The European Qualifications Framework was first proposed 10 years ago and launched in 2008. Questions are now being asked about whether the Framework has worked. Is it fit for purpose? Does it make a difference to people’s lives? Is it relevant? Does it need to change?
These were the questions asked of European nations’ National Contact Points for the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) last month. Wales’ National Contact Point for the EQF, ColegauCymru’s Adrian Sheehan, was at the meeting in Brussels where the deliberations began. This is his account of emerging views.
What is the European Qualifications Framework?
The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is an overarching framework set up in Europe to facilitate comparison of qualifications and qualifications levels in order to remove obstacles to mobility in Europe by improving transparency and comparability of skills and qualifications and to improve recognition for progress to further education and employment.
The core of the framework consists of eight qualifications levels described through learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and competence). Countries are invited to relate their national qualifications levels to the neutral reference established by the EQF.
The referencing process asks countries to confirm that their national qualifications framework (NQF) meets a number of criteria. Among these are:
- The responsibility for the framework rests with legally constituted public authorities
- There is a clear link between the qualifications levels in the national qualifications framework and the level descriptors of the European Qualifications Framework.
- The national qualifications framework and its qualifications are based on the principle and objective of learning outcomes and linked to arrangements for validation of non-formal and informal learning and, where these exist, to credit systems.
- The procedures for inclusion of qualifications in the national qualifications framework or for describing the place of qualifications in the national qualification system are transparent.
- The referencing process shall include the stated agreement of the relevant quality assurance bodies.
- The referencing process shall involve international experts.
- Following the referencing process, all new qualification certificates, diplomas and Europass documents issued by the competent authorities contain a clear reference, by way of national qualifications systems, to the appropriate European Qualifications Framework level.
(N.B. This is not a complete list of the criteria. For an explanation go to the EQF website.)
The EQF is a soft translation tool which helps to build trust. It has great potential as an instrument of transparency between nations and has been very successful as a tool to support changes to and the alignment of qualifications across European countries.
Where are we now?
Each of the UK nations has a well-developed qualifications framework. Here in Wales, for example, all regulated qualifications are mapped onto the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW), which in turn is mapped to the EQF.
The CQFW has been strongly embedded in certain educational sectors, notably in higher education and adult & community learning, where it is closely aligned with qualifications outcomes and organisational standards. However, an evaluation of the CQFW in 2014 found that it was not being used in practice as much as had been hoped across the education and employment sectors.
Until the EQF is more widely established across European nations, it is the view of the Wales NCP that it is not yet the time to make further developments to it.
Where is the rest of Europe?
Many countries are still in the process of developing National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs), working through a range of different challenges. As a result, the EQF’s impact on citizens has so far been low.
There was a strong feeling at the meeting in Brussels that the EQF is a valuable development, that countries want their qualification frameworks be aligned to it and to use it to enhance mobility.
However, many countries are still developing their NQFs with differing roles of qualifications and facing different challenges in developing their frameworks. There are still wide differences in levels of development between those countries with mature frameworks and those who are still introducing these.
Where next for the EQF?
At the meeting in Brussels, the European Commission had proposed that it move to reinforce referencing, enhance comparability across the EU and potentially beyond European nations, and set up an international recognition convention covering all types and levels of qualifications, with a European IT platform for sharing information and recognition as part of European services for skills and qualifications.
The view of the four UK National Contact Points, however, is that considering such moves is premature. We believe that there is still a need to help develop the central role of the NQFs in individual countries. This has been established in countries with mature frameworks but for the newer frameworks there is still some distance to travel.
We feel that European nations need to focus on better referencing, better coordination between higher education, vocational education and training, and regulated professions, together with better quality assurance.
More clarity on the concept of the EQF would also help its development; i.e. focus on bottom up national developments but with up to date referencing to ensure frameworks across Europe continue to be aligned rather than a top-down approach proposed by the European Commission. The EQF should be an instrument for transparency, not for recognition.
The considered view of the UK’s NCPs was was supported by most of the countries who contributed to the meeting. This, then, will likely form the basis of the Wales/UK response to the European Commission’s consultation on its proposals when it begins a process of formal consultation in May.