National Qualifications Frameworks (NQF) and the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) – The inclusion of non-formal qualifications

National Qualifications Frameworks (NQF) referenced to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) are important policy instruments to promote mobility and lifelong learning at the national as well as the European level. The NQF can play a decisive role not only to improve the transparency of a national qualifications system, but also as a policy reform driver to increase the quality and accessibility of qualifications and, as a result, participation in lifelong learning (LLL).

The EQF Recommendation and other EU strategic documents on VET and LLL policies recommend that Member States implement overarching NQFs, because as it is argued, in order to be a policy reform driver, the NQF has to be open to the various types of qualifications awarded in different educational sectors, including those outside of the traditional, formal school-based system. All of the Member States declared their willingness to implement NQFs, and most have already presented referencing reports to the EQF Advisory Group. According to Cedefop (2015), the first stage of EQF implementation is reaching its final stage. However, in most EU countries that have implemented an NQF, only formal qualifications can be referenced to it, while very few countries have introduced systemic solutions for the inclusion of non-formal sector qualifications (e.g. France, Ireland, Scotland, Poland). Europe is just now beginning to face the stage of implementing solutions to include non-formal sector quali cations in NQFs. It is envisaged that in the coming years, the inclusion of non-formal sector qualifications will constitute one of the most important topics in discussions on NQF implementation at the EU and national levels. Central issues in these discussions will consist of model solutions, the quality assurance of this process and its financial aspects.

The analysis of the solutions for including qualifications also provides us with information about the characteristics of the qualifications framework and its place and actual role in the national qualifications system. The analysis of the inclusion of qualifications focuses on the types of qualifications that can be included in NQF- based qualifications systems, and which of them are explicitly excluded, as well as the solutions and procedures that have been introduced. Finally, by analysing the solutions and procedures of including qualifications, we can examine the actual significance of a given qualifications framework for the functioning of the system, and to what extent it is a non-functioning entity in practice.

How do we understand the term “non-formal sector qualifications”?

There are different approaches and terms used across Europe to define qualifications awarded outside the traditional school system (general, VET, HE). In the application for the NQF-in Project, we decided to use the term “non-formal sector qualifications” (after Cedefop 2014) to indicate that we want to focus our analysis on the inclusion in the NQF of qualifications awarded outside traditional formal education systems, i.e. those awarded in the non-formal sector of the education system. It should also be indicated that there is a substantial difference between the concepts “non-formal sector qualifications” and “validation of non-formal and informal learning” (VNFIL) and they should not be confused. VNFIL refers to the process where an authorised body confirms that an individual has achieved learning outcomes in order to attain a qualification, whereas the term “non-formal sector qualifications” refers to the types of qualifications functioning outside the school education system. Non-formal sector qualifications can also be awarded through a VNFIL procedure.

Following the Collins Dictionary definition, in the work of the NQF-in Project, we understand the model of including qualifications in a qualifications system as a configuration of complementary legal, financial and organisational solutions.

It should be noted that various models will have different consequences, significant from the point of view of national policy. The configuration of legal, financial and organisational solutions creates a multi-dimensional picture that takes into account several characteristics of the qualifications system.

Different types of qualifications frameworks reported in the literature

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Proposed Models of Including Non-formal Sector Qualifications in National Qualifications Frameworks

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