The Irish NFQ is an inclusive framework that has reached an advanced operational stage. Initial implementation prioritised qualifications in general education, VET and higher education awarded by national public bodies, which have now all been included in the framework. The NFQ is also open to fit-for-purpose qualifications offered by professional bodies and private and international awarding bodies operating in Ireland (NQAI, 2003). The 2019 Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) amendment Act strengthened the role of the NFQ as central coordinating mechanism for qualifications and clarified the legal route to the NFQ for all qualifications. Section 55A-55I of the 2019 Act provides for a statutory scheme to facilitate voluntary access to the NFQ by a wider range of awarding bodies offering qualifications (European Commission; Cedefop, 2020).
The NFQ is referred to in strategic documents, legislation and regulatory instruments governing education and training ( Technological Universities Act 2018. https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2015/121/
Tax and Duty Manual – Education and Vocational Training, Revenue 2017.
Ministerial Regulation – Visa Conditions for Studying a Degree Programme in Ireland. http://www.inis.gov.ie/en/INIS/Pages/Student%20Pathway
Statutory Instruments – Student Grant Scheme 2020.
Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI).
https://susi.ie/eligibility/postgraduate-student/approved-institutionscourses-for-postgraduate-students/ ). It is used in the National skills strategy 2025 ( https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Policy-Reports/pub_national_skills_strategy_2025.pdf) as a reference point to set up a number of targets in the National further education and training (FET) strategy 2020-24 ( https://www.solas.ie/f/70398/x/64d0718c9e/solas_fet_strategy_web.pdf) providing a continuum of learning opportunities from NFQ level 1 to 6 in the FET sector, and in the National strategy for higher education to 2030 ( https://hea.ie/resources/publications/national-strategy-for-higher-education-2030/) as a platform that has provided opportunities for improving the interface between further and higher education in terms of access, transfer, progression, quality assurance, upskilling and lifelong learning. It is also used by the National Skills Council and the Central Statistics Office in data collection on the education and training system and educational attainment, and by the Central Applications Office (CAO) in the application process for higher education (European Commission and Cedefop, 2020).
The NFQ is known and used extensively by education and training institutions and providers; NFQ levels associated with programmes and awards are mentioned explicitly in communications to prospective learners and the public. The framework is widely known and used by guidance and counselling practitioners; over 2000 posters depicting the NFQ and the EQF are distributed every year to the guidance community. It is also widely used and known by quality assurance bodies and also used regularly by NARIC Ireland to provide academic recognition advice on foreign qualifications ( E.g. https://www.qqi.ie/QualRec%20Comparability%20Statements/France_ID_44.pdf).
Based on the nationally representative Omnibus survey responses, 38% of learners claim to have heard of NFQ and 28% of the EQF. According to the Union of Students in Ireland, the NFQ '[…] brings numerous benefits for students, notably facilitating progression along the NFQ and promoting international mobility, due to its alignment with other international frameworks of qualifications' (European Commission and Cedefop, 2020). Among labour market stakeholders, in 2018/2019, 96% and, respectively, 69% of employers/recruiters were aware of the NFQ and EQF, and 54% and, respectively, 17% referred to the NFQ and EQF during recruitment ( https://www.qqi.ie/News/Pages/Making-Sense-of-Qualifications----How-Recruitment-Professionals-in-Ireland-view-Qualifications.aspx). SOLAS uses the NFQ while reporting on education and training outputs and for setting out targets ( https://www.regionalskills.ie/national-skills-updates/solas-monitoring-ireland-s-skills-supply.html
https://www.solas.ie/f/70398/x/da278b4ad3/national-skills-bulletin-2018.pdf), and Intreo [Jobs Ireland] used the NFQ in job advertisements (European Commission and Cedefop, 2020).
QQI maintains a national database of the further education and training qualifications that it offers ( The QQI database for further education and training qualifications is available at: https://qsearch.qqi.ie/WebPart/Search?searchtype=awards). The Irish register of qualifications (IRQ) ( www.IRQ.ie) was launched in 2019 by QQI as a central repository for information about qualifications included in the NFQ and their associated programmes. It will confirm the relationship between qualifications and the NFQ, and supply details about associated courses, providers, and awarding bodies. It is also anticipated to include qualifications from other awarding bodies when they become eligible, including professional and other international awarding bodies. In time, it is intended to be fully interconnected with relevant European level qualifications portals. Currently, the IRQ includes quality-assured, recognised qualifications from universities and institutes of technology, private higher education colleges, education and training boards, and private further education providers. General education qualifications are not included (European Commission and Cedefop, 2020).
NQF and EQF levels are indicated in the QQI database for FET qualifications and in the comprehensive IRQ. Levels have been included on all further education and training qualifications issued by QQI (since June 2015) and on Europass diploma supplements in higher education and Europass certificate supplements in VET (since 2012 and 2013, respectively). However, they are not included on general education and higher education qualification documents, which are issued by autonomous bodies; this decision was the result of cost-benefit analysis. Inclusion of NQF and EQF levels on Europass supplements was facilitated by coordination at central level and is believed to have made NQF/EQF level references on qualification documents less important (European Commission and Cedefop, 2018).
Materials, guidelines and tools aimed to support the use of the framework by different stakeholders include: the interactive NFQ fan diagram ( https://nfq.qqi.ie/), and interactive tool qualifications frameworks – a European view ( https://nfq.qqi.ie/qualifications-frameworks.html); a 2019 e-booklet European qualifications framework – adding value to qualifications ( https://www.qqi.ie/Downloads/The%20%20European%20Qualifications%20Framework%20EQF%2010%20Years.pdf); the 2019 Guide to comparing qualifications in Ireland and New Zealand ( https://www.qqi.ie/Downloads/NZQA%20New%20Zealand%20Webx.pdf); and the 2018 Guide to comparing qualifications in Ireland and Hong Kong ( https://www.qqi.ie/Downloads/Comparing%20Qualifications%20Ireland%20and%20Hong%20Kong.pdf). The Universities Framework Implementation Network ( http://www.nfqnetwork.ie/) includes guidance on the use of the NFQ in programme design (European Commission and Cedefop, 2020).
Two NFQ evaluation studies have been carried out so far: a 2009 study on the impact and implementation of the NFQ ( See NQAI (2009). ) and a 2017 policy impact assessment of the Irish NFQ (Indecon, 2017) ( See Indecon (2017). The 2017 Policy impact assessment of the Irish NFQ was commissioned by QQI and conducted by Indecon International Economic Consultants. It used a mixed method approach: an online survey of national stakeholders and bilateral interviews with key representative bodies. ).
The 2017 policy impact assessment of the Irish NFQ (Indecon, 2017) found that it had a positive impact on transparency and comparability of qualifications, skills and competences; most stakeholders agreed that the NFQ has made it easier to see how qualifications relate to each other (84%), to explain and understand qualifications pathways (89%) and to evaluate qualifications for work or study (80%). The NFQ is perceived to have had an impact on the design of qualifications standards and curricula (74% strongly agreed/agreed that the learning outcomes approach of the NFQ has improved the practice of course and curriculum design), and on progression between qualifications achieved in school, in further and in higher education and training (81%). 61% of responders strongly agreed/agreed that the NFQ has made it easier for qualifications achieved in other countries to be understood, compared and recognised in Ireland, and 63% strongly agreed/agreed that the NFQ has improved the dialogue between the world of qualifications and the world of work.
The study also showed that there was continued support for the NFQ as an important element of the national skills and qualifications architecture, continued interest in a qualifications agenda and support for a national forum for knowledge exchange on all qualifications developments, including NFQ and EQF. At the same time, the risks of the NFQ becoming taken for granted and of the weakening of vigilance in maintaining its integrity were acknowledged, including the need to revisit the original levelling of certain qualifications in the light of emerging practice, experience and evidence ( Specific recommendations included: to continue to develop and implement the NFQ as a responsive and adaptable mechanism for qualifications and skills policy; to consider initiatives to improve awareness of the NFQ among stakeholders; to revisit the operation of the NFQ for upper secondary school qualifications in Ireland and for qualifications at EQF level 5; to examine QQI's awarding function and NFQ levelling processes more generally; to ensure clarity and simplicity of communication; to include a broader range of qualifications within the NFQ; to ensure strong international engagement; to establish data to investigate transfer and progression pathways through the national qualifications system; to establish a national forum for qualifications (Indecon, 2017).) (Indecon, 2017).
The NFQ is an outward-looking framework with a strong external dimension through engagement with non-European countries: Australia, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Jordan, Malaysia and New Zealand. The importance of maintaining the international connectedness of the NFQ was also highlighted in the 2017 review (Indecon, 2017), while the EQF was seen as a valuable asset for promoting the international recognition of Irish qualifications abroad and of foreign qualifications in Ireland.