As countries across Europe are pushing ahead with their national qualifications frameworks (NQFs), the question of the frameworks’ added value and contribution to policies and practices is taking centre stage. While every NQF is unique, being organically woven into the fabric of a country’s education and training system, the frameworks share many features. They are based on learning outcomes, support consistency of qualifications, and bring together stakeholders from across the board.
A total of 39 European countries are currently developing and implementing 43 NQFs (3), which have reached different stages.
Are qualification frameworks making a difference?
Several countries have evaluated their frameworks in recent years. The results of these assessments suggest that there are three factors determining framework impact:
- the institutional robustness of a framework is the benchmark for measuring its sustainability: the stronger its political mandate and its integration into mainstream policy processes, the greater its potential as a policy steering and reform tool;
- to be of value to citizens, frameworks need to be visible to them. Many European countries now indicate NQF and EQF levels in qualifications databases and/or on the certificates and diplomas they award. This is expected to help citizens understand the value of their diploma or certificate across borders and education subsystems, and make it easier for them to pursue working and learning careers across systems and borders;
- comprehensive qualifications frameworks need to be coordinated and backed by a broad group of stakeholders both from education and training and the labour market. This is essential to framework quality and acceptance, contributes to their transparency and coherence, and improves the relevance of qualifications.
After a decade of intense NQF engineering across Europe, many frameworks have been evolving into multi-purpose tools which would be missed if they were not around (14). There is growing consensus that it is now time to bring the frameworks to life for employers and other labour market actors and, more
generally, European citizens. To secure the NQFs’ future relevance, several conditions must be met.
- Political commitment. NQFs need to be backed by politicians at national and regional levels who can secure institutional stability, appropriate funding and the necessary human resources.
- A clear vision of NQFs’ usefulness for different beneficiaries. Communication efforts need to be stepped up; NQFs need stronger ‘branding’ to raise end-user awareness.
- Continuous stakeholder cooperation, bridging education and employment and including clear attribution of roles.
- Systematic inclusion of non-formal and informal learning.
- Mutual trust between institutions and systems. This requires efforts to maintain the NQFs’ role in ensuring quality, and is a precondition for cooperation across subsystems and borders.
- Strong social dialogue.
- Time to allow for mentality adjustment. Learning
outcomes are still a relatively new approach, which requires teachers, learners, policy-makers and institutions to change their way of thinking.
- Strengthening the European dimension of NQFs.
- Implementation of all European tools in parallel.
- Monitoring and evaluation of NQF added value
and impact: this should be planned from the beginning to inform policy developments and allow stakeholders to revisit, revise and change.
- Closer European research cooperation on NQFs. This could include partnerships of experts, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners to obtain a better picture of NQF implications on access, mobility, pathways, and skills formation as well as global changes in the economy, labour market and society.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Briefing note – Qualifications frameworks in Europe 2017 developments | Cedefop