Academic Literature

European Qualifications Framework (EQF) – A success story ?

In May 2017, Marianne Thyssen, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, stated that ‘The EQF is a success story. In the almost ten years since it was established, it has helped to make qualifications more transparent – and therefore more comparable – across Europe’.

More than 10 years after its official start, it is time to re-address the expectations by which the EQF was established and to question whether and, if so, in which ways it has actually provided an impetus for its numerous anticipated reforms and benefits. The aim of this paper is thus to critically reflect on the ‘success story’ of the EQF and to provide an update of what has been discussed as its ‘impact’ whereby the notion of ‘impact’ is understood as any result of governing with softer policy tools used within European education policy.

Launched in 2008 as a ‘Common Reference Framework’ including eight levels of learning and three descriptors that aimed at providing a ‘translation grid’ between national qualifications, the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) aims at numerous educational reforms such as promoting the learning outcomes orientation, transparency of qualifications and fostering mobility across national borders, employment sectors and educational sectors.

Reviewing policy documents, evaluation results and research on the EQF and therewith-linked national qualifications frameworks, there is little evidence that the EQF solved the challenges it was developed for. Instead, findings suggest that it might be time to de-mystify qualifications frameworks as a panacea and reveal it as a paradigmatic case of travelling educational reforms around the globe that results in institutional isomorphism.

More than 10 years after starting the ‘success story’ of the EQF, we know little about its actual impact. To a certain extent, we are back to where we were in the years before launching the EQF: We assume and hope that qualification frameworks have a positive impact on national qualifications systems, on promoting lifelong learning and various types of mobility. We believe that the qualifications framework can solve fundamental challenges that emerged long before the first ones were developed (labour market mobility, stratification in education, portability of qualifications, etc.). It seems we are still far away from making this wish come true. If we want to proceed expecting that qualifications frameworks are a solution to these challenges, we either have to develop proper methods to identify this (positive impact) or the linkage between frameworks and improving education systems is too complex to be analysed or there is no such linkage at all.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Ten years after: the ‘success story’ of the European qualifications framework

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