One NQF for all qualifications
The Austrian NQF was launched in 2007 with academic background analyses. It quickly became clear that this framework should not only be open to formal, i.e. governmentally regulated, qualifications. The objective of allocating non-formal qualifications was the creation of a comprehensive picture of Austria’s qualifications landscape. It also aimed to improve the visibility and public perception of non-formal degrees.
The NQF was therefore designed as a comprehensive framework. Qualifications from all education contexts (primary, secondary and tertiary) and places of learning (schools, higher education establishments and continuing vocational education and training institutions) can be assigned to the NQF, as can qualifications of a different content (general and vocational) and different legal status (formal and non-formal).
The allocation process
An application (‘NQF request’) is required for the allocation. In this request, the qualification to be allocated must be described and comprehensive reasons for the level applied for must be given. The requirements to be fulfilled are the same for all qualifications, namely learning outcome orientation, validity of the assessment procedure, transparency and quality assurance.
The allocation process (Figure 1) is also identical for all; the only difference is the body that can submit the application. While for governmentally regulated qualifications it is the respective responsible ministry that submits the NQF application, an NQF service unit takes over this task for non-formal qualifications.
The NQF service units
There are a total of six service units in Austria authorised to perform this task by the Ministry of Education in agreement with the Ministry of Economic Affairs in June 2019. The service units advise and support providers of non-formal qualifications in submitting their offers to the NQF, while they also act as ‘gatekeepers’. In the absence of a legal basis for non-formal qualifications, they take responsibility to ensure that:
- the qualification to be submitted meets the NQF requirements;
- the information contained in the application is sufficient for making a decision;
- the level applied for is appropriately and sufficiently documented; and
- the information in the application reflects the lived practice, i.e. that the qualification is also offered as described in the application.
In other words, the service units take over the quality assurance of the allocation of non-formal qualifications.
The six service units have been operational since 15 November 2019. The first applications for non-formal qualifications are expected by the end of January 2020. The service units cooperate closely: ongoing coordination and continuous exchanges are essential for a uniform procedure. In addition, there will be an evaluation in the first two years of work, intended to point out necessary process improvements.