English–Czech Translator

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About The Criteria Applied By The EU Institutions When Awarding Translation Contracts

The current criteria used to evaluate applicants for a translation contract to be awarded by an official institution of the European Union are as follows:

1) Likely quality of the service provided (weighting 60% in the quality-price ratio).
2) Price per lot of standard page (weighting 40% in the quality-price ratio).
Source: Call for tenders (2013). Details about “likely quality” are outlined below.

With this on mind, if a translator applies on their own, not via an agency, they can easily get outran by an agency which (at least in some markets) can offer a whole pool of translators for a lower price than that freelance translator would offer on their own. (For example, several Czech agencies charge about EUR 0.04 per a source word to the end client, or even less.) Of course, you can try to beat them up on quality, but when you know that you may have a ~ 40% disadvantage before you even started completing all the forms and so on, what is your motivation?

The quality-price formula is as follows:
[(NQ * 0.6) + (NP * 0.4)] * 100
NQ = Q / Max (Q)
NP = Min (P) / (P)

Q = “quality” mark of the evaluated tender.
Max (Q) = the highest “quality” mark among tenders having reached the award phase and which have obtained a quality mark of at least 60/100 points.
P = the price in Euros per standard page specified in the tender.
Min (P) = the lowest price among tenders having reached the award phase and which have obtained a quality mark of at least 60/100 points.

An example based on the quality-price ratio criteria: Imagine there are three competitors, A with 100% quality and 100% rate (compared to those who get to the award phase – to simplify it, let’s consider EUR 0.10/word), B with 90% quality and 90% rate and C with 60% quality (anything below 60% is not acceptable) and 50% rate (EUR 0.05/word). If I count it right based on the available formula, the results would be as follows:

A) 100% / 0.10
NQ = 100/100 * 0.6 = 0.6
NP = 50/100 * 0.4 = 0.2
(0.60 + 0.20) * 100 = 80

B) 90% / 0.09
NQ = 90/100 * 0.6 = 0.54
NP = 50/90 * 0.4 = 0.22
(0.54 + 0.22) * 100 = 76

C) 60% / 0.05
NQ = 60/100 * 0.6 = 0.36
NP = 50/50 * 0.4 = 0.4
(0.36 + 0.40) * 100 = 76

So in the end the highest rate & highest quality is just 4 points ahead of the lowest price & lowest quality offer, and the second highest quality equals to the lowest price offer, even if the likely quality difference is 30%.

In other words (in our example), a provider could “afford” to provide 20% worse likely quality (compared to the highest quality candidate), “compensate” that with 25% lower rate, and they could still be eligible (until the 60% quality limit and if the project volume or the number of available contracts within a tender is not covered by better candidates). Now, you may say that in some markets the range of rates is not so wide – but unfortunately in some cases/countries it can be.

The Tender Submission Form (see for example here) shows that the quality aspect seems to be judged based on a university degree, number of pages translated in the field and references from clients (page 32). A standardized curriculum vitae with other details about linguistic skills is also required (page 34). So it seems that actual skills are not assesed, only experience and education (which doesn’t automatically translate into quality translation services).

Here are the results of a translation tender from 2011: List of contractors – with winning parties and the range of rates for each pair included. For English to Czech, the range is between whopping EUR 15 and EUR 20 per a page, and all three parties are agencies. (How much would the translator working for one of these agencies get?)

In addition, this is for a job where specific qualification criteria are required as a minimum for a tenderer to be considered at all. In case of the tender linked at the beginning of the post it is as follows (they are similar in case of other tenders): Either a) a university degree or equivalent qualification, degree in the field of aviation and translation experience equivalent to at least 500 standard page, or b) a university level degree or equivalent qualification and translation experience equivalent to at least 1,000 standard pages of which at least 500 pages in the field of aviation. I don’t mind the qualification criteria themselves, I only think the reward should match the expertise.

Disclaimer: I never participated in an EU tender.

More details about other tenders by DGT can be found here:
Tendering for EU contracts

Reader might also be interested in this document by the European Comission:
Quantifying Quality Costs and the Cost of Poor Quality in Translation


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4 Responses to About The Criteria Applied By The EU Institutions When Awarding Translation Contracts

  1. Dr Maksud says:

    Hello, very good article and information. But, who will judge the translation’s quality? This is a crucial point.
    thanx again, Dr Maksud (London)

  2. Jamie says:

    Very apt observation. Another factor is that the agency also has access to a pool of high-quality translators to list on their tender offer whom they actually never intend to use. Those translators will never work for the rates offered, and the work will actually be sent to cheaper people with less expertise. I’ve regularly been approached by agencies wishing to put my qualifications in a tender offer, but I just started ignoring such queries after realizing they never result in work.

  3. guess says:

    @Jamie: Same here, just refused to fill another template CV and study tons of instructions in return for some promises which will probably never materialize (and the agencies, after outsourcing all the application work to you, don’t even bother to inform you they lost). Can’t believe I played this game for so many times… And yes, I also suspect some of those winning will swap the better translators for the cheaper ones.

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