The NLQF has been operational since 2012. Initial implementation efforts were directed towards developing procedures for the classification of non-regulated qualifications, developing profiles for (and recruitment of) the necessary experts, testing procedures and criteria with stakeholders and providers of non-regulated qualifications, and developing information materials. All government-regulated qualifications have been included in the framework en bloc (more than 4 500 qualifications from general education, VET and higher education), and inclusion of non-regulated qualifications from the labour market has started. The criteria and procedures for inclusion of non-formal qualifications into the NLQF are presented in Box 1.
Box 1. Inclusion of non-formal qualifications into the NLQF: criteria and procedures
Since 2012, the NLQF NCP has promoted the possibility to have a non-formal qualification included in, and levelled to, the national qualifications framework. This is presented as an opportunity for providers to achieve better overall visibility, to strengthen comparability with other qualifications at national and European level, to apply the learning outcomes approach, and to strengthen links to the labour market.
The basic conditions for inclusion of non-regulated qualifications into the NLQF are:
● the qualification must be written in learning outcomes;
● the qualification must be concluded with an independent, summative assessment, independent of the learning path (courses or training concluded with just proof of participation are not accepted);
● the qualification must be labour market relevant;
● the qualification must be underpinned by quality assurance.
If a private training provider, company, sector or examination body wants to submit a qualification for classification and inclusion into the NLQF, it must undergo a two-stage procedure:
(1) validity check of provider;
(2) classification of qualification to an NLQF level.
The validity check is a pre-condition for step 2 and aims to ensure the trustworthiness of the organisation. Issues such as legal status, property rights, the continuity of the organisation and the existence of quality assurance arrangements are checked. A list of approved quality assurance systems is included in the guidance material (e.g. accreditation by the Dutch/Flemish Accreditation Organisation (NVAO) or supervision by the Education Inspectorate). If the provider does not use externally validated systems, an on-site visit (organisational audit) is carried out. Validity is granted for five years, during which the applicant can submit qualifications for inclusion and levelling. Validity is assessed by the Quality Committee, and the final decision is made by the Programme Council of the NLQF NCP, which includes all major stakeholders involved in the NLQF, including ministries and social partners.
The organisation indicates the level it sees as most appropriate for the qualification, based on comparison of learning outcomes with NLQF level descriptors. In addition, the organisation must indicate the workload, the approach to assessment/examination, and the link to the relevant occupational profile. The application for classification is assessed by two independent experts and the Classification Committee, with the final decision made by the Programme Council of the NLQF NCP. Once approved, the classification is valid for six years and the qualification is included in the NQLF register: www.nlqf.nl/register.
Organisations must pay to use the system. Validity checks cost between EUR 1 000 and EUR 7 500, depending on whether an approved quality assurance system is in place. Submitting one qualification for inclusion is set at EUR 2 500.
There has been a growing number of applications from non-formal education providers, indicative of increasing NLQF visibility outside formal education and training. By February 2019, 65 non-regulated qualifications were assigned to NLQF levels ( Data from the register of qualifications awarded outside government regulation and levelled to the NLQF: https://www.nlqf.nl/register [accessed 16.1.2019].). Applications for inclusion of international qualifications into the NLQF have also been made and the Netherlands is part of a working group set up by the EQF advisory group looking into the possibilities for inclusion of international qualifications into NQFs and their referencing to the EQF.
Several qualification registers have been developed for different types of qualification. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has in place three registers for accredited education institutions and their qualifications: the Central register of vocational training (CREBO) for recognised secondary vocational education courses ( https://www.duo.nl/open_onderwijsdata/databestanden/mbo/crebo/); the Central register of higher education study programmes (CROHO) for recognised universities of applied sciences and universities ( https://www.duo.nl/zakelijk/hoger-onderwijs/studentenadministratie/croho.jsp); and the register of 'non-funded education' for accredited private schools for secondary general adult education (Vavo) ( https://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0012642/2001-07-25). Non-regulated qualifications levelled to the NLQF are entered into the NLQF register of private qualifications operated by the NLQF NCP ( https://www.nlqf.nl/register). Work on a national register taking into account all the existing databases has started. EQF and NQF levels are currently indicated in the NLQF register of private qualifications, on Europass certificate supplements and diploma supplements for VET and higher education qualifications, and in VET qualification files (European Commission and Cedefop, 2018).
In 2014, the Ministry of Education initiated revision of existing legal texts underpinning Dutch education and training, and the need for a dedicated NLQF law was recognised as crucial for the further development of the framework. As a result, a first draft legislative proposal was prepared in 2015, followed by two public consultations. Three evaluation studies on different aspects of the NLQF have also been conducted ( (a) Ockham IPS (2013). Implementatieonderzoek naar het NCP NLQF (Research on the implementation of the NLQF NCP), available in Dutch at: https://www.nlqf.nl/images/Eindrapport_OCKHAM_IPS_definitief_29112013_NCP_NLQF.pdf
(b) Profitwise (2014). De waarde van het NLQF - Onderzoek naar kenmerken, eigenschappen en voordelen (The value of the NLQF - Research into characteristics, properties and benefits), available in Dutch at:
(c) Ockham IPS (2017). Onderzoek NLQF (NLQF Research), available in Dutch at:
https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/rapporten/2017/11/20/onderzoek-nlqf). The most recent of these studies (Ockham IPS, 2017) included an inventory of the views of key stakeholders on the current functioning of the NLQF and the NLQF NCP, and on the new draft legislative proposal; an inventory and evaluation of objections to current practices; a risk analysis of objections to implementing the NLQF legislative proposal in its current form and its impact; and recommendations for possible adjustments to the current legislative proposal and to the implementation process, to address those objections that were well-founded ( The research methods included a literature review, interviews with over thirty stakeholders, study of foreign practices, and a sounding-board session with those involved.). The conclusions of this research regarding the NLQF legal basis have highlighted the need to demonstrate better the role of the NLQF for lifelong learning and mobility, to define better some of the concepts used (e.g. 'qualification', 'learning outcomes', 'NLQF classification') and to clarify the role of the Inspectorate of Education in quality assurance of non-formal qualifications. Regarding the implementation of the framework, the study concluded that a broad communication campaign is necessary to improve instructions on how the NLQF levels can be used, and suggested small improvement of the classifying procedure.
The new NLQF law, currently under development, is expected to be adopted in 2020 ( It is aimed to present the legislative proposal to the Dutch Parliament in the second half of 2019, with the law and the corresponding general administrative order entering into force in 2020.). The law aims to stipulate the obligation to indicate the NLQF and EQF levels on all qualification documents from the formal education system, raising the visibility of the framework among end-users. It will also formally acknowledge: the qualification levels and level descriptors of the NLQF; the generic classification of regulated qualifications; the legal status of the NLQF-NCP as an independent organisation; and the possibility of classification of non-regulated qualifications and indication of NLQF and EQF level on qualification documents issued outside the formal system. It will also provide for sanctions in the event of improper use of NLQF/EQF levels and logo by providers.
The NLQF NCP has been disseminating information about the framework, in line with its annual communication plan, through its dedicated website ( www.nlqf.nl), e‑magazine, newsletter, leaflets, an animation film, field visits and participation in conferences and interviews. The target groups prioritised so far have been employers, sector organisations, education providers and social partners. The NLQF is known by nearly all education and training providers in the Netherlands (though it is not used by all), by recognition authorities and bodies and by labour market stakeholders at national level. It is less known among guidance and counselling practitioners, labour market actors at regional and local levels, and the general public. Recent research commissioned by the NLQF NCP on the use of the NLQF/EQF in vacancies on the labour market showed that there is minimal, yet increasing, use of NLQF/EQF levels, mainly in the south, in the healthcare sector. Similar research on the use of the NLQF/EQF for human resource management in companies will be conducted in the next three years (European Commission and Cedefop, 2018).