European Qualifications Framework:
Can It Solve Professional and Vocational Problems and Expectation
By Betül Parlak & Cüneyt Bildik (Istanbul University, Kirklareli University, Turkey)
Abstract & Keywords
As a result of the comprehensive educational reform initiatives ongoing in Europe recently, many countries are implementing the qualifications frameworks proposed by the Bologna process and the European Commission into their national systems. Turkey, as a participant in the Bologna process and a candidate country of the European Union, has also been striving to develop its own national qualifications framework. The biggest step that has been taken towards developing a comprehensive national qualifications framework so far in Turkey is the establishment of the Vocational Qualifications Authority (VQA) in 2006 with the aim of reconciling the needs of stakeholders and reinforcing the link between education and employability. Since then, VQA has been functioning as a coordination point and regulating body responsible for developing and managing the Turkish Qualifications Framework (TQF) and also the National Vocational Qualifications System (NVQS). On 29 January 2013, the national occupational standards for translators and interpreters also entered into effect after being published in the Official Gazette. In this paper, recent developments, challenges and opportunities brought by the European Qualifications Framework for translator education and translation profession in Turkey are presented, and the effectiveness and applicability of qualifications frameworks are put under scrutiny.
Keywords: occupational standards, qualifications frameworks, translator and interpreter training, vocational qualifications, translation profession
©inTRAlinea & Betül Parlak & Cüneyt Bildik (2014).
"European Qualifications Framework:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2096
1. Historical background of frameworks
With the advent of globalisation competitiveness, economic growth and sustainability have become the main interests of the European community. European nations had no other choice but to lean towards collaboration to respond to the growing demands of the fast-changing world. The knowledge was the prerequisite of social, cultural and economic welfare, and the future of mankind was heavily dependent on the high-quality education that would be provided by the higher education institutions. Therefore, a closer cooperation amongst higher education institutions had to be realised immediately to create an open European area of higher education which would boost the overall development of the continent. To attain this, it was necessary to facilitate recognition and mobility amongst higher education institutions and this could be only achieved through promoting transparent, comparable and understandable degree systems. Upon these core necessities, the idea of developing a framework for teaching and learning to enhance mobility and cooperation emerged within the Bologna process at its rudimentary stage in Sorbonne Declaration in 1998 (Sorbonne Declaration 1998: 1). The first concrete steps were taken one year later, and general objectives to establish European area of higher education were presented with the Bologna Declaration (Bologna Declaration 1999: 3). The Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA) was finally released in the Bergen Communiqué in 2005 and it consists of three cycles (bachelor, master, doctorate), with descriptors for each cycle based on the learning outcomes, and the credit ranges for the first and second cycles (Bergen Communiqué 2005: 2).
Fascinated by the achievements of the Bologna process, the European Council started envisaging a similar action to turn Europe into ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth, with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion’ (European Council 2000: 2). Taking the Bologna Framework as a model, the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF-LLL) was adopted on 23 April 2008 by the European Parliament and Council to compare different qualifications systems, promote lifelong learning as well as further integration of the European labour market (European Parliament and Council 2008: 3). As it was fashioned in a similar way, the EQF-LLL has many resemblances with the Bologna Framework, and the compatibility of the two meta-frameworks was assured in the London Communiqué of the Bologna process in 2007 (London Communiqué 2007: 3). Based on learning outcomes, both frameworks aim to promote employability, recognition of learning and mobility of citizens. Yet, consisting of eight levels and encompassing all formal and informal learning activities, the EQF-LLL is much wider in its scope, and serves as a translation tool to understand different systems within a common framework whereas the Bologna Framework functions as a reforming entity for higher education institutions (Higher Education Authority of Ireland 2010: 4). Now both meta-frameworks are ready to be implemented on voluntary basis and both the ministers responsible for higher education and the European Commission requested the member states to construct their own national qualifications frameworks.
2. The Turkish Qualifications Framework (TQF)
A recent survey by Cedefop, ETF and Unesco shows that today there are around 142 countries implementing qualifications frameworks (Cedefop, ETF, Unesco 2013: 10). This is a clear indication of the massive interest in qualifications frameworks around the world. However, implementing meta-frameworks at the national level successfully is not an easy task as ‘[a]ny qualifications framework that is disengaged from national developments and experiences is likely to fail’ (Bohlinger 2012: 294). Therefore, analysing national needs and circumstances, establishing a platform of perpetual dialogue amongst the relevant authorities and stakeholders is of utmost importance in designing effective national qualifications frameworks.
Turkey is one of the countries developing its own national qualifications framework as a member of the Bologna process and a candidate country of the European Union. The biggest step towards the idea of convergence in constructing a comprehensive national qualifications framework in Turkey was realised with the establishment of the Vocational Qualifications Authority (VQA) on 21 September 2006 by Law No. 5544. VQA is an affiliated body of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and it includes members from several institutions and ministries. VQA embodies departments of Occupational Standards, Testing and Certification, and it is authorised to manage the National Vocational Qualifications System which involves identifying national occupational standards, vocational qualifications, and managing activities related to assessment and certification. With the Decree Law No. 665/41 released on 11 October 2011 in the Official Gazette, VQA gained wider responsibilities and was assigned to carry out the tasks related to preparation, development and update of the Turkish Qualifications Framework (TQF).
Currently, there exist different qualifications systems in Turkey. Vocational qualifications are awarded by the Vocational Qualifications Authority, higher education qualifications are awarded by the Council of Higher Education (COHE), and other qualifications concerning education are provided by the Ministry of National Education (MONE). To relate different qualifications systems in Turkey and link them under a single framework, which is to be called the Turkish Qualifications Framework, a commission was established consisting of representatives from the VQA, MONE, COHE and other relevant stakeholders. Since 2010, the commission has been working to finalise the Turkish Qualifications Framework (TQF). In designing the TQF, the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning was adopted because of its wide scope, flexibility and suitability to the current systems coexisting in Turkey.
3. National Occupational Standards and National Vocational Qualifications for translators and interpreters
Vocational Qualifications Authority has released around 500 national occupational standards, including standards for translators and interpreters, and 250 national vocational qualifications so far. For a vocation to be acknowledged as a national qualification first, the Executive Board of VQA identifies occupations for which standards are to be established by taking priority requirements and recommendations of the labour market, educational institutions and the sector committees into consideration. Subsequently, assigned bodies, institutions or working groups prepare a draft of national occupational standards (NOSs) which are defined as the minimum norms prescribing the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviour required for the successful performance of a profession. After the approval of the Executive Board of Vocational Qualifications Authority, national occupational standards are published in the Official Gazette. Based on the published national occupational standards, national vocational qualifications are prepared which contain the descriptions and titles of qualifications accompanied by the assessment and certification criteria. After being verified by the Executive Board of VQA, national vocational qualifications are published and integrated into the Turkish Qualifications Framework.
Needless to say, the official acknowledgement of the requirement of setting occupational standards for translators and interpreters was already a pleasing step for the translation community in Turkey. Until that time, attempts towards professionalisation had been unfruitful, and translators and interpreters had been vulnerable to be exploited by the employers without any legislation or regulations protecting their status and rights. This was also a great chance for translators and interpreters from different sectors to meet at a vibrant platform to exchange ideas, discuss the status quo of the translating and interpreting in Turkey, and share their experiences for the wellbeing of the profession. While drafting the national occupational standards for translators and interpreters, all related institutions and relevant stakeholders of the translation community were called to take action. Responsively, institutions and associations, such as the translation departments of Bilkent, Bogazici, Hacettepe and Istanbul universities, Translation Association, Literary Translators’ Society, Conference Interpreters Association, Association of Translation Companies, Turkish Association of Translation Companies, Interpreters of the Ministry for EU Affairs and Turkish National Federation of the Deaf joined the process by sending their representatives, and a working group was formed to prepare the occupational standards for translators and interpreters. In this way, occupational standards were prepared by taking the needs and demands of translators and interpreters operating in various sectors into consideration. As a culmination of collaborative efforts of the stakeholders, the national occupational standards for translators and interpreters were released on 29 January 2013 in the Official Gazette.
As the occupational standards for translators and interpreters were released, the next step is drafting the national vocational qualifications for translators and interpreters which will be integrated into the Turkish Qualifications Framework upon the approval of the Executive Board of Vocational Qualifications Authority. The national vocational qualifications for translators and interpreters will be built upon the current occupational standards and they will be prepared by the working group involved in the process beforehand. Vocational qualifications will include different types of qualifications related to the translation profession and elaborate on how individuals will be assessed accordingly. Once the qualifications and assessment methods are identified by the working group, the examination leading to certification will later be conducted by the authorised awarding bodies to validate that the applicants have achieved given standards. Therefore, it will be possible to hold different qualifications in specialised fields of translating and interpreting on condition that the applicant meets the requirements set for each.
These positive developments enhancing the visibility of the translation profession seem to satisfy the translation community in Turkey, at least for now. Occupational standards and vocational qualifications are expected to contribute to the status of the translation profession by entrenching the public image of the profession, improving the working conditions of translators and interpreters, preventing market distortion and improving the quality of translations, which can be listed as some of the prominent problems of the translation community in Turkey.
4. Qualifications Frameworks and translator and interpreter education
In 2010, the Council of Higher Education (COHE) constructed the National Qualifications Framework for Higher Education in Turkey (NQF-HETR) by taking the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning as a model. This framework was also designed by a commission involving representatives from the Council of Higher Education, Vocational Qualifications Authority, Ministry of National Education and other relevant stakeholders to facilitate the permeability between different qualifications systems. Currently, universities in Turkey are in a transition stage, and they are busy with adjusting their education programmes in line with the premises of the Bologna process. Evidently, one of the main goals of the Bologna process is to increase the employability of graduates who will contribute to the development of the society at large and qualifications frameworks are expected to ease the infiltration of skilled graduates into the marketplace by establishing closer links between the academy and the business sector. This implies that today translation studies programmes should design their curricula heeding the requirements of the translation industry and a more market-oriented training is necessary to boost the number of the graduates in the market. However, when the idiosyncratic nature of the discipline, increasing fragmentation of the translation market and constantly changing demands from translators and interpreters at the workplace are considered, providing students with all the skills they need to operate in the market looks like a far-fetched assertion. Instead, translation programmes might be directed towards raising flexible and adaptable graduates by giving attention to some generic competences and transferable skills which can help graduates to fill positions in the marketplace and which can be further developed during their journey towards specialisation. In this way, it should be possible to provide graduates with transferable skills that will enable them ‘to deal confidently with any text, on any subject, within any situation at any time’ (Ulrych 2005: 23).
However, focusing merely on general translation skills should not be taken as the ultimate aim of translation programmes. As Mackenzie (2004: 33) states, ‘[p]rofessionals need to have a background in the history, theory and methodology of the subject in order to give them insight into their role and thus strengthen their self-image as professionals.’ Above all, fostering students’ personal and social development is something that cannot be overlooked as we do not only train translators in academic translation programmes. We train, teach and even engage in non-pedagogical activities to prepare students of translation as members of society (Kearns 2008: 207).
At this point, it is worth mentioning that having a translation diploma does not guarantee that the graduates are skilled translators and interpreters as the validation of non-formal and informal learning is amongst the priorities of the European Commission’s lifelong learning policy. To qualify as translators and interpreters, graduates have to succeed in the examination conducted by authorised awarding bodies. This is something that might have contradictory consequences for translator education. On the one hand, the number of graduates in the translation market can provide cues for the academy on the quality of the education provided and help to reveal whether students’ training has prepared them adequately for the profession market or not (Way 2008: 90). On the other hand, graduates’ necessity to succeed in another examination to claim to use the title of translator and interpreter might put the function, validity and value of the translation diploma in a questionable position since ‘university degrees are deemed to certify the graduates’ knowledge and abilities in a given field’ (Gouadec 2007: 248).
It is a fact that market-oriented training has become more dominant with the educational reforms lately and employability of graduates has become an increased expectation. However, the overall aim of translation departments today should not be reduced to feeding the market with the skilled labour force it requires by putting all the academic and disciplinary thinking aside. This kind of approach which sacrifices students’ personal and social development for skills development is dangerous. As Barnett and Coate (2005: 24) indicate, treating students as bearers of skills producing economic value completely runs counter to the sense of a university education. Academic education has a lot to offer to the translation marketplace and raising professional translators and interpreters of the future will not only clinch the title of the profession, it will also convince the employers and society that ‘education is a constitutive feature of translation professionalism’ (Bernardini 2004: 22).
Without doubt, qualifications frameworks have recently become a popular phenomenon with the latest educational reform initiatives. Still, qualifications frameworks should not be perceived as panacea or a magic wand that can change everything all of a sudden. Successfully implementing the meta-frameworks at the national level is the key to success, and this is a time-consuming process. Understanding the intrinsic nature and essence of the frameworks, establishing a perpetual dialogue based on mutual trust, disseminating experiences and sharing best practices are at the heart of effective qualifications frameworks.
However, it should be noted that qualifications frameworks have also attracted a widespread criticism. Drowley and Marshall (2013: 84) demonstrate that qualifications frameworks might be used for different purposes and eventually can undermine their own purposes they were intended to dismantle. Whether the frameworks will produce a certified society rather than a learning society in which learning that does not lead to qualifications are devalued is open to discussion (Raffe 2003: 254).
The role that quality agencies will play in the future is another issue of concern. Szolar (2011: 91) draws attention to the administrative burdens quality mechanisms put on institutions and mentions how quality agencies have already started to be perceived as a serious threat for the institutional autonomy in several countries. Yet, these are some challenges and concerns which will be unveiled in time as the process is still ongoing. For this reason, it would be wrong to have the final verdict on the effectiveness of the frameworks before evaluating the results.
What is apparent at this stage is that both translator education and translation profession are undergoing significant transformations in Turkey. The progress made so far looks promising, and translation profession and translator and interpreter education could benefit greatly in many aspects from qualifications frameworks. As Chesterman (2002: 37) states, translation profession would be much more visible if professional translators could link hands to establish standards, and if translator training could be harmonised to the extent of mutual recognition. There is no reason for qualifications frameworks not to be one of the means of establishing this link as long as the process is managed prudently by mutual understanding, trust and cooperation.
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 For details see Parlak, Betül (2013) “Mesleki Yeterlilik Kurumu’nun Meslek Standard Bağlamında Türkiye’de Çevirmen Meslek Standardı”. URL: https://www.academia.edu/4317687/MESLEKI_YETERLILIK_KURUMUNUN_MESLEK_STANDARDI (accessed 25 November 2013).
 For details see Parlak Betül, Bulut Alev (2012) “The symbolic power of academic translator training institutions: The case of the Translation Studies Department at Istanbul University”, Rivista Internazionale di Tecnica della Traduzione, no.14: 13–22. URL: http://www.openstarts.units.it/dspace/bitstream/10077/9774/1/3Parlak_Bulut.pdf (accessed 25 November 2013).
 These issues can be further investigated within the scope of sociology of translation.