Quality certification in the field of foreign language businesses in Greece? the traps for certified and non-certified businesses? the standpoint of Greece and other EU countries towards the certification factor.
1) The quality or qualifications certification should depend on specific criteria which have been communicated and persuaded consumers by the outcome. A label, whether it is ISO or Proficiency, has power and duration, provided that the receiver knows what the certification entails and is actually interested in it.
2) The de facto declaration of “recognition” by a non-refutable organization like the state, should not be confused with the Pope’s infallibility. The state sets forth its own terms and conditions with fairness and success, even if they are borrowed, either as an employer, or customer, or guardian, through its ministries and the Hellenic Accreditation System (E.SY.D.). Whether the free market imitates the state or not, is a question of its own insecurity or inefficiency. No declaration of quality standards can be questioned by the state, as long as it doesn’t violate legal and institutional terms.
3) Consumer responsibility is also non-negotiable. Everyone gets what they deserve. However, acquiring the right information and making legitimate use of it (unlike the corporate kind by pharmaceutical companies) is everyone’s responsibility.
4) Express Service was certifying the operational qualification of cars long before Motor Ordinance Tests were legislated. The ARION music awards distinguish artists in thematic areas of their own choosing and with the audience’s participation, regardless of the state-supported Thessaloniki Song Festival. PALSO certificates engaged young students in foreign language tests and legitimately certified their level of knowledge, long before the state recognized the lower test levels of foreign universities that were not “recognized”. Hundreds of private institutions define and legitimately communicate their standards. By providing their own “certification”, they announce to the public that those who are qualified, be it businesses, adhere to their standards. This should not be confused with whether people with these qualifications should be appointed in the public sector, or get an operational license as a business because they converged with a code that didn’t succeed or wasn’t interested in including the state approval in its standards.
5) On the contrary, all of the above serve to prove that private initiative can one day lead to further modernization of the state. So long as the opportunities for inclusion in any process are equal.
Quality and qualifications certification has been within the clear intentions of various EU organizations and institutions for years now, pertaining to all professional fields, whether it’s about services rendered, or production and circulation of material products.
The reasons behind the motivation of so many to encourage quality certification vary, and of course, always aim to please and satisfy the consumer. However, the control mechanism and quality certification were triggered by the market’s control terms and its steering towards specific operational conditions, which:
A) Make specific businesses viable
B) Create consumer flow conditions
C) Create conditions for brand awareness and ad hoc establishment of a specific production methodology and entrepreneurship to consumer faith
D) Create consumer needs not only for the end user-consumer of a product or a service, but also for the provider-producer who will seek certification according to a very specific certification code
E) Create capital flow for the ad hoc participants of an established certification formula.
A short history of quality certification in Europe:
Quality certification began to spread as a recognized term about half a century ago. Post war development in Europe gave room to many small and medium sized enterprises, mostly production related, to stand beside widely accepted colossi (i.e. Siemens, Bayer, etc.). Businesses like these formed a coalition in order to redefine their comparative advantage against all those who were able to satisfy consumer needs with more flexibility, at a lower cost, within shorter delivery times and by bigger consumer satisfaction indices. The only thing these businesses could show off was their impressive consumer wise, internal structure, and their coordinated procedures that led to decent production. Their transparency satisfied their customers’ curiosity, made an impression with their size, and promoted the human factor, not only portrayed in the consumer’s but also in the employee’s face. They upheld the image of healthy entrepreneurship that fights unemployment, guarantees limitation of cost outflows, highlights manufacturing quality and life duration of the product, thus justifying its high price.
The power of these businesses’ identity, aided by the relevant communication strategy, began to create a new preference trend for consumers, while every local community’s elite was touched for obvious reasons. In other words, the justified expensive product became fashionable. As soon as this new consumer trend was systematized, the big manufacturers that initiated it, got organized and created a standardization and certification body, that evolved through history to what we know as ISO.
The example set by ISO was followed in the next years by coalitions of various industries and professional fields, that were either legally established (i.e. clubs, bodies and associations, etc.), or not established by institutions, but formed coalitions based on mutual interests. Such examples will be provided further down.
Quality certification in education:
Quality certification in the field of education has a short past in Europe’s history as a consumer product. Although certification bodies for educational quality were long ago created ad hoc in the U.S.A., in Europe the only equivalent example was observed in the United Kingdom. This, of course, by itself suggests that quality certification is a product of consumerist and capital competitive liberal purchasing orientation. In the rest of Europe, the education system was entrenched only by the state educational system trends, while the private educational businesses were subject to the terms that govern the state education system, only as far as its educational curriculum legitimacy, and certainly not as far as its operation and the conditions for it, since common professional licenses and business operation licenses were sufficient according to the respective commercial and civil code.
For years now the United Kingdom knew two basic schemes for the operational qualification and the quality certification of foreign language and non-educational businesses, one being the ABLS code (Association of British Language Schools) and the other being the ARELS/British Council code. It was only in 2004 that the UK Department for Education started looking into which code was sufficient enough to be adopted for licensing private educational businesses in general, which shows the successful and realistic approach of both unions towards their goals.
Different codes came up at a trans-European level along the lines of the ISO creation by different big partners, several years ago. In particular, big chains or networks (BELL, International House, British Council, etc.), began to create the conditions for recognition and expansion in the EU member states, aiming at “putting pressure” on small medium educational businesses in the respective markets. Needless to say, there was a goal in place, to control the wider market of small educational businesses in Europe, and the obvious influence on Eastern Europe member states-to-be, where the small educational business phenomenon had started to spread.
The businesses behind these codes used their element of recognition and their power and influence on EU educational commissioners to their best capacity; they exploited their creative participation in EU research programmes and institutions, and created a big network of allies in every smaller or new country, by organizing them, and being aware, at the same time, of their allies’ viability weaknesses, which were, in either way, in the codes’ interest in case they entered the new markets. We are, of course, talking about an entrepreneurial Trojan Horse phenomenon.
Local markets’ collectives have made justified efforts to form coalitions with these bodies, in order to create relatively differentiated control and quality certification schemes for their local markets, given that they are better aware of their markets’ particularities. Despite all that, it seems that these developments have “irritated” the international bodies and their prospect of allowing their big organizations-inspirers to impose, and have instigated “political” disagreements and cracks between members.
The Greek government’s standpoint on the quality and qualifications certification factor:
For more than half a century, the Greek government has not altered its standpoint towards any kind of accreditation. To be more clear, I should talk about two kinds of certification:
A) Qualification certification for individuals and professionals
B) Business Certification.
In both cases, the Greek government’s attitude reflects our national insecurity, suspicion and all other psychological syndromes, and at a certain point we should stop attributing them to the Ottoman occupation, since Greek history is rich with such syndromes.
An agent or institution deems necessary to certify in a standardized manner his/her qualifications or proficiency, only when they feel they cannot prove it in practice through sufficient means or arguments. Also, an agent or institution deems certification necessary when they suspect that an auditor, examiner, employer or client might consider they lack argumentation, even if that is true, either because there are no standards, or out of malice.
In other words, Greeks need proof and arguments. This, of course, reflects the Greek idiosyncrasy, since, when in a conversation demanding argumentation, Greek people tend to go on and on in great details even about the most obvious things, out of fear that they will not be understood or be explicit enough in their arguments.
This insecurity may, of course, hide an inflated ego, which may lead them to the conclusion that the other party is simply too ignorant or slow to understand them.
Based on all of the above, certification at an individual and business level has been a one way street-standard for Greece. The difference is that due to lack of know-how, national insecurity and difficulties in administrative support, the Greek government has always resorted to loaned, tested solutions, no questions asked regarding the institutions’ authority. Thus, on the level of entrepreneurship, the Hellenic Accreditation System (E.SY.D.), which, by the way, operates under the SA public interests regime, has exclusively and without exceptions adopted any methodology related to ISO and nothing else beyond that.
ISO has proved its substantial contribution to improving production procedures, especially when it comes to food products, clothing, environmental behavior and consumer protection issues. However, when it comes to service providers, it is virtually impossible to define quality without consumer involvement. At the same time, over-standardization in other kinds of services, has shown that it contributes to bureaucracy and ultimately the business utilizes the certificate only as a means of promotion, as it slowly starts to veer away the code from abiding procedures.
At the individual certification level, i.e. in the foreign languages and IT fields, the public sector aligns with the certificates of specific universities abroad, like Cambridge and Michigan, while in Information Technology it recognizes the certificates of international organizations like ECDL, Microsoft, Cambridge, etc. In any case, the Greek state “officially” recognizes certification methodologies and certificates not based on certain international acknowledgements, but on the respective scientific consultants of the respective Education Ministers. The very meaning of recognition is unprecedented everywhere in Europe, especially its importance in finding an occupation, appointment in the public sector, or categorizing professionals as teachers, consultants, etc., when in other European countries something like that requires a university degree at least, extra special training certification and public sector testing. Naturally, the problem in Greece regarding all of the above, is that there is no public institution with enough know-how and confidence to evaluate and certify, and therefore, it resorts to the various “recognitions”.
The biggest problem caused by this situation, therefore, is not certification, but recognition. It becomes clear from the above that certification is an acceptable and rightful factor when it is carried out by specialists, if not specialized institutions, who are not recognized by anyone but public opinion and consumer behavior, which will reward the institution’s work and status by the outcome.
In Greece, however, the meaning alone of “state recognition” disorientates the public, given that it tampers with confidence standards and indices on one hand, and on the other it discourages the collectiveness of the like institutions that will analyze consumer needs, so as to define the quality identity for every product and service with sobriety.
After all, it is a well known paradox that the most qualified language learners are Europeans, however, they possess the smallest index of actually using that foreign language, either at an academic or at a professional level.
Quality standardization and certification in the field of foreign language education should be a private affair from the outset, based on customer and student satisfaction, and aimed at maintaining entrepreneurship and services rendered at a high level.
I have at times made proposals to collective bodies of the foreign language schools field regarding the creation of a strict code of standards. The lack of interest only enhanced my suspicion that, first of all, these bodies’ representatives, being Greek citizens themselves, were looking for someone to recognize them (sic), secondly, they were preoccupied with trade union or political issues, while they did not see the necessity for a neutral and arbitral supporting institution.
It is very important to understand that quality or qualifications certification cannot constitute a promotional tool for ever, just because the Greek state “recognizes” some papers. Quality and qualifications certification acquires status when it truly purges entrepreneurship and the quality of life of entrepreneurs and professionals, in ways that the final receiver is the highly satisfied client. In that case, the client can be any employer.
A realistic code of standards, which will set in place strict adherence conditions, by an institution that is well aware of each professional field, will lead to the gathering of similar “certified” businesses. These businesses should cooperate and create a collective body that will demonstrate the benefits to the end receiver and will undertake certification of other businesses, aimed at the sector’s development not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of quality and realism.
It is of utmost importance for the market to avoid forcing business “elimination” criteria from a corporate point of view. In case businesses are to be eliminated, this should be the outcome of their non-convergence to the code’s standards; the code should take into consideration the scientific and business parameters, but mostly the market’s real needs as well as its purchasing power.
Any other geographical or quality elimination criterion would provide intent to create a lobby, which can only temporarily provide concrete competitive advantages.