Job applicants and would-be students arrive waving certificates and trailing letters after their names. Employers and admissions tutors want to know what they are getting. Students want to be sure that credits they accumulate will be recognised by an employer or the institution they tap for their next hit of lifelong learning.
As courses fragment into modules, and qualifications are micro-specified in terms of skills and competencies, the result has been a small information explosion. Before employers or universities can create useful databases of who knows what, the plodding logic of computers says that someone must first build a database of what there is to know.
Within many disciplines and many countries, standards have emerged. But the market for skilled labour is increasingly international and interdisciplinary. Many jobs in the food industry, for example, require a mix of traditional disciplines. "They traditionally pull in people from all scientific disciplines, and top up," says Clive Richards, a consultant who has helped the Science, Technology and Mathematics Council to compile a wide-ranging database of educational standards. STM's database, which now comprises more than 1,200 standards, has been compiled from sources including City and Guilds and the Business and Technology Education Council. The database has been distributed on CD-Rom, for evaluation and feedback prior to publication. Most sources already had their standards in electronic form, but differing formats and database structures meant that merging the data was not straightforward. In its effort to standardise terminology across the database, STM created a dictionary of synonyms and boiled down the verbs used in the database to a set of approximately 70. The CD contains virtually the entire database, but it is not presented as raw data. Instead, the disc offers four application programs for tasks which are likely to come up in the human resources office: recruitment and selection; job definition; appraisal; and the preparation of a bid for an Investors in People award. A country like the United Kingdom can expect to benefit from having its education standards adopted abroad. The Internet would be an obvious way to make the database available around the world, and the STM council will probably take the hybrid approach, distributing the database on CD-Rom and providing Web updates.
Science, Technology and Mathematics Council: tel. +44 117 929 8578.
World Academic Database review, page viii.