The recommendation by the European Commission establishing the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (EQF) was formally co-signed by the European Parliament and the Council. Gordon Clark, Head of Unit at DG EAC, welcomes the formal adoption of the EQF, which has been under preparation since 2003.
“This is the first international framework which will concern all levels of qualifications, with a single translation matrix for qualifications applying across Europe. Thanks to its points of reference, it will allow qualifications to be compared and made more transparent”, Gordon Clark said. The EQF will act as a translation device to make qualifications more readable and understandable to employers, individuals and institutions, so that workers and learners can use their qualifications in other countries.
The EQF is a lifelong learning framework, applying to qualifications obtained in all sectors of education, including general education, higher education and vocational training. Its core is its eight reference levels of qualifications, from those obtained at the end of compulsory education, (level 1) to the highest (level 8: doctorate or equivalent).
The three highest levels correspond to higher education levels as defined within the European Higher Education Area, under the Bologna Process, e.g. Bachelor, Masters and PhD levels. But they may also stand for highly specialised professional qualifications. In order to make the EQF work across different systems its levels are based on learning outcomes (what a learner knows, understands and is able to do) rather than learning inputs (the length of a learning experience, the type of institution etc).
The EQF will make qualifications from different countries easier to compare and more readable and so support citizens’ mobility. It therefore supplements and supports the existing range of programmes and instruments aiming to help Europeans live and work anywhere in Europe, such as the Erasmus programme for student mobility and Europass, which provides a standardised portfolio to enable people to describe their skills in a transparent way.
For example, currently an enterprise in Ireland may hesitate to recruit a job applicant from Hungary because it doesn’t understand his or her qualifications. But once the EQF is implemented, Hungarian certificates would carry an EQF reference e.g. “EQF level 5”, allowing Irish employers to more readily interpret the level of such qualifications.
Many countries are already establishing their own National Qualifications Framework (NQF) in response to the EQF. Qualifications frameworks are increasingly seen as instruments able to connect different parts of a country’s education system, so that people can pursue a variety of learning pathways, for example by moving more freely between different types of institutions such as universities or vocational training institutes or by gaining recognition for their non-formal learning.
The EQF – and its national counterparts – therefore recognise the reality of modern careers and modern learning – that an individual’s career consists of a variety of different types of learning, some of it structured, some of it informal, but to be pursued throughout the course of one’s life. The EQF and NQFs can therefore help equip societies for the challenges of the knowledge economy.
An Advisory Group, comprising the governments and social partners (employers and trades unions) and including a representative from the ETF, will coordinate the processes required to relate national systems to the EQF.