Euratom E&T actions under the 7th FP (2007 – 2013): challenges related to borderless mobility and lifelong learning
Georges VAN GOETHEM
Innovation in nuclear systems, and Education and Training
EC DG Research and Innovation K.4 / Euratom - Fission, Brussels
(1) Introduction - New structure of nuclear industry and regulation in the EU and new governance framework in higher education and training
One of the main goals of the Euratom research and training programmes1 is to contribute to the sustainability of nuclear energy by generating knowledge (research) and developing competencies (training). Euratom training programs, in particular, aim to continuously improve and disseminate the nuclear safety culture, in compliance with the Euratom Treaty (1957). For this purpose, nowadays, special care is taken of the drivers and enablers for changes in the structure of nuclear industry and regulation in the EU, i.e.:
increasingly multidisciplinary and international character of the nuclear sector, following the privatisation of the energy market in the EU; trend towards outsourcing of activities; possible shortage of skilled professionals; new risk governance approach with emphasis on communication (need for the public to understand before accepting)
marked trend towards longer time-scales (from cradle to grave may now exceed 100 years); movement of competent workforces across the EU; emphasis on continuous professional development (CPD) to ensure the highest level of competences in nuclear installations; as a consequence, new approaches for human resources management.
Also worth mentioning are the changes in the EU governance framework in higher education and training (E&T) that reflect Europe's modernisation agenda (e.g. increasing emphasis on accountability and performance management, marked trend towards cost-sharing policies), i.e.:
As a consequence of the above societal changes, one of the new challenges for knowledge creation and competence building in the EU is to meet the requirements related to borderless mobility and lifelong learning. This implies, for example, the discussion with the stakeholders, about the need of European Passports, wherever appropriate. Ultimately, borderless mobility in the EU will be possible only when mutual recognition of specific qualifications amongst the Member States will become a reality, thereby ensuring, in particular, a single market for services. It is worth recalling that the Directive 2006/123/EC should make it easier for EU service providers to operate in any other EU Member State: in practice, it should now be easier to apply for any licence or permit that would be needed. Similarly, lifelong learning in the EU will be possible only when a new type of CPD will be designed, based on the definition of specific qualifications in terms of learning outcomes and on the transfer, recognition and accumulation of those learning outcomes across all Member States.
Faced with the challenges of borderless mobility and lifelong learning, it is quite natural in the EU to adopt (as it is being pioneered by other large industrial sectors such as aeronautics and the automotive sector) the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) – see Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 June 2009 2. ECVET’s objective is to promote mutual trust, transparency and recognition of qualifications and competencies in VET across the 27 EU Member States.
As far as Euratom is concerned, the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform, comprising all stakeholders involved in nuclear fission and radiation protection (SNE-TP3 , over 100 organizations in the EU), is a driving force, in particular, in programmes for nuclear Education and Training as well as Knowledge Management (ETKM group).
The emphasis in this article is on nuclear competence building under the current 7th Euratom Research and Training Framework Programme (2007 – 2013) – see IAEA definition of competences in the Reminder below. For historical reasons, the target public of Euratom E&T activities consists of research and industry workers having followed higher education, i.e. corresponding to EQF levels 6 to 8 (European Qualifications Framework).
The recent events in Japan (11 March 2011) have naturally reinforced the focus of the international nuclear fission community on the need to improve severe accident management and to better communicate on nuclear matters. It is worth recalling, in particular, the Euratom FP-7 initiative "Training and Information programme, drawing the lessons from Fukushima". This is a joint initiative of the two Commissioners Mrs Máire Geoghegan Quinn (Research and Innovation) and Mr Günther Oettinger (Energy): it is funded as a FP7 Euratom "support action", planned to start in February 2012 with a duration of minimum 3 years. The objective of this initiative is to set up a "catalogue" of training schemes and information actions to be conducted across the EU Member States, to identify the appropriate "trainers" amongst all stakeholders of the nuclear sector, and to carry out the resulting training and information programme, with the following aim: continue to improve the awareness of the role of nuclear safety culture amongst nuclear experts and policy makers in the EU, and share best practices of risk governance amongst all sectors of nuclear fission energy and radiation protection.
Reminder. According to the IAEA definition, competence means the ability to apply knowledge, skills and attitudes so as to perform a job in an effective and efficient manner and to an established standard (S.S.S. No. RS-G-1.4 / 2001). Knowledge is usually created in higher education institutions (e.g., universities – see also the European Higher Education Area / EHEA) and in (private and public) research organizations. Skills and attitudes are usually the result of specific training and on-the-job experience throughout professional life.
(2) Euratom training strategy: consensus on common needs, vision and instruments
The Euratom training strategy is based on three principles that are being discussed with the main stakeholders in all areas (reactor safety and performance, radioactive waste management, radiation protection, medical applications of ionising radiations, etc.):
1 – Analysis of needs of industry and society, in particular w.r.t. nuclear safety culture. This issue raises questions, such as: How can current CPD schemes be improved vis à vis the new structure of the nuclear sector in the EU ? How can public understanding of nuclear matters be improved ? For specific qualifications where a "European Passport" is appropriate, what kind of knowledge, skills and attitudes are needed, and who is establishing the standards ?
2 – Convergence toward a common vision that puts the above needs in a EU perspective. This means, for example: Improving existing training schemes taking into account the societal changes (in particular, borderless mobility and lifelong learning); Involving the various EU platforms as well as ENSREG in the discussion on established standards; Developing new competences in safety and performance, sustainability, economics and proliferation resistance.
3 – Development of common instruments (in particular, based on ECVET) that respond to the above needs and vision. This necessitates, for example: Consensus amongst the stakeholders to define portfolios of learning outcomes ("European Passports") that will allow an individual to prove his/her competencies in a coherent manner recognized by all employers; Support at national and EU level (ENSREG); cost-sharing policies for training schemes across the EU.
(3) ECVET in the nuclear sector: Nuclear Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes in Terms of Learning Outcomes
ECVET integrates existing instruments (e.g., ECTS, European CV, EuroPass, EQF) into a single framework that is aimed at being implemented by all EU Member States by 2012. The EU policy for CPD is developed by the EC Programme on Lifelong Learning (DG Education and Culture / Leonardo da Vinci programme). The European agency Cedefop is in charge of the implementation of the ECVET system ("Centre Européen pour le Développement de la Formation Professionnelle" or "European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training"). General information and frequently asked questions are posted in their website4.
One of the important concepts in Vocational Education and Training (VET) is the "learning outcome". "Learning outcomes" means statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completion of a learning process and which are defined in terms of knowledge, skills and competences that can be assessed and validated. Learning outcomes are usually formulated with action verbs.
Following the ECVET approach (Figure 1 below), Partnerships are formed (that is "learning agreements" are signed) between Home ("sending providers") and Hosting ("host providers") Institutions, in synergy with Competent Institutions in charge of qualification. The Competent Institutions are responsible for designing and awarding qualifications or recognizing units or other functions linked to ECVET, such as allocation of points to qualifications, assessment, validation and recognition of learning outcomes, under the rules and practices of participating countries. A Competent Institution could be a Ministry, a university, a nuclear regulatory authority, a Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, a Skills Body, or any association which is recognised in practice as "competent".
In the Euratom context, the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG5) has been approached to become the needed Competent Institution. The ENSREG is an independent, authoritative expert body created in 2007 following a decision of the EC. It is composed of senior officials from the national nuclear safety, radioactive waste safety or radiation protection regulatory authorities from all 27 Member States in the European Union.
Learning outcomes are usually defined as a mix of
Knowledge (Learning to know: for example, cognitive domain needed to support operational and technical decisions in nuclear installations)
ECVET definition: Knowledge is the outcome of the assimilation of information through learning. Knowledge is the body of facts, principles, theories and practices that is related to a field of work or study.
Skills (Learning to do: for example, translation of nuclear safety culture into practical terms) and Attitudes (Learning to live together: nuclear safety values and beliefs)
Competence (Learning to lead a team: for example, solving problems requiring abstraction by employing simple research methods and communicating efficiently)
ECVET definition: Competence is the proven ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social and/or methodological abilities in work or study situations and in professional and personal development.
Figure 1: Building partnerships for ECVET
It is worth insisting that ECVET is not meant to replace the national systems, but rather to promote the improvement of flexibility and mobility among existing systems, that is to say: reduce the "barriers" against mutual recognition of learning outcomes, thereby promoting “European Passports” wherever appropriate. The application of ECVET for a given qualification is in accordance with the legislation, rules and regulations applicable in the Member States.
In 2001, the IAEA published guidance 6 about the development, implementation and evaluation of training programmes, covering both technical and non-technical skills of NPP personnel, with a view to increase the levels of human performance (that is: work more efficiently and effectively while continuing to maintain the highest possible levels of safety). The Euratom training actions take naturally into account the IAEA guidance, wherever appropriate.
(4) ECVET based FP-7 projects (EFTS): Euratom Fission Training Schemes (TRASNUSAFE, ENEN III, ENETRAP II, PETRUS II, CINCH, CORONA, EURECA!)
In this context, a number of Euratom Fission Training Schemes (EFTS) were launched in specific areas where a shortage of skilled professionals has been identified. The EFTS is a significant development aimed at structuring training and career development across the EU: it is also compatible and complementary with the objectives of ENEN (see Reminder below). Each EFTS is a long-term (usually 3-year) and ambitious (approximately 1.5 million Euro) training programme relying on the participation of all nuclear stakeholders.
The aim of the EFTS programme is to transfer knowledge, skills and attitudes in a number of key areas to different learners categories in nuclear fission and radiation protection, namely: research and industry workers having followed higher education, i.e. corresponding to EQF levels 6 to 8. The learners follow a variety of learning paths, including PhD student coaching, mentoring of new professionals, customer training, regular or virtual classroom training, face-to-face or distance learning, etc. The ultimate objective of each EFTS is to develop, wherever appropriate, a European passport that is made of a portfolio of specific learning outcomes that are recognised across the EU.
Currently there are seven Euratom FP-7 projects of the EFTS type and more are expected in the coming calls-for-proposals. They are examples of Euratom responses to the need of specific qualifications and competencies in selected domains, using the above ECVET tools. Whenever possible, a collaboration exists with the “training” Working Groups of the EU platforms SNE‑TP, ENEF and MELODI. The current seven Euratom FP-7 training projects are listed below and are described in the website 7 of the ENEN association:
TRASNUSAFE: health physics sector (e.g., ALARA principle)
ENEN III Training schemes : nuclear systems suppliers (e.g. Generation III and IV)
ENETRAP II: nuclear safety authorities (e.g., Radiation Protection Expert)
PETRUS II: radwaste agencies (e.g., repository and engineered systems design)
CINCH: nuclear and radio-chemistry (e.g. chemistry of nuclear fuel cycle)
CORONA: VVER personnel (e.g. special assignment training tools and facilities)
EURECA!: super-critical water reactor (e.g. safety and performance of Generation IV).
(5) Conclusion: toward ECVET partnerships in fission and radiation protection
The proposed EU instrument is the European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET), due to be implemented by Member States by 2012. The focus is on the setting up of “ECVET Partnerships” and the design of specific arrangements for credit transfer for learners, based on learning outcomes. Learning outcomes can in principle be achieved through a variety of education and training paths (be it in a formal, non-formal or informal context). They are recognized throughout the EU, thereby offering a EU response to the challenges discussed above: in particular, borderless mobility and lifelong learning.
Of particular interest for the nuclear community are the first achievements of training related FP-7 projects aligned with ECVET (Euratom Fission Training Schemes / EFTS), in the following sectors where a shortage of skilled professionals has been identified:
the health physics sector (e.g., ALARA principle) / TRASNUSAFE project
the nuclear systems suppliers (e.g., construction challenges for GEN III) / ENEN III
the nuclear safety authorities (e.g., Radiation Protection Expert) / ENETRAP II
the radwaste agencies (e.g., repository and engineered systems design) / PETRUS II
the nuclear and radio-chemistry sector (e.g. chemistry of nuclear fuel cycle) / CINCH
VVER personnel (e.g. special assignment training tools and facilities) / CORONA
super-critical water reactor experts (e.g. safety of Generation IV) / EURECA!
The nuclear stakeholders, especially the departments in charge of human resources (training) and professional recruitment, are invited to discuss portfolios of learning outcomes as well as ECVET partnerships. The aim is to prepare a new generation of highly qualified professionals, taking into account the requirements of borderless mobility and lifelong learning. The ENEN association plays a key role in this process. The first ECVET experiences in nuclear fission training (ENEN III, ENETRAP II and PETRUS II) were discussed at the FISA-2009 Conference, organized by DG Research and Innovation / Euratom (Prague, 22 -26 June) 8.
In conclusion, Euratom research and training activities contribute not only to the creation of knowledge but also to competence building (where skills and attitudes come on top of knowledge). The participation of the main stakeholders (in particular, SNE-TP, ENEF, FORATOM) is particularly appreciated in this competence-building process, involving VET providers (usually with industrial background) and academia from all Member States.