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Validation of non formal and informal learning

The Peer Review, hosted by the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Employment (DGEFP), was held in Paris on the 8th-9th November 2007. Nine peer countries participated in the meeting: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

The policy under review in brief

The French system of validation of non-formal and informal learning (VAE - Validation des Acquis de l'Expérience) is set in a context where professional careers are strongly determined by the initial education diploma which remains the major guidance for both employees and employers. However, although certifications have a dominating role in French society, 30% of the active population do not have any diploma. In 2002 the Law on the VAE established an individual right to non-formal and informal learning. The law was created to facilitate access to complete certifications on the basis of experience, without having to pass 'classical' examinations. Among other objectives, the policy aims at supporting the most disadvantaged people in the labour market and to foster labour mobility. The target groups include people in employment, job seekers and volunteer workers who have all at least three years of professional experience in the respective field.

The VAE is implemented on three levels: On the national level, the DGEFP supports and manages the inter-ministerial VAE Development Committee, which is gathering all the ministries concerned by the VAE.
On the regional level action plans for development of VAE are drawn according to territorial employment policies in cooperation with the regional public employment services. Finally, the policy is implemented and the terms of reference ('cahiers de charges') are elaborated on a local level (e.g. reinforced support for the candidates, mobilisation of local stakeholders).

After having received the opinion of the national certification joint commission, the certificates are embodied in a national repertory of professional certification. The certifications delivered by the public authority are systematically registered in this national repertory.

Since 2005, regional information networks are providing information on VAE. Interested candidates can send their written applications to the authority responsible for the certification delivery, which then assess whether the candidate meets the access conditions. If the application is successful, the candidate is, on request, granted support and counselling for preparing his or her dossier. Finally the candidate is assessed by a jury on the basis of the dossier and/or a simulated professional situation as well as individual interview.    

In as much as the validation process for VAE is concerned, the validation of experience constitutes a way to acquire a certification along the same lines of scholastic and university channels, apprenticeship and continuing professional education. The certifications obtained by this process have the same value as the other modes of examination of skills, aptitudes and competencies.

Key issues discussed

The Peer Review included countries at very different implementation stages when it comes to the validation of non-formal and informal learning. Some countries already have a quite advanced system of validation of prior learning and wanted to exchange their experiences with the French hosts. Other countries find themselves on a rather early state of the validation process and where interested in the French approach towards VAE. Some countries, however, did not have any experiences with the validation of prior learning and thus hoped to gain insight form the French hosts and other peer countries regarding useful elements they could adapt for their country in order not to  have to 'reinvent the wheel'.

The Peer Review discussions had also a social inclusion component. There was common agreement that validation of prior learning was important for creating opportunities, particularly for excluded groups, in order to give people a second or alternative chance to formal education and learning. The peer country participants were particularly interested in the inter-departmental coordination of the many ministries involved in the VAE process, the national repertory of professional certification, the counselling process, as well as the integration of migrants in the VAE system. Furthermore, the importance of stakeholders in this process was stressed and the need for a stronger involvement of the companies.

Overall it was clear that, although the term 'validation' comprised a variety of meanings across the partici-pating countries, there was still much room for mutual learning. In the concluding remarks, the European Commission representative highlighted several issues emerging from the Peer Review discussions. These included:

  • The need for a good flow of information, and to make existing schemes better known to employers and employees.
  • The need to encourage greater use of the mechanisms for validation, in order to improve systems and develop.
  • The need for an appropriate level of uniform practice, with validation mechanisms offering equal treatment across the system.
  • The need to demonstrate that a system of validation of non-formal and informal learning offers real added value.


Discussion Paper - Philippe Méhaut and Anne-Juliette Lecourt, Institute of Labour Economics and Industrial Sociology

Official Paper - Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Employment; GDEPT - General Delegation for Employment and Professional Training

Statements and Comments

Participating independent experts



Bulgarian Academy of Science



Synthesis Center for Research and Eucation Ltd.

Czech Republic Hana CIHÁKOVÁ

NÚOV Praha

Greece Emmanuel CHRYSAKIS

National Centre for Social Research

Lativa Diana PAUNA Stockholm School of Economics in Riga
Netherlands Ruud DUVEKOT

Empowerment Centre

Norway Odd Bjørn URE


Spain Claudia ALCELAY

Lanarvi Consultants S.L.U.

Sweden Andreas FEJES

Linköping University


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