When it comes to updating educational programs for youth workers in higher education, it is important to distinguish between two different process: one is the formal evaluation process as required by the national legislation, and the other one encompasses additional activities for assessment and revision, outside of the formal requirements.
Youth work is a very dynamic field of work, where trends, needs, approaches and methodologies are changing constantly. It is also a field that adopts technological advances quite fast – the application of digital tools in working with young people during Covid-19 pandemic is an example for that. The constant changes require ever-new competences, which means that occupational standards and competence frameworks for youth workers should be frequently adapted to the changing socio-economic and political contexts. To remain relevant, education and training for youth workers also has to adapt to those changes.
The changes needed so that youth work education remains up to date often go beyond what is legally required in higher education. Waiting 5 or 7 years for formal assessment can easily cause the program to lose its relevance in the meantime. The analysis conducted within this project shows that to prevent this, some universities take additional measures for assessment and revision, which can serve as a good practice for other educational institutions that have educational programs in youth work.
One example for this is the Youth Work Management master’s programme at Tallinn University in Estonia. The program started admitting students for the first time in 2015, and in 2017 it was already renewed – way before the required 7 years. The reason for the earlier revision was that in the meantime, quality assessment was conducted of the youth worker practical higher education’s study programme. The university decided to follow the recommendations also for the master’s program. In addition, they took into consideration that the occupational standard was renewed in 2017, so there was a need to analyse the programme and adopt its aims and learning outcomes accordingly.
To renew the programme, the Director of the School of Educational Sciences of Tallinn University formed a working group of 13 people, of which 5 were practitioners from Youth Agency of Archimedes Foundation and from Estonian Youth Work Centre, representing youth work experts, employers, and speciality alumni. The others were from the University – lecturers of youth work and andragogy, professors of sociology, head of studies and director of the School. Feedback from the postgraduate students of the youth work management programme was also taken into account. This cross-sectorial approach, involving also practitioners from the youth work field, also goes beyond the formal requirements of the assessment process.
In Wales, assessment of the relevance of youth work education and training is done not only on the level of individual universities or educational programs, but on a national level as well. Estyn is the independent education and training inspectorate for Wales. In response to a request from the Minister for Education, in 2020 Estyn did a review of the “quality of the professional training available in Wales to meet the challenges of changed national youth work environment and policy developments”. Prior to this review, Estyn had published two more reports in the same field, in 2018 and 2010. In their assessments, they look at all youth work courses offered by all educational providers in Wales, providing guidance on how to increase their effectiveness.
When assessing the relevance of educational programs, universities also take into consideration the labour market – evaluating students’ competences against the requirements of potential employers. The Faculty of Philosophy from Skopje, North Macedonia did exactly that when it used a survey to ask recently graduated students if they are employed in their fields of study. As already mentioned above, the University of Tallinn invited employers of youth workers when evaluating their master’s program. Youth work is a field of work where the labour market is narrow and limited to a small group of potential employers, which makes the assessment of job requirements feasible.
The examples stated above show how concrete steps can be taken to ensure that youth work education and training are constantly evaluated and reformed to adequately meet the changing needs of the sector. Our analysis shows that universities and national governments can undertake additional measures to ensure more encompassing reviewing processes that involve various stakeholders. Those measures can fall within the established assessment processes, but they can also be performed as additional actions to add depth, frequency and provide more diverse perspectives.
Since the formal assessment process is the minimum that should be applied for each youth work study program in higher education, it is important to know how it works. Since each country has its own requirements and procedures, as a reference in these guidelines we are providing an overview of the process currently in place in North Macedonia.
 The Value of Youth Work Training – A sustainable model of Wales, Estyn, 2020, page 1
Case study: Evaluation of educational programs in North Macedonia
In North Macedonia, it is mandatory by the Law on higher education to conduct internal evaluation, self-evaluation, and external program evaluation. Usually, the internal evaluation process is conducted by the students after each semester. The self-evaluation is conducted every four years by the professors and evaluation board. External evaluation is conducted by an external independent agency or a body engaged by the university. Additional forms of evaluations are conducted through different surveys.
For example, in a 2019 survey of recently qualified social workers, it was found that two thirds of newly qualified social workers were satisfied or very satisfied with their social work education (Commission for quality of education, Faculty of Philosophy, 2020).
The initiative for proposing changes to the study program usually comes from the department where the program is being implemented, but can also be initiated by the dean, vice dean for education, dean’s steering committee, head of department, course leader, accreditation board, and student association. The initiative to propose an amendment to the study program is reviewed by the Department Council, which will assess its justification. Amendments to the study program are proposed by the Department Council, based on evaluation procedures (student’s evaluation, self-evaluation or external evaluation), and based on the received proposals or conducted research on the market placement of the produced educational profile.
At least every three years, the Faculty should conduct an extensive survey of the needs of employers through a survey and focus group, but also by obtaining the opinion from the Employment Agency or the Economic Chamber, which provide guidance for the development of faculty curricula. These activities need to involve the alumni community and employers who have hired students that have completed their studies at the Faculty.
The received recommendations and remarks represent a good ground for the need to revise or introduce a study program. For the purpose of the revision procedure a Program Committee should be appointed. Regular updating of subjects, which refers to the improvement, supplementation or changes of the purposed literature, teaching methods and monitoring of student achievements as well as minimal harmonization of subjects with modern knowledge up to 10% in relation to the initially accredited course content, is performed by the course holder with consent of the Department Council.
Regular updating of the subject is not considered a change but is part of the quality assurance procedure and is carried out without previously mentioned procedure. The course holder is obliged to publish the additions or changes before the beginning of classes within the course description (syllabus).
Minor amendments of not more than 20% of the content of the study program or final competencies of students and their qualifications in relation to the initially accredited study program, are adopted by the Educational-Scientific Board on the proposal of the Department.
The percentage of change in the study program is determined by calculating the ratio of the number of changed learning outcomes in relation to all learning outcomes within a particular subject. The same model is applied to the whole level study program.
Minor amendments to the study program mainly relate to:
- determining the conditions of the order of enrollment and taking the course,
- merging two smaller (one-semester) courses into one or vice versa without changing the envisaged contents,
- increase or decrease of the planned number of hours for individual subjects,
- redistribution within the planned number of hours for individual subjects for different forms of teaching (lectures, exercises, seminars),
- changes in the structure of the envisaged forms of teaching,
- changes in the workload of students expressed in ECTS credits,
- introduction of up to two new elective courses in the year of the study program,
- changes in the status of the subject (compulsory – elective),
- replacement of existing items,
- one-time change of content in twenty percent (20%) of compulsory and elective courses
- study program expressed in the amount of twenty percent (20%) of thematic units or scheduled hours per course,
- redistribution of ECTS credits to students with different types of obligations within the envisaged number in a course,
- activation or deactivation of individual elective courses provided by the program with regard to the expressed interest of students and financial and organizational economy.