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Austria: NQF as a catalyst for qualification and quality

At the beginning of 2016 the Federal Act on the national qualifications framework entered into force in Austria. Following establishment of the bodies specified in the Act, qualification providers have been able to submit requests for NQF allocation since the beginning of 2017. Such requests can be submitted both for formal qualifications (with a legal basis) and so-called non-formal qualifications (those not regulated by law but for which a non-state education establishment is responsible).  

Since mid-2017 the first formal qualifications have been allocated to colleges for higher vocational education (berufsbildende höhere Schulen, five-year vocational schools granting access to HE institutions and enabling direct labour market entry), schools for intermediate vocational education (berufsbildende mittlere Schulen, three- or four-year vocational schools at intermediate qualification level) and apprenticeship diplomas (qualifications of dual VET programmes). To guarantee NQF transparency, information about all qualifications allocated to an NQF level is published in the qualification register.

In the development phase it was already possible to ‘feel the influence’ of the NQF, especially in qualification and quality development. The principles of the NQF are increasingly being applied when new qualifications are introduced and existing ones modernised to ensure allocation is possible. These principles include drawing up a qualification profile: the overall description of the qualification (features distinguishing the qualification in terms of content, fields of employment for those who hold it, sphere of action and scope for decision-making); the definition of learning outcomes; and of the assessment procedure. This last element also comprises the standards which candidates need to prove as part of the assessment procedure to acquire the qualification (the certificate). The new ‘engineer’ qualification is an example of the presentation of a qualification in this form; it has existed since 1 May 2017, and was structured and described in line with the NQF. At its base are the descriptors of level 6, which is where the ‘engineer’ has been allocated formally since September 2017. This qualification not only takes account of the rules of the NQF, it also serves as a good example of the validation of informally acquired competences because the learning outcomes which the applicant has acquired in the course of several years of professional practice are examined as part of the assessment procedure.

The NQF has also provided important impetus to the quality development of qualifications. Reporting in detail about quality assurance measures in the assessment procedure is specified in the NQF request; where appropriate, this should also feature in the training (where it is required for acquiring the qualification). This has made many qualification providers think about their QA measures. The allocation of a qualification to an NQF level comes with the expectation that the associated descriptors also correspond to reality. To ensure that the NQF can be a reliable and confidence-building instrument it must be guaranteed that the qualification contains all the ‘ingredients’ listed on its ‘cover’, so that the descriptors of a level also apply to the allocated qualification.

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