What does permeability mean?

The aim of permeability (in German) in the education system aims at reducing barriers between the educational sectors, especially between vocational and academic education, and to facilitate transitions. Individual lifelong learning should thus be enhanced.

Background and significance for higher education institutions

With the "Strategy for Lifelong Learning in the Federal Republic of Germany" (BLK 2004), the Federal Government and the Länder have adopted a framework concept "on how the learning of all citizens can be stimulated and supported in all phases and areas of life, at different places of learning and in diverse forms of learning" (p. 5, also p. 14). This concept includes the transitions of an entire life, from childhood to (retirement) age.  It concerns higher education institutions to think through and help shape institutional transitions in the sense of permeability across educational boundaries. This should enable people with diverse educational biographies and in different situations of life (e.g. family mothers who work part-time) to successfully complete their studies.

On the one hand, this is about permeability within the higher education system (between different types of higher education institutions, between different countries or in the transition from smaller study units such as certificate courses to an entire degree programme). In this case, recognition of academic achievements is the key. Primarily, the term on the other hand refers to permeability between vocational and higher education, and in particular to the access of vocationally qualified persons to higher education. This aspect is reflected in the concept of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), which aims at reducing the shortage of skilled workers, which is expected to increase in the coming years, and increasing equal opportunities, by opening higher education institutions to new groups of learners. There is also increasing discussion of opening up the VET system and the higher education system to both sides, thus creating reciprocal permeability.

Further development

The BMBF-funded projects "nexus” (german only), "ANKOM" (in German) and "Advancement through Education: Open Universities" (in German) have made a significant contribution to advancing the issue of institutional permeability at higher education institutions. After their completion, however, the higher education institutions are still required to advance their profile in this area and to build on previous achievements or to further develop measures and processes. This includes increased offerings of lump-sum recognition of prior learning, but also increasing the transparency and reliability of the options and procedures. Last but not least, it is fundamentally important to further clarify the relationship between vocational and academic education and to develop suitable mechanisms that support the functional interaction of vocational and academic education despite their structural complementarity.

The MODUS project supports higher education institutions in being able to guarantee suitable procedures for crediting competences, to provide suitable offers for the actual use of the competence potential of vocationally qualified persons and to make these more easily accessible and more transparent.

Position of the HRK

The "Ten recommendations for increasing permeability between vocational and academic education" (2015) (in German), published in 2015 by the expert group "Permeability between vocational and academic education" (an association of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA), the Stifterverband and the German Rectors' Conference (HRK), represent sustainable goals for stakeholders in the field of vocational and academic education.

Both the HRK resolution "Reorganisation of access to higher education for those with vocational qualifications" (in German) and the declaration "For more permeability between vocational education and training and higher education" (in German) issued jointly with the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) in connection with the Federal Government's Qualification Initiative already addressed the role of competence-oriented recognition of prior learning for the implementation of permeability in 2008.

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