How tracer studies in North Macedonia and Kosovo drive educational improvements
Schools and vocational education and training (VET) institutes need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their educational programmes, now more than ever. Effectively preparing young people to give them the skills they need to face the challenges that lay ahead, including those linked to the twin digital and green transitions, is key to maximising their success in finding decent jobs as they move from school to work.
A tracer study or a graduate survey, as they are sometimes called, helps educational institutions to gather evidence about the relevance of the education and training provided, and helps to match training to the labour market needs. Tracer studies can highlight where institutions are performing well, and where they have scope for improvement. The results of the studies are important for all stakeholders: training and labour market policymakers can decide on the reforms needed in the education and training systems. Training institutions decide on the type and content of the training courses to be delivered. Individuals decide on the education and training which best meets their strengths, while employers take decisions on how to enhance the skills of their workers.
In North Macedonia, the ETF helped the Ministry of National Education, in partnership with the World Bank, to roll out the first systematic tracer study aimed at VET and higher education graduates. The results were positive and provided a good starting point from which developments could be made (see report).
In Kosovo, the ETF supported the implementation of a tracer study to help analyse the performance of technical VET (TVET) institutions. Cristina Mereuta, the ETF’s Human Capital Development expert was involved in the project and explains how important it was to launch a pilot tracer study that adhered to budgetary constraints.
'We needed to focus on finding affordable data collection solutions, given that initial set-up costs of the questionnaire development and IT data collection software can sometimes be prohibitive. This was achieved by using a cost-free, open source electronic survey system which facilitated a high response rate.'
The survey was aimed at final year students and ascertained how satisfied students were, both with the content of the training programmes delivered, as well as the career guidance provided by the school. Other cost-saving initiatives included the teacher-training programme, which was delivered by ETF experts.
'By running the training programme "in-house", we avoided having to rely extensively on external consultancies. And, of course, this had the added advantage of equipping the teachers with the skills and competences to continue the tracer study by themselves.'
This initial tracer study implemented with the support of the ETF continues today, with efforts to mainstream the tracer study practice at system level with the support of the European Union’s IPA funding.
Tracer studies conducted on a regular basis have been shown to be effective tools for providing feedback on VET and higher education. The feedback helps to drive improvements and updates of education, training and employment policies, as well as tailoring the career guidance given to students to help them decide on their higher education or training paths.
'Tracer studies also help to measure the employability of graduates and assess the extent to which the skills acquired are relevant to the demands of the labour market. This part of the study is usually carried out between 9-11 months after graduation and is a valid instrument for analysing skills mismatch at the national level, in combination with information from other sources.'
As labour market requirements across Europe and the EU’s neighbouring regions rapidly change, there is a challenge for educational institutions to keep pace and ensure their training programmes are relevant. Tracer studies are just one tool that can help institutions do all they can to equip young people with the skills needed to ensure a successful transition from school to work.
'If we are looking to young people to be the key actors able to lead effective transitions towards greener, digital and more equitable societies in the future then we must ensure they have access to lifelong learning systems that can enable them to develop the skills, competences, knowledge and attitudes necessary to face the challenges that lay ahead.'