How professional higher education can help bridge the worlds of proprietary and formal standardization

EQAVET is a European proprietary standard for professional schools and ISO 21001 is an international formal standard for educational organizations. Professional schools across Europe need to implement EQAVET and many would probably welcome the idea of doing so in an integrated way with ISO 21001, due to the added value of the ISO brand. As these standards have different approaches to quality, their integration is not an easy task and a set of matrixes between the requirements of both standards can be extremely helpful for the users. However, the development of such matrixes are technically complex and time consuming and in this case, neither publisher had the necessary amount of resources to produce them. To overcome this challenge, a collaboration was made with the School of Management and Technology of Politécnico do Porto, and a Master student developed the matrixes in the scope of her master thesis, just in time for these to be published as an annex to ISO 21001.


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What was the challenge intended to be addressed? Why? What did work well? What did not work well? What have been the main achievements? How did you evaluate its success? What has been the change brought by this good practice?

The challenge addressed was finding the resources to develop technically complex and time consuming requirements´ matrixes to help users integrate standards originating from different publishers which use different approaches to quality. The collaboration established with academia was paramount to achieve the goal, as the work was done by a master student in the scope of her thesis. The success of the measure was evaluated in two ways:
1) The quality of the outputs from the student´s work was validated first by the Portuguese EQAVET National Agency and then by International ballot at the ISO Project Committee responsible for the development of ISO 21001; and
2) By the fact that this internationally validated output was embedded in her master thesis, which granted the student one extra point on her final grade - 18 out of 20, an excellent result in terms of academic achievement.
This good practice demonstrated that collaboration between Academia and standardization bodies work, is welcomed, and can be increased and replicated, with benefits for all parts involved.

Success Factors

What are the enabling conditions (e.g. institutional, economic, social/cultural, regulatory) that needed to be in place or played a facilitating role for the good practice to be successful?

A good interface between the parties is necessary. In this case, the Convenor of the ISO/PC288/WG1, responsible for the development of ISO 21001, was cumulatively the Supervisor of the Master student who developed the matrixes and the President of the Portuguese Standardization Committee on Education (IPQ/CT187), which had the EQAVET Portuguese National Agency as a member. This interface assured a good communication flow between the parties involved, from the beginning, where the need was identified, till the end, when the matrixes were internationally validated.


What are the challenges, barriers or limiting factors encountered? How have they been addressed?

The language barrier played a role, as the Portuguese Master student had to work with documents in two languages – Portuguese and English. Therefore, fluency in foreign languages can be a critical issue.
Time can also be a constraint – for matrixes between the requirements of two standards to be developed, the said requirements need to be stabilized, so the matrixes cannot be developed too soon, based on early drafts of the standards. However, when the drafts reach more consistent phases, the matrixes need to be developed rather quickly, so they can be integrated in the standard under development in time to be validated through international ballot.
In this case, data protection was also an issue, as under development ISO standards are not public documents. To overcome this constraint, the master student was integrated as a member of the Portuguese Standardization Committee on Education (IPQ/CT187) in order to allow her legal access to the standard drafts.
Where there isn’t a person to assure the communication between all parties, it is important to establish good communication channels to enable the timely flow of relevant and complete information.

Feasibility & Sustainability

What are the elements that need to be put into place for the good practice to be sustainable (institutionally, socially, economically, etc.)? If applicable, indicate the total costs incurred for the implementation of the practice. What are the benefits compared to total costs?

The establishment of collaboration protocols between the standardization bodies and the professional higher education institutions could be a good start. Standardization Bodies can feed the professional higher education institutions with ideas of relevant work that needs to be developed but lack the resources and the professional higher education institutions can embed that work in the curricula, namely in students´ assignments and thesis, depending on the EQF level. This has no costs whatsoever and everybody wins: The students get to perform real, relevant work, the higher education institutions get an enriched, relevant curricula, the standardization bodies get help to face the lack of resources and increase the relevance and excellence of their work, and the society at large, as users of the standards, get better products.

Replicability & Upscaling

What are the possibilities of extending the good practice more widely? What are the conditions that need to be in place for the good practice to be successfully replicated in a similar context? What are the steps that should be taken/respected to ensure that the good practice is replicated / up-scaled, but adapted to the new context?

The before mentioned protocol can encompass an approach with several different stages, such as:
1) Annual communication, from the standardization body, of relevant standardization tasks available for which resources are lacking or help is welcomed. This can be done through a platform to inform several higher education institutions at once or based on one2one communication with each higher education institution;
2) Course coordinators consult the available tasks and select the ones that can be embedded in the curricula. At EQF level 7 these can then be proposed to the Master students as project and thesis work possibilities. At below EQF levels, lecturers can choose how to use those tasks as assignments for students;
3) Standardization bodies can create a new type of technical committee membership – e.g. Student Expert/ Student Delegate, to allow students the legal access to the necessary copyrighted content, while still differentiating the students from other members;
4) Special care needs to be put on conciliating the strict timings of standards´ development with the also strict academic timings, to assure the goals from both sides are achieved.

Lessons learned

What would have facilitated an earlier and/or bigger impact? What are the key features that should be kept in mind if this would have to be implemented again? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? What could have been done better?

In this particular case, the idea to involve the master student arose spontaneously and at last minute. Had the idea arise sooner, the work of the student could have been better grounded: Face-to-face meetings with the Portuguese EQAVET National Agency could have been conducted (instead of communicating only via email); earlier integration at the Portuguese Standardization Committee on Education (IPQ/CT187) would also have allowed more technical discussions between the student and the remaining Experts, which is always enriching. Therefore, in future situations, better timely planning can facilitate and add value.


Please provide some information about the context and initial situation that can help in fully understanding the action (e.g. information about the national system, applying regulations, etc.)

Proprietary and Formal standardization are usually very closed worlds. This closure does not benefit the users, who would welcome some bridges to better navigate between them, when they need to cumulatively use standards issued from both.
The reasons of this closure are mostly based on organizational culture from both sides, but also because collaboration requires time and effort, and more often than not, the resources are not available.
This case described an example of how professional higher education can extend a helping hand to build bridges between these two worlds, by providing the resources needed to develop tools that help the users integrate proprietary and formal standards and make the most of them.