5.5 Accreditation/external recognition

Most European countries have a system for external recognition of VET providers and/or VET programmes, which is carried out by ministries, semi-public agencies or recognised private organisations mandated to this effect7. In addition to these national accreditation schemes, most Member States recognise accreditations/certifications following the most common models such as the international organisation for standardisation (ISO) or the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) as equivalent to their national ones (for an overview of the models see Box 37).

In many countries, accreditation is a requirement for VET institutions, especially those aiming at receiving public funding. Apart from this potential benefit, external accreditation improves institutions’ reputations and contributes to increasing their attractiveness.

Accreditation can also serve as an external verification of internal quality efforts of a VET institution, since it always involves experts from outside. Ideally, both internal and external verification efforts should complement and cross-fertilise each other. To avoid duplication of efforts and squandering – usually – scarce resources, accreditation and internal quality management should be tightly linked and connected:

  1. ensuring compatibility of internal quality management with external requirements of national or sectoral accreditation systems should be a task from the start;

  2. resources and support provided by external agencies for implementing accreditation should be used strategically to improve internal QMS.


Box 37. Models for internal quality management and external recognition

While EN ISO 9000 explains the principles and definitions behind QMSs, EN ISO 9001 outlines the minimum requirements for a quality system within an organisation that wants to provide products and services meeting customer expectations and regulatory requirements. ISO 9000ff considers organisational processes and compares plans to actual achievements. In case of deviations, improvements and change will be implemented. According to the PDCA cycle, the organisation is subject to a continuous process of improvement.

The EFQM model is a quality assurance system providing guidance for establishment and development of an internal QMS. Self-assessments serve to determine strengths and areas for improvement within the organisation, thus supporting continuous development. To achieve sustainable results, all employees should be involved in the self-assessment and improvement process. In addition, permanent monitoring of all processes should help to identify an organisation’s strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement and to align its quality strategy.

The common assessment framework (CAF) is a result of cooperation among EU ministers responsible for public administration and aims to assist public-sector organisations to use quality management techniques to improve their performance. The CAF is inspired by the total quality model in general and by the excellence model of the EFQM in particular. The model is based on the premise that quality for citizens/customers and society is achieved through leadership, strategic planning, partnerships and process management.

Investors in people is an internal quality system and a model for external recognition of organisations. Similar to the EFQM model, it aims at continuous internal improvement, displayed externally by award of its eponymous quality label. In contrast to EFQM, staff management and development are at the centre of all quality-oriented activities and they are not just one factor among others. Focus on leadership and staff development will result in quality improvement.

The learner-oriented quality model, which originates in continuous training of adults, focuses on the learner. It is a model for internal quality management and external recognition, following which development of quality starts with definition of a vision and mission and identification of good practice. In its self-assessment report, which is the basis for its external recognition, a VET organisation has to outline how learning and the learning process are promoted.


Accreditation and external recognition serve mainly to ensure conformity of VET provision with minimum standards, and this limited understanding of quality should be taken into account when linking accreditation efforts to internal quality management. VET providers that have successfully renewed their accreditation over time or have been regularly ‘inspected’ by national/regional authorities will confirm that external requirements reflect the necessary preconditions for quality – but they are not sufficient to trigger and support continuous improvement. In most cases goals of quality-committed VET institutions go beyond external requirements of accreditation schemes. In this perspective, achieving external accreditation is a point of departure to keep track of an institution’s own vision and goals for better quality.


7 For a detailed overview see Cedefop, 2011a.



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5.5 Accreditation/external recognition

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