Ireland has become the first EU Member State to link its national qualifications to the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (EQF), the tool which will make it easier for people to study or work in another EU country.

The EU Member States have voluntarily committed themselves to linking their national qualifications levels to the EQF by 2010. Ireland is the first country to have finalised, well before the target date, its referencing report, which explains how national qualifications levels are linked to the EQF.

The EQF is a European tool that aims to increase the transparency of qualifications across Europe. As a common reference framework, it will help both individuals and employers to better understand and compare the different national qualifications systems and their levels, whether in general or higher education or vocational education and training. The EQF is based on eight reference levels which are described in terms of learning outcomes, i.e. what a learner knows, understands and is able to do, rather than focusing on the input side, such as length of study.

For example, currently an enterprise in Ireland may hesitate to recruit a job applicant from Hungary because it does not understand his or her qualifications. But once the EQF is fully implemented, the Hungarian candidate's certificate would contain a reference to an EQF level, such as "EQF level 5". Since the relevant qualification authority in Ireland will have already provided such a reference to EQF levels in Ireland's qualifications in the field concerned, the Irish employers will be able to understand the Hungarian's qualification and compare it with Irish qualifications. Individuals will also benefit from the EQF by gaining better access to lifelong learning opportunities. A common European reference point will make it easier to combine what has been learned in diverse settings different countries, sectoral education systems or informal learning environments.

From 2012, all new qualifications should bear a reference to the EQF, so that employers and institutions can identify a candidate's skills knowledge and skills.

Cedefop has played a leading role in shaping the European Qualifications Framework since 2002-2003 when it provided the basis for establishing common reference levels.

The EQF was adopted by the European Parliament and Council on 23 April 2008.