National qualifications frameworks are central to European objectives, but are becoming equally important for achieving national aims
Qualifications are increasingly important for finding a job and essential for building a career. How qualifications are classified and ranked is going through some major changes influenced by rapid development of national qualifications frameworks (NQFs) across Europe.
Currently, 35 countries are developing 39 NQFs. Ireland, France and the UK used NQFs prior to 2005, but their development in other countries was stimulated by the European qualifications framework (EQF) as a way to compare qualifications between different countries. Although NQFs remain central to achieving this European objective, they are becoming increasingly important for countries to achieve their national aims...
Progress over the past few years provides a good basis for realising NQFs’ potential, but they need to be visible beyond the limited circle of policy-makers and experts involved in creating them. The following steps are crucial for NQFs to succeed.
- Learning outcomes-based levels need to become visible to people. Including EQF and NQF levels in certificates and qualifications is a key step.
- NQFs are increasingly becoming national structuring and planning instruments. This requires producing databases and guidance materials reflecting NQFs’ structures. This has been done with pre-2005 NQFs, but not yet with later ones.
- NQFs must increasingly engage with and be more visible in the labour market (through assisting development of career pathways, certifying achievements acquired at work, guidance and links to sectoral frameworks).
Although NQFs use learning outcomes, there are other current practices that use learning inputs to recognise qualifications. Networks of academic recognition centres (the European network of information centres (ENIC) and the National academic recognition information centres (NARIC) (4) which support learners and institutions on access to and progression in higher education. The EU’s directive (2005/36) which addresses relationships between professional qualifications and occupations in the labour market is also based on learning inputs. The links between NQFs and these other approaches must be clarified and strengthened.
This illustrates the need for systematic monitoring and evaluation of NQF implementation, both qualitative and quantitative. Only a few countries have baseline data or are tracking destinations of qualification holders.
If treated as an isolated initiative, outside mainstream policies and practices, NQFs will fail. The biggest danger is that countries ‘forget’ their NQFs once they are referenced to the EQF, seriously undermining the EQF as a trusted European reference framework.