Christian Vocational Qualification Framework (CVQF)

What is the Christian Vocational Qualification Framework (CVQF) working group and why is it needed?

The Christian Vocational Qualification Framework (CVQF) working group is an effort to create standard recommendations for Christian accrediting bodies that are aligned with national vocational qualification frameworks that currently operate in 130 countries. There were a number of conversations at the ICETE consultation in Panama in November 2018 that discussed how there was a need to bridge the formal, nonformal and informal worlds of theological and Christian education. Dr. Andrew Sears presented on the need for CVQF at ICETE 2018 in Panama. His presentation is below. (Slides are available here). This builds on Dr. Sears’ articles for the Clayton Christensen Institute part 1 and part 2.

Most current Christian accrediting bodies have designed their standards to be aligned with university-level accreditation systems. This has advantages in that it can improve the interaction and transfer from Christian accredited schools into other accredited universities, but this single model has many limitations. In many developing countries, the university model of education only reaches less than 5% of the population while the vocational qualification system is designed to serve the masses in post-secondary education. In addition, there is much Christian post-secondary education that is accreditable but non-traditional (non-formal). In many cases this non-traditional training is very high quality, but may be less than a full length academic program. Because of this the the model of vocational qualification frameworks may provide a better framework than most traditional accreditation structures focused on universities. In many ways, traditional university accreditation structures have been designed primarily from a Western framework, but there is an opportunity for a framework based around the needs of the majority world and developing countries that can reach the masses rather that just the a small portion of the elite within each country.

The CVQF working group will provide research and recommendations to regional Christian accreditors. These accreditors could then potentially:

  1. Streamline Accreditation for Qualifications for Less than Degree-Level Programs. The CVQF would offer a streamlined version of  accreditation more similar to vocational qualification frameworks for institutions wishing to award qualifications that are at less than a Bachelor’s degree. These frameworks typically focus more on programmatic standards rather than institutional standards (such as library volumes, etc.). This would reduce the complexity and could more enable high-quality programs from churches, ministries and missions organizations to gain accreditation. CVQF would improve the ability of these qualifications to be transferred to degree granting institutions.
  2. Enable Dual Accreditation for Less than Degree-Level Programs. In many cases the structure of institutional accreditation offered by regional Christian accreditors is designed in a way to allow degree-granting institutions by both the regional Christian accreditor and government recognized accrediting bodies for degree granting institutions in their countries. Similarly, CVQF would provide less than degree-level accreditation to allow individual Christian organizations to be accredited by the regional Christian accreditor and a government recognized national vocational qualification framework.
  3. Map their programmatic accreditation to the international standard classification of education  provided by ISCED (see below). The portability of all degrees and other qualifications from Christian institutions could be improved if they were mapped to ISCED. This could be especially valuable in improving the portability of qualifications that are less than degree-level.

Vision of the CVQF Working Group

Globally, it took higher education 900 years to reach 100 million students annually in the year 2000. In the 25 year period between 2000 and 2025, higher education globally will grow from 100 million students to 263 million students. 84% of that growth will be in the developing world, which will add 137 million new students. Assuming Christian higher education is 5% of the global total, just to keep pace with the global growth, Christian higher education will need to grow from 5 million students to 13.15 (263% growth) in 25 years. We clearly need a new model of Christian accreditation focused on the needs of the growth in the majority world to complement the existing model.

Goals of the CVQF Working Group

The CVQF is an informal working group. At a high level, the vision of the CVQF is to develop a set of accreditation standards, policies and procedures recommendations based around the needs of the majority world. More specifically the goals of the CVQF group will be:

  • To assess the need and develop recommendations for standards to the nine regional associations and accreditors of theological schools (regional Christian accreditors) that are affiliated with ICETE (the International Council for Theological Education)
  • To collaborate with regional Christian accreditors to incorporate vocational qualification standards as needed into their standards, policies and procedures to offer less than degree-level qualification accreditation
  • To assess the needs of Christian educators, students, churches and employers in developing countries and majority world to design effective standards to meet their needs
  • To assist churches, missions agencies and organizations providing high-quality non-traditional (non-formal) but accreditable education in getting less than degree-level qualification accreditation through either Christian accreditors, their national governments or both
  • To gather a group of Christians globally with experience and expertise with Christian programs accredited through national vocational qualifications to provide recommendations on standards and to assist other institutions to do the same.
  • To help provide resources for others to advocate to their governments to establish a role for Christian programs in their vocational qualification frameworks similar to countries like Australia and South Africa (see ACRP Qualification).

If you would like to participate in this working group, please complete the contact form on this website.

Examples of how CVQF Could be Used

  1. YWAM, a missions organization, operates University of the Nations with tens of thousands of students in 130 countries. Because it operates in so many countries, and the language and programs it offers varies significantly by country, there is not an accrediting body in the world that is designed to handle such a global organization. Some parts of YWAM’s programs have been able to be accredited, such as YWAM Perth, which was accredited by the Australian Qualification Framework. If the Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA) offered program-level accreditation, then University of the Nations/YWAM bases in Africa could get CVQF accreditation by ACTEA. Because of the alignment of CVQF with national vocational qualification frameworks, YWAM could then also pursue national vocational qualifications in the various countries where they operate (like South Africa’s ACRP Qualification) or pursue trans-national qualification from the UK.
  2. A megachurch in Nigeria has a one-year ministry training program. If the Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA), a simplified model of offering less than degree-level accreditation, then this church, could get CVQF program-level accreditation by ACTEA. Because of the alignment of CVQF with national vocational qualification frameworks, they could then also pursue a national vocational qualifications accreditation for a level 5 diploma in Nigeria. This accredited diploma would increase the recognition of the training for their students in pursuing jobs and further education.
  3. Vision International in the US and Vision International College in Australia are two institutions share a common partnership and origin. Vision International College is accredited under the Australian Qualifications Framework. Vision International US serves thousands of students in Africa who cannot be covered by the Vision International College’s accreditation. If Vision International US pursued CVQF program-level accreditation by ACTEA, then it could award diplomas that might have increased recognition for their students in pursuing jobs and further education. That might also assist them in developing articulation agreements for “top-up” bachelor’s with universities with government recognized accreditation.

Christian Institutions Receiving Accreditation through National Vocational Qualifications

  1. List of Christian Qualification Providers in Australia. Examples: YWAM PerthVision International College
  2. South Africa. Examples: Theological Education by Extension CollegeInternational College of Bible and Missions and ACRP Qualifications

We are just starting this list. If you know of other Christian institutions that have been accredited through national vocational qualifications, please use the contact form to let us know.

Difference between Program-level Standards and Institution-level Standards

Program-level standards evaluate each program on its own typically as a single qualification level. Vocational qualifications accreditation typically focuses on program-level standards, and while there are some institutional standards, they typically are minimal. Vocational qualification frameworks focus on program-level standards and typically are much more flexible and accessible for smaller institutions. Typically degree program accreditation puts more emphasis on institution standards, and typically focus on college and university level accreditation. Often half of the standards used in accreditation focus on the institution, which often limits accreditation to larger organizations. Program-level standards typically is much more accessible to churches and missions organizations that might have a high quality one-year training program that could be problematically accredited.

To explain the difference between program-level and institution-level standards, it can be helpful to look at accreditation standards. The Roman Roadmap that recently resulted from an ICETE working group has a rough draft of 12 standards areas that include the following:

Institution-Level Accreditation Standards

  1. Identity and Purpose
  2. Governance and Leadership
  3. Human Resources
  4. Community in Context
  5. Educational Resources
  6. Finances and Sustainability

Program-Level Accreditation Standards

  1. Holistic Integration
  2. Curriculum Development
  3. Learning, Teaching and Assessment
  4. Student Admissions
  5. Graduation, Progression and Certification
  6. Qualifications, Nomenclature and Credits

Resources on Vocational Qualification Frameworks

The basic design of national vocational qualifications is that they typically provide program-level accreditation to programs at various levels described below (source: Wikipedia). Typically each program is accredited at a specific level to award a diploma in a more modular and stackable way than the monolithic system of university accreditation which bundles levels into degree programs.

Level ISCED 2011 Description
0 Early childhood education (01 Early childhood educational development) Education designed to support early development in preparation for participation in school and society. Programs designed for children below the age of 3.
0 Early childhood education (02 Pre-primary education) Education designed to support early development in preparation for participation in school and society. Program designed for children from age 3 to the start of primary education.
1 Primary education Programs typically designed to provide students with fundamental skills in reading, writing and mathematics and to establish a solid foundation for learning.
2 Lower secondary education First stage of secondary education building on primary education, typically with a more subject-oriented curriculum.
3 Upper secondary education Second/final stage of secondary education preparing for tertiary education and/or providing skills relevant to employment. Usually with an increased range of subject options and streams.
4 Post-secondary non-tertiary education Programs providing learning experiences that build on secondary education and prepare for labor market entry and/or tertiary education. The content is broader than secondary but not as complex as tertiary education.
5 Short-cycle tertiary education Short first tertiary programs that are typically practically-based, occupationally-specific and prepare for labor market entry. These programs may also provide a pathway to other tertiary programs.
6 Bachelor or equivalent Programs designed to provide intermediate academic and/or professional knowledge, skills and competencies leading to a first tertiary degree or equivalent qualification.
7 Master or equivalent Programs designed to provide advanced academic and/or professional knowledge, skills and competencies leading to a second tertiary degree or equivalent qualification.
8 Doctoral or equivalent Programs designed primarily to lead to an advanced research qualification, usually concluding with the submission and defense of a substantive dissertation of publishable quality based on original research.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does this relate to existing standards and policies of the nine regional associations/accreditors affiliated with ICETE?
They each have their own accreditation standards and policies (linked below). Their standards and policies are typically designed for institutional accreditation rather than accrediting a single year of a program as is typical in national vocational qualification. The Roman Roadmap standards listed above are an attempt to create a common list of standards. The goal of the CVQF working group would be to define what subset would be needed for programmatic accreditation, and other standards that might not be covered. For example franchising is typically very important to vocational qualification frameworks, so more guidance might be needed.  Imagine a one year Bible school accredited as an independent program. The CVQF would then provide recommendations on standards and policies that might enable these associations/accreditors to provide more lightweight standards to accredit single-year programs more similarly to how national vocational qualification systems are designed.

Part of the hope is that CVQF could help improve multilateral agreements among ICETE regional accreditors as well as schools. For example, if someone took a one year African program accredited by ACTEA, they could then transfer it to ABHE schools (or vice-versa). Obviously, the final articulation of credit would be up to each school, but this type of multilateral agreement between accreditors could significantly reduce the the amount of work for each school. This can already be done within the existing accreditation structures, but CVQF could significantly expand the base to include a lot more one-year (or similar) programs that could be transferred to other institutions.

Could the CVQF working group be viewed similar to the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile but for theological education?
One application of CVQF could be to provide something similar to the DQP for theological education. The US is the one country that doesn’t have a national vocational qualification framework (similarly to the US being the last remaining country using English measures rather than metric). A part of the function of the DQP is to translate between the US system and the international system. The key outcome of this project would be to enable modular program-level accreditation of a level at a time. There are many of high quality theological training programs that are shorter than 4 years, offered by organizations that are not primarily higher educational institutions. The current system of monolithic accreditation is not designed effectively for these organizations.

How does this relate to competency-based education?
Qualification frameworks typically are much more modular and output-based rather than being monolithic and input-based, which makes them more of a natural fit with competency-based education than traditional accreditation. Traditional education focuses on measuring inputs and then might tack on a competency-based additional review. Competency-based education is one of the major forms of output-based education accredited by qualification frameworks, but qualification frameworks are not exclusively competency-based.
What is meant by “vocational” and how does that definition relate to theological education?
There are two sides of this: the scope of government NQF systems and the scope of regional ICETE accreditors. For government NQF’s, the scope of the term “vocational” is set by each of the 130 countries in their NQF standards. Some countries, like Australia and South Africa, the definition can include theological education; other countries clearly exclude it, while others are ambiguous. There is a certain irony in that Christians invented the concept of vocation, and then governments use the same word to exclude ministry vocations. ICETE regional accreditors typically accredit Bible and theological schools, if they offer institutional accreditation. They may also accredit other programs offered by those schools, but specific policies will vary for regional ICETE accreditors.
Shouldn’t we just focus on the effectiveness of theological training programs without considering accreditation? 
It is well understood that the requirements of accreditation often distort the focus of theological and ministry training programs, so that it can often lead them to being less effective in terms of “kingdom” impact. They often measure the number of books, buildings and other quantitative measures of organizational capacity, that are largely misplaced for much of theological training. One of the most significant reasons for this is that most accreditation follows the monolithic university model focused on large academic institutions.
The primary goal of the CVQF tasks for is to help address this misfit between accreditation requirements and what actually constitutes effective theological and ministry training programs. Jay Gary summarized it as, “This CVQF project, as I understand it, rests on a premise, that an effectively trained minister of the Gospel should have a credential that is recognized as part of a national’s overall vocational ladder, and that person should be able to take that credential and use it as a basis for marketplace employment, across various sectors; or as a basis for further professional study. The U.S. military does this [by] translating their Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) into marketplace equivalencies for job seekers.” The U.S. military does this so that when military members leave the military do not have to start at the bottom of the vocational ladder. A part of what CVQF would do is something similar for  bi-vocational pastors, so they do not have to start at the bottom of the marketplace employment ladder. This is becoming increasingly important as the proportion of pastors who are bi-vocational grows.
Part of the idea of regional ICETE accreditor standards is that they are aligned somewhat with governmental college or university standards, so that preparing for a regional ICETE affiliate accreditation could help to serve as a step to become a government recognized accredited college or university. Similarly, CVQF standards would be such that if an institution prepared for CVQF through a regional ICETE affiliate accreditation, that it could serve as a step toward their program becoming a government recognized national vocational qualification. The CVQF task force recognizes that for many programs and contexts, it will be much more advantageous to opt out of any government accreditation whether it is focused on colleges or vocational qualifications; however, we believe that by having an additional category of accreditation, it could bring allow a lot more programs to bridge the divide between non-formal and formal education. In many ways college/university level-accreditation could be viewed as a “gold” standard, and vocational qualification accreditation might be viewed as “silver” standard. One advantage of having them both is that you can have a system to serve the masses where credentials are recognized and may be converted into credentials at the gold standard through transfer credit to accredited colleges and universities.