the moment the faculty is implementing a new curriculum. As a result of this new curriculum the intake procedure of foreign doctors has to be adapted. Until recently all foreign doctors who enrolled in the medical faculty of the University of Utrecht had to follow an almost uniform programme, that consisted of the following modules:
Medical Dutch for non-Dutch speaking doctors;
The organisation of the Dutch Health care sector;
Conversation (social aspects and communication with patients);
Internal Medical Science II (a subject from the fourth study year);

Only the first module was specifically developed for foreign doctors. The other modules were
part of the regular curriculum. Apart from these modules the students had to complete two years of apprenticeship/internships.

At the moment the faculty is implementing a new curriculum, which integrates theory and practise in thematic modules. Hence, more attention is paid to communication skills and the attitude of doctors. The above-mentioned modules or subjects have been abolished. The university is now required to reconsider the intake procedure for the foreign doctors and develop a valid and objective procedure to decide on exemptions. Part of the procedure includes objective assessment methods to test the knowledge and skills of the students, not so much as a kind of entrance examination, but as progress examinations to determine the level of the student in view of a tailor-made curriculum.

Nuffic has been commissioned to develop an intake procedure that includes PLAR methodology with the medical faculty of Utrecht. Specifically it concerns the development of
a portfolio model. This model should give students the opportunity to reflect on their prior learning, to determine whether this prior learning is relevant to the medical profession, to document this prior learning and to collect proof. material of evidence. In order to develop such a model the following questions have to be answered in cooperation with the students and the teachers of the faculty:

1. Determining standards: The medical study programmes in the Netherlands all use the same framework of learning outcomes. What kind of information would the teachers like to receive from the students in order to get a better insight into competencies of the students in relation to the Dutch learning outcomes?
2. Developing a framework: What kind of questions need to be asked in order to enable the students to give relevant information? Taking into account the language and cultural gaps in communication.
3. Determining valid evidence or proof: What kind of evidence is reliable, valid? Besides their formal degree, the students need to collect proofs of their prior learning. The faculty teachers will need to decide what kind of evidence is sufficient to proof that a certain competency has already been developed.

All foreign doctors who enrol in 2002 at the medical faculty of Utrecht and who have relevant
working experience are asked to participate in the project. At the same time the faculty starts
with the introduction of knowledge and skill examinations. Based on the results of these examinations exemptions will be granted. The results of the portfolio project will be compared to the results of these examinations. If the portfolio model proves to collect additional information on the competencies of the student, the faculty might incorporate the model in the intake procedure besides or in addition to the examinations.

6.4 Refugees with various educational backgrounds

In 2003 the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment initiated a project aiming to improve the process that highly skilled refugees have to go through, beginning from their stay in a detention centre until enrolment in the Dutch labour market. Currently, this process generally takes up to several years after which refugees have much difficulties to access the Dutch labour market. It was believed that a better insight in the prior learning experiences of refugees might improve and accelerate their chances to access the Dutch labour market, in line of their prior learning experience. During the entire process of integration in the Dutch society, refugees encounter many Dutch organisations who have a task in the integration process. Each organisation requests from the person to put in their personal details, including information concerning their educational and professional background. To improve the transfer of this kind of information between organisations, the portfolio was expected to be a valuable instrument.

A considerable group of organisations that have a task in the integration process participated in this project, to design and implement a portfolio on prior learning for refugees. Nuffic also contributed to this project with its experience on PLAR initiatives for foreign trained professionals. During the project, a portfolio format was developed and tested among a group of about 80 highly skilled refugees. The project group recommended to start with the development of the portfolio as early as possible in the integration process. In this way, the activities the refugee undertakes to prepare for accessing the Dutch labour market can already be tailored to the sector / type of profession that seems attainable and fits with the persons prior learning experiences.

In the portfolio, refugees describe detailed information about their personal situation, formal education, courses, work experience (both paid and voluntary), other activities, skills and qualities, etcetera. Due to the reflection on their prior learning experiences, it appeared easier for them to put a link between their former experiences and the future opportunities for work at the Dutch labour market. Therefore, on the one hand the portfolio helps the refugee to orientate on their possibilities for the future, and it forms a valuable source of information for Dutch organisations that support the refugee during the integration process on the other. In addition to the portfolio, the refugees also develop a summary of the portfolio in the form of a Curriculum Vitae. This can be useful for instance when applying for jobs, as the portfolio is too extensive for the purpose of job application. To support the refugees to actively work on their preparation for work, and help them bridge the gap between their prior learning experiences and the requirements of the desired position at the Dutch labour market, they also make a Personal Development Plan. In this plan they identify the steps they still need to take to get ready for accessing the Dutch labour market.

The first results of this project were generally positive. The refugees themselves found it very useful to develop a portfolio. By reflecting on their experiences, they got a better view on their possibilities at the Dutch labour market. The portfolio instrument appeared to be most relevant for those who were in the stage of orienting on their career possibilities in the Netherlands. Also the Dutch organisations that worked with the portfolio method were positive. The Central Organization for Asylum Seekers (COA) even decided to amend the portfolio format for all asylum seekers who still have to start with the integration programme.


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