Frameworks help to make qualifications easier to understand and compare. They can also encourage countries to rethink and reform national policy and practice on education, training and lifelong learning.  

National qualifications frameworks (NQFs) classify qualifications by level, based on learning outcomes.  This classification reflects the content and profile of qualifications - that is, what the holder of a certificate or diploma is expected to know, understand, and be able to do.  The learning outcomes approach also ensures that education and training sub-systems are open to one another. Thus, it allows people to move more easily between education and training institutions and sectors.

The main catalyst for the development of comprehensive national qualification frameworks in Europe has been the European qualifications framework (EQF). All countries committed to the EQF are developing or implementing national frameworks mostly covering all levels and types of qualifications: the 27 Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey.

For detailed and interactive information on National qualifications framework check the NQF online tool 

The development of national qualifications frameworks in Europe also reflects the Bologna process and the agreement to implement qualifications frameworks in the European higher education area (QF-EHEA). All countries implementing the EQF are participating in this process.

 

How Cedefop supports implementation

Cedefop’s work on qualifications frameworks dates back to 2003. At the time, the Centre worked mainly on the EQF’s conceptual development. Since 2009, Cedefop has published:

Cedefop has organised various events allowing policy makers and practitioners to compare practises and exchange experiences:

Overall progress in 2019-2021

  • 39 countries are cooperating on the European qualifications framework implementation. EU Member States, EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein and Switzerland), EU candidate countries (Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey), potential candidate countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo), and United Kingdom (*).
  • 36 countries have formally linked (‘referenced’) their national qualification systems or frameworks to the EQF: Austria, Belgium (Flanders and Wallonia), Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom (*)
  • Eight countries have updated their referencing reports: Belgium (fl), Estonia, France, Ireland, Malta, Latvia, Netherlands, and United Kingdom (*).
  • 33 countries have started tagging their certificates and diplomas as well as qualifications in their databases with NQF and/or EQF levels. Progress has been more visible in VET than in general education. Some countries have set out to label all their new certificates and diplomas for NQF-registered qualifications (e.g. Denmark, Estonia, Malta, Poland and Slovenia).
  • 38 countries have officially established or formally adopted their national qualifications frameworks (NQFs);
  • 36 countries are working towards comprehensive NQFs covering all types and levels of qualification from formal education and training (VET, HE, general education); and increasingly opening towards non-regulated/private qualifications (e.g. Austria, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, UK-Scotland (*)). 

 

Global dimension of qualification frameworks

Development of national qualification frameworks is a global phenomenon, leading to stronger cooperation between countries and regions. Cedefop and ETF collaborate with Unesco and Unesco Institute for Lifelong Learning to monitor global NQF developments. The four agencies have jointly published 4 editions of the Global Inventory of Regional and National Qualifications Frameworks:

European inventory

European inventory on NQF

Global inventory

Global dimension of qualifications frameworks

Development of national qualification frameworks (NQFs) is a global phenomenon, leading to stronger cooperation among countries and regions.

Who is involved?

Cedefop, the ETF, UNESCO and the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning monitor global developments of national qualifications frameworks (NQFs) and regional frameworks (QFs).

How is this collaboration effected?

  • Global inventory of national and regional qualifications frameworks 2013:
    In 2013, the four institutions jointly published the first global inventory of regional and national qualifications frameworks (thematic chapters and regional and national cases), covering over 140 frameworks developed and introduced over the past decade.
  • Global inventory of national and regional qualifications frameworks 2015:
    In 2015, the second edition of the global inventory of regional and national qualifications frameworks (thematic chapters and national and regional cases) was published.
     
  • Global inventory of national and regional qualifications frameworks 2017:
    In 2017, the third edition of the global inventory was finalised giving an update of the national qualifications frameworks around the world. The two-volume publication presents current data, and analyses national qualifications frameworks in 100 countries spanning five continents, in seven regional qualifications frameworks. The individual country chapters are supported by eight thematic chapters on transversal analysis of the most important issues in qualifications frameworks, such as: purposes and impact of NQFs; qualifications frameworks as catalysts for lifelong learning and recognition of non-formal learning; and qualification frameworks promoting international and global communication and cooperation and comparability of qualifications.
     
  • Global inventory of national and regional qualifications frameworks 2019:
    Cedefop has contributed to the fourth edition of national and regional qualifications frameworks inventory that was published in 2019. The Inventory has been gathering information on the progress in establishing and implementing national and regional qualifications frameworks since 2017, as well as the challenges and success factors in more than 100 countries in all five continents. The country cases look at the educational, social, economic and political context in which the national qualifications framework is embedded, the main policy objectives, implementation of learning outcomes, stakeholder involvement and institutional arrangements. It covers the progress in implementing seven regional qualifications frameworks, including the European qualifications framework (Volume 2).

    The country chapters are supported by six thematic chapters of transversal analysis on the role of learning outcomes in governing and reforming education and training; accessing and acquiring skills and qualifications; connecting people to national qualifications frameworks; recognising prior learning experience of migrants and refugees; importance of data policy makers need to have to nurture recognition and validation of prior learning. There is an article on world reference levels for lifelong learning as a tool for comparison and recognition of learning outcomes (Volume 1).

The aim of the inventory is to share knowledge with experts and officials and inform decision-   makers and bodies implementing national and regional frameworks.

Presentation of the findings

The findings of the second edition were presented at the fifth Asia-Europe Education Ministers’ Meeting (ASEM ME5) in Riga, Latvia.

The findings of the third edition were presented at the sixth Asia-Europe Education Ministers’ meeting) (ASEM ME6) in Seoul, South Korea, in November 2017. The inventory’s value was highlighted in Chairs’ conclusion (point 37) at the ASEM meeting, where the joint efforts of Cedefop, the ETF, UNESCO and the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning were acknowledged.

The findings of the fourth edition were presented at the seventh Asia-Europe Education Ministers (ASEM ME7) in Bucharest, Romania, on 14 May.The inventory’s value was highlighted in the meeting’s chair’s conclusions where the joint efforts of Cedefop, ETF, UNESCO and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning were acknowledged: ‘The the inventory is an important reference document for regional qualification frameworks (RQFs) and national qualification frameworks (NQFs), which supports global monitoring by interested actors, provides policy analysis, identifies the latest issues and contributes to peer-learning.’ Ministers also called upon all ASEM partners ‘to make use of this inventory and to enhance, develop or implement fully their existing RQFs and NQFs.’

Key findings, issues, challenges and trends

  • Numbers of frameworks, national and regional, has remained stable, while implementation of most frameworks has deepened and widened since 2017.
  • Regional frameworks: European qualifications framework and ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework are considered operational.
  • Several global trends such as internationalisation, digitalisation, migration, mobility and learning across borders are changing the education, training and qualifications systems. They set the context for national and regional qualifications framework implementation.
  • Digital learning is spreading all over the world, changing the relationship between formal/traditional qualifications and digital credentials, open badges, MOOCs etc.
  • Comprehensive frameworks including all levels and types of qualifications are gaining ground in Europe and elsewhere. European countries use their frameworks to create comprehensive maps of qualifications, including all sectors (VET, higher education, general education, adult training) and to help validate non-formally and informally acquired competences. This is seen as central to policies fostering people’s lifelong learning and progression through different pathways.
  • The concept of learning outcomes (skills and knowledge that learners acquire as the result of learning) is becoming a common basis for almost all national and regional qualifications framework worldwide.
  • Qualifications frameworks and initiated reform have contributed to increasing the transparency of qualification systems and better access to lifelong learning opportunities.
  • The rise of validation of non-formal and informal learning (VNFIL) is making learning outcomes visible and valued, as part of the efforts to reduce or remove barriers between learning and work and therefore, aid career progression. The spread of the NQFs based on learning outcomes has facilitated the validation and recognition of knowledge, skills and competences acquired in a non-formal setting. However, implementation, or wider application, of VNFIL is hindered by difficulties in gathering data to inform more effective policies and practices.
  • Policy makers need to present a stronger and more holistic case for the benefits that frameworks, skills and qualifications can offer, for individuals, employers, and the wider society. While those benefits typically relate to labour market access and longer-term career prospects, they also contribute to non-employment related outcomes as for instance improved physical and mental health and reduced demands on criminal justice systems.  
  • Teachers and trainers are shapers of the learning experience, which extends from the design of an overall plan to the day-to-day management of learning activities. Presenting teachers and trainers as both designers of a learning process and experts in its delivery opens up the prospect of greater integration between policy making and practice and stronger support for innovation. Outcomes-based approaches promoted or facilitated by NQFs in qualifications are leading to the introduction of modular curricula.
  • The main challenge for the coming years is among others to keep NQFs up to the pace of digitization thus establishing trust across national and regional borders.