Study evaluating the Professional Qualifications Directive against recent educational reforms in EU Member States

A study prepared for DG Internal Market has now been published, on 28 October 2011, which evaluates the impact of EU educational reforms (most importantly the Bologna process and the European Qualifications Framework (EQF)) on the recognition of professional qualifications under Directive 2005/36/EC. The report incorporates case studies on eight professions among which the RE Agents, detailing the situation in 17 countries based on interviews with competent authorities, responsible ministries, professional bodies and training bodies. It was prepared by GHK Consulting in association with the Danish Technological Institute. CEPI was interviewed for the report.

The report mentions details of CEPI’s Education programme (Eureduc). It states that the profession is regulated in 10 Member States, with considerable variation in regulation between countries. It is ranked #72 in terms of the number of decisions on applications under the Directive between 1997 and 2009. The largest number of decisions on applications for recognition is in Belgium, followed by Austria and Sweden. It is estimated (by the Labour Force Survey) that the number of people working in real estate activities in Europe in 2010 was 1.7 million.

In general the main impact to date on the recognition of professional qualifications of the Bologna process is found to relate to improved comparability of qualifications, with little impact on the time taken for recognition. The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) has greater potential to support improved recognition of qualifications. However its use in applications for recognition is relatively uncommon and there remain significant differences between countries in the approach to credit allocation.

There were a number of references made by those interviewed for the study to supporting common platforms (or something similar) as a means of harnessing the common approaches to qualifications supported by the Bologna process.

The majority of competent authorities (64%) responding to the survey agreed that automatic recognition of qualifications could be achieved if there were common minimum requirements in terms of qualification content. For estate agents the figure was 55%.

Under Article 11 of the current Directive there are five levels of qualifications used as the basis for recognition. Three quarters of competent authorities agreed that it is useful to maintain a system of levels within the Directive. However 38% of competent authorities do not use the five levels to exclude qualifications, preferring to examine each application in detail.

Alternatively the EQF provides eight levels of qualification. National Qualification Frameworks (NQFs) linked to the EQF are still in the process of being established in most Member States. Therefore very few competent authorities (11%) interviewed for the case studies had experience of dealing with applications for recognition of professional qualifications where the EQF was stated. Presented with a direct choice about the use of the levels in Article 11 (input driven - based on the level and duration of studies and level and type of institution) or EQF (outcome driven - with levels defined in terms of knowledge, skills and competence) to facilitate recognition competent authorities expressed a slight preference for the EQF, although with a lot of differences between authorities.

There is disagreement about whether the use of outcomes-based levels makes the comparison of equivalence of qualifications easier or more difficult. There was more agreement on the view that input and outcome measures should be combined within the recognition process. For estate agents it was seen as difficult for stakeholders to express a view on the strengths and weaknesses of the two systems of levels. This was because of a perceived limited current mobility and the degree of variation in education and training between countries. A detailed individual assessment was seen as preferable and practical for competent authorities. Learning outcomes were reported to be valuable in providing an additional dimension to the applicant’s experience.

The contents of the report will have an important influence on developments concerning the modernisation of the directive in respect of which the commission is expected to publish a legislative proposal by the end of 2011. The study is available for download from the site of the European Commission.

The content of the report will also have an influence on current initiative of CEPI and CEI to revisit the qualification criteria and combine input and outcome measures and criteria. The existing CEN 15733 standards for services of RE Agents to their clients might also appear most useful in that they are outcome driven. The European Commission further expresses an increasing interest in European standards in the services area, as a possible tool to formalize professional profiles.