Editorial Articles

Editorial 45

Skill Development & Quality Assurance
in Vocational Education & Training

Rohit Nandan

Indian Vocational Education and Training (VET) and general education is in the process of reform and has undergone a number of changes which has seen the system open up to greater participation from industry through the introduction of a National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF). The NSQF was notified on 27th December 2013, and was anchored in the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA). Like the EU, Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, the UAE and others, the introduction of a qualifications framework in India called for coordinated linkages across educational training sectors, and industry to ensure that all qualifications in the country are valued and consistent.

NSQF ensured a formal structure to qualifications/courses being offered and implemented in the most scattered manner, by organising them into levels of competencies based on knowledge, skill and attitude. A paradigm shift from input based approach of educational training to an outcome oriented training and assessment is envisaged through the NSQF. This is being done by NSDA by setting up minimum norms for industry validation, curricula and content for qualification alignment and approval. NSDA is providing assistance to State Skill Development Missions and GOI Ministries to align to the new approach, and so far around 1500 qualifications by various certifying bodies have been approved as per the outcome based approach. An outcome based approach will better inform the candidates and the employers about what a learner can do after taking up the course/qualification, and builds confidence in the quality assurance of qualifications leading to better acceptability by Industry, and mobility and progression within and between education and training systems.

National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepre-neurship 2015 has emphasized on the need to undertake skilling in India at scale with speed, standard (quality) and sustainability. Training people under the new NSQF requires a coordinated effort to ensure parity of awards across different educational sectors, and to guarantee consistency in graduate outcomes nationally and increased remittances internationally. If the title and level of a qualification in one country does not meet the outcomes of a qualification of a similar title at a similar level in other countries then trust in that nation’s qualifications will begin to erode. This is where a nationally coordinated quality framework helps to protect the integrity of qualifications. Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship is keen to ensure that qualifications and skills gained are valued in the labour market by employers and students. This is done by aligning national qualifications and training/education needs with comprehensive labour market analyses, and applying outcomes-based quality assurance. This also facilitates smooth pathway progression to higher level qualifications. To achieve this, we require a quality framework to underpin the implementation of the qualifications framework, the NSQF. This will allow India to benchmark qualifications, training, and performance outcomes across Ministries, States and other countries. One common concurrence in all models for international recognition is the emphasis on a unified and internationally referenced quality assurance system for education and skills development.

The policy clearly states ‘One Nation One Standard’ to ensure that a uniform set of nationally accepted standards can be aligned globally and Indian youth can fetch jobs and career progression opportunities at local, national and international levels.

The following parameters have been identified for improving quality:
*Quality assurance framework embedded in NSQF
*Market relevant training programmes
*Recognition of prior learning
*Curriculum alignment
*National Certification Framework
*Employability skills

The Policy has envisioned the role of National Skill Development Agency (NSDA) focussing on Quality Assurance and Policy Research in the skill eco-system. It mandated NSDA to establish and operationalise a Quality Assurance framework embedded in NSQF to improve consistency of outcomes in the skills landscape, which includes laying down a framework for training, assessment and certification processes and agencies in the country. The Quality Assurance Framework will act as a regulatory framework which will define the norms, quality standards and processes to be followed by various stakeholders, in the vocational education and training space in the country.

The proposed National Quality Assurance Framework (NQAF), places particular emphasis on the evaluation and improvement of the outputs and outcomes of VET and general education in terms of increasing employability, improving the match between demand and supply and promoting better access to lifelong learning. Quality in the context of NQAF means; processes, procedures and outcomes for ensuring that qualifications, assessment and programme delivery produce graduates who productively meet industry’s current and future skill needs. The National Quality Assurance Framework (NQAF) is designed to be used across states, sectors and ministries and provides the structure within which all bodies operate.

The vision of the National Quality Assurance Framework is to:

1.Improve the consistency and industry relevance of NSQF graduates through closer partnerships with industry and other social partners;
2.Accommodate diversity and protects learners from inferior and non-relevant skills development for people from all socio-economic backgrounds and genders;
3.Provide a structure for continuous improvement of the VET and general education systems in India;
4.Improve the quality of all education and training in India, even those delivered by institutions that have limited resources, by an inclusive quality framework, which permits such institutions to achieve the quality standards laid down in the NQAF. The objective is not to exclude large number of participants in the VET and general education process by an exclusive framework that set benchmarks that excludes much of education and training provision existing in the country;
5. Provide greater transparency and consistency across the entire VET and general education system as it provides a common framework for the system as a whole to improve, monitor and evaluate the management, provision and outcomes of education and training.

The NQAF is to be applied at all levels of the VET and general education system, and can be used to assess the effectiveness of VET and general education as a whole. A nationally consistent approach to quality will assist in raising the status of VET and general education as employers will realise that graduates are exiting training/education programmes with consistent relevant skills and knowledge. Ministries, States, Government and Industry led bodies (Sector skill councils) all have a role in supporting continuous improvement across the skills development system in India. Most existing quality arrangements in India focus on up front audits rather than committing to the principle of continuously improving the quality of their training/education outcomes by building on the existing quality requirements. There are major variations in the standard of facilities, access to current equipment and the skills of teachers in the various stakeholders involved in VET and general education in India across geographies. Large urban based Training/Education Institutions are more likely to have access to skilled staff and good training equipment than in rural and remote areas. This disparity means that the quality framework must offer avenues for all training/education organisations to participate at different levels with the goal of progressing to common higher levels of quality through incremental improvement. The NQAF involves an incremental approach for training/education providers which will not adversely affect training and education efforts required to meet nationally set training targets.

The NQAF encompasses a sub-set of 8 Quality Manuals of processes, principles and indicators, which will provide a set of standards to be followed by stakeholders, so that the implementation process across Ministries, Sectors, States and Departments is carried out with the same efficacy. Each Manual describes the processes to be undertaken. The Manuals will be referred by various stakeholders, implementers, regulators and policy makers to ensure that the NSQF is implemented in its full spirit and is able to build and maintain the confidence of all the stakeholders.

The Manuals in the NQAF series cover:

The first manual i.e. the Overview Manual provides an introductory overview of the entire regulatory framework and the quality standards covered for each stakeholder in the 7 subset manuals of the framework.

The second manual i.e. Registration of NSQF Qualification lays down the important aspects of a qualification, the process of aligning the same with the NSQF, and registration on National Qualification Register. The manual defines the role of competent bodies in alignment of qualifications, and describes the parameters and tools for alignment and review of qualification under NSQF.

The third manual is on Accreditation of Training/Education Institutions which lays down the norms and standards against which a training/education institute should be assessed in order to impart quality training services. It proposes a tiered approach with four tiers of accreditation depending upon the quality of services and operations. This provides the training provider with an inclusive accreditation framework and an opportunity of continual improvement in the VET space.

The fourth manual i.e. Accreditation of Assessment Bodies and Quality Assurance in Assessments lays down norms and standards against which Assessment bodies will be accredited to conduct assessments in VET space. In line with the Accreditation framework for Training Institutions, a tiered approach is proposed for the assessment bodies also, with three tiers of accreditation. The manual provides best practices at each stage of assessment and act as a guide to assessors for delivering high quality assessment.

The fifth and the sixth manual i.e. the NQAF Auditor’s Manual and the Risk Assessment Framework Manual provide processes, and indicators for evaluation of compliance to NQAF Standards by service providers. While the Auditor’s Manual provides information on Audit processes under NQAF, the Risk Assessment Framework highlights the compliance status of service providers, measured against risk indicators and how the same will be used for monitoring and continuous improvement of the TVET system.

The seventh manual i.e. Quality Assurance of Industry Bodies Manual provides Quality Assurance procedures for industry consultations, qualification evidence and data collection requirements, information on communication about the NSQF and alignment to NSQF levels.

The eights manual i.e. Quality Assurance for National and State Level Bodies Manual specifically covers NSQF implementation and provides information on how the NQAF objectives can be monitored and quality improvements evaluated by appropriate national and state level bodies. It also lays down data collection requirements and interim arrangements for implementation of NQAF.

NQAF embedded in NSQF has been conceived as an overarching framework for Quality Assurance, covering all skilling initiatives of States schemes, GOI ministries, private and corporate sector, to be implemented in a phased manner through proper institutional structures.

(The author is Secretary, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Government of India.)