This two-volume publication gives an update on the national qualification frameworks around the world. It provides information on national and regional developments as well as selected themes. It is the result of collaborative work between Cedefop, ETF, UNESCO and the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.
The 2017 Global Inventory provides some important insights into the current development and implementation of qualifications frameworks worldwide. The following points summarise some of the main trends which can be observed.
(a) The number of national qualifications frameworks has stabilised at around 150. These frameworks can be found in all regions of the world.
(b) Most qualifications frameworks were set up during the past decade, partly triggered by the development of regional frameworks such as the European qualifications framework (EQF) and the reference framework of the ASEAN. This indicates extensive policy borrowing and/or policy learning over a relatively short period. A key question is whether these new frameworks are mere ‘policy hypes’, destined to fade away, or whether they are being turned into integrated parts of national and regional policies and systems.
(c) While the long-term sustainability and impact of qualifications frameworks has yet to be identified on a global scale, developments after 2015 show that several national qualifications frameworks (NQFs) have found their place in the education, training and employment policy landscape and are turning into operational entities. This is clearly the case in Europe, but can also be observed for South-East Asia and other regions. This speaks against characterising qualifications frameworks as mere ‘policy hypes’.
(d) The first generation of qualifications frameworks (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK) are fully integrated into national systems but are undergoing continuous change and adaptation. The most significant change took place in UK-England where the qualification and credit framework (QCF) was abolished and, replaced by a new, non-regulatory framework.
(e) Between 2015 and 2017 we can observe a tendency towards strengthened regional cooperation between NQFs. This is the case in Europe (as demonstrated through the adoption of a revised EQF recommendation), but can also be observed in Asia where the ASEAN reference framework is now operational. Efforts to revive cooperation between frameworks in the Southern African region (SADC) also illustrate this tendency. This increase in regional cooperation is important as it aids dialogue on cross-border transfer and recognition of qualifications and raises the question of how NQFs can support learner and worker mobility.
(f) Developments in the USA differ from those seen in other countries. While the new credentials framework, promoted by the Lumnia foundation, pursues many of the same (transparency) objectives as others, it is organised as a voluntary/private venture and operates independently of federal or State authorities and legislation. The credentials framework confirms the general and increasing need for transparency of qualifications and credentials. It underlines that qualifications frameworks need to be relevant to the needs of individual citizens, who face an increasingly complex world of qualifications and credentials.
(g) The new generation of frameworks (particularly in Europe) differs from first generation frameworks by emphasising communication and transparency rather than regulation and harmonisation. These frameworks are ‘loose’ in the sense that they have been designed to embrace the multiplicity of education and training subsystems, institutions and provisions, reflecting a broad range of concepts, traditions, values and interests. ’Loose’ frameworks introduce a set of comprehensive level descriptors to be applied across subsystems, but allow sub-frameworks to retain their own principles and regulations. ‘Tight’ frameworks differ from this by defining uniform specifications for qualifications to be applied across sectors. Examples of early versions of frameworks in South Africa and New Zealand, which aimed to transform national education and training systems, illustrate attempts to create tight and ‘one-fit-for-all’ solutions. This created a lot of resistance and led to reassessment of the role of these frameworks. There is a general need for more evidence on how lessons learned from the first generation frameworks have been taken on board in developing the new generation. It seems (at least in Europe) that (simplistic) policy borrowing – heavily criticised by research – has been replaced by more reflective policy learning, paying attention to national context and needs.
(h) ‘Loose’ frameworks, emphasising communication and transparency, are able to aid and trigger reform. This mirrors the ability to mobilise and commit stake- holders, rather than to impose ‘one-fit-for-all’ rules and regulations.
(i) The (heavily criticised) link between NQFs and neo-liberal economic policies is hard to detect in current NQF developments. In its place is a broader NQF perspective which, sometimes in a modest way, addresses a combination of economic and social equity and sustainable development goals. This broader perspective is closely linked to the increasingly important role played by life-long learning policies, and by the UN in its sustainable development goals (2015), articulated as inclusive education and training for all. Offering relevant and high quality learning to all, also beyond primary education, is essential for sustainable development and reform.
(j) For an NQF to contribute to these wider policy objectives it must be embedded in the relevant (national or regional) policy context. Standing alone and isolated, NQFs are insufficient to support reform and change. For frameworks to make a difference, they must interact with and add to other policies. A comprehensive NQF can be seen as a tool and platform for stakeholder communication, coordination and cooperation across policy areas, levels and institutions.
(k) The new frameworks aim for overview and support learning across institutional, sectoral and (sometimes) national borders. This brings NQFs close to the objectives of lifelong and life-wide learning, establishing themselves as instruments encouraging and facilitating learning careers throughout life and linking formal, non-formal and informal learning. National and regional qualifications frameworks can support this lifelong learning agenda by addressing (through a learning outcomes focus) problems related to lack of transparency and fragmentation of provisions and institutions. The potential of qualifications frameworks (QF) can only be released the moment they start directly to serve individual learners and support their lifelong learning pathways. The future success of the QFs very much relies on their ability to make themselves visible and relevant to end-users.
(l) Learning outcomes are at the core of national and regional qualifications frameworks giving stakeholders tools for communication, cooperation and coordination across institutions, levels, and sectors, between education and the labour market, and across national borders.
(m) National case studies show that NQFs are multilevel and dynamic tools that evolve over time. They are part of the country’s historical, political, institutional and cultural context and the national qualification and education system and labour market. There is a need for more research and understanding on how NQFs interact with the national quali cation systems; what are enablers and implemen- tation barriers in particular contexts; and how tensions are resolved. This seems to be especially important when discussing NQF development and implementation in developed rather than developing countries. Devel- oped countries most often have well established nation- al quali cation systems, strong education institutions, trained teachers, established cooperation with social partners and other stakeholders; developing countries – lacking resources, trained teachers and often with weak education institutions – struggle to engage stakeholders, reform curricula, and provide capacity building.
(n) Many NQFs have now completed initial conceptual and technical developments. The case studies point to several important factors that shape successful implementation. Alongside a solid technical and conceptual foundation, formal (legal) adoption, institutional structures and quality assurance mechanisms, the commitment of key stakeholders to the long-term development of the framework is of key importance. Evidence from the first generation, and also from new frameworks, shows that the willingness of powerful stakeholders to use the framework is among the most important factors.
(o) The visibility of the frameworks to end-users, learners and workers, is of crucial importance and a condition for wider impact.
(p) The challenges of measuring the impact of qualifications frameworks are now at the forefront of discussions. Experiences so far show that impact assessment requires agreement on clearly defined baselines for assessment. It has to be understood in relation to the social, political and institutional contexts in which they operate to provide narrative for assessment and re ection on why, under what conditions, how and for whom the frameworks work.