Qualifications Frameworks overseas

Qualifications frameworks are political instruments that assist in comparing and interpreting learning outcomes. They map qualifications, provide an organisational structure of qualification pathways and pave the way to validate non-formal and informal learning.
The key idea of qualifications frameworks is not new. For centuries, trade guilds and professional associations have exercised control and protection over the right to practice crafts and trades and to educate apprentices. These structures were the forerunners of modern qualifications frameworks.
History of Qualitifications Frameworks

The development of qualifications frameworks started in the mid-1980s in the Anglo-Saxon countries and France and the first so-called National Qualifications Framework (NQF) was launched in 1986 in Scotland. In 2000, England, Wales and Northern Ireland implemented national qualifications frameworks which were similar to the Scottish one. These four frameworks are considered the first generation of NQFs worldwide.
A so-called second generation of NQFs followed in the 1990s with New Zealand (1991), Australia (1995) and South Africa (1995) following the British initiative. Driven by globalisation of education and labour markets as well as a massive increase of mobility and migration, a third generation of NQFs emerged in the 2000s, most of them being developed in the Commonwealth of Nations (e.g. Botswana, Cameroon, Eritrea) and Europe (e.g. Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Turkey).
Nowadays, more than 140 countries worldwide are implementing or revising qualifications frameworks and they have become a global phenomenon. Their popularity is based on several anticipated benefits such as modernising education and training systems, promoting labour market mobility, transnational co-operation, and forms of lifelong learning as well as overcoming social stratification.
Types of Qualifications Frameworks
Depending on their scope and core ideas, there are several types of qualifications frameworks:





specific levels, sectors, types of qualifications

tracked, linked, or unified



usually tighter

varying from loose to tight

usually looser


higher education, TVET





South Africa

Southern African Development Community Qualifications Framework

European Qualifications Framework

Caribbean Qualifications Framework


Qualifications frameworks differ in terms of scope, bindingness and types of qualification they cover. For instance, the EQF addresses priorities of the European Union instead of addressing national ones and it does not include binding validation mechanisms. Its development is based on countries’ mutual trust and on their willingness to cooperate. It is therefore much more complex than a NQF.
While some European Member States (e.g. France, Ireland, Scotland) have substantial experience in developing qualifications frameworks and/or credit transfer systems, others have developed them only recently. These frameworks were developed prior to the launching of the EQF and are therefore initiatives primarily addressing national policy agendas. For example, the Irish framework encompasses 10 levels after completion of secondary education, while the Scottish one involves 12 levels and has a close connection to the national credit point system.
Levels and Descriptors
Despite considerable differences between countries’ education and training structures, some commonalities can be observed across countries. For example, a significant number of European countries develop their NQFs according to the EQF’s 8-level structure (e.g. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, and Spain). Also, all European countries agree on the core idea of the EQF that is, the learning outcomes orientation by focusing on knowledge, skills and competences – although descriptors vary from country to country:   



knowledge, skills, competences

Austria, Belgium (Wallonia), Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Republic of Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Rumania

knowledge, skills, autonomy, responsibility

Belgium (Flanders)


Czech Republic

knowledge, skills, attitude

Luxembourg, Portugal

knowledge, autonomy, responsibility, competences (learning, social, vocational, professional)


knowledge, autonomy, accountability, application, action

UK (additionally in Scotland: communication, generic skills, numeracy, ICT skills)

professional competence (knowledge, skills), personal competence (social, self-)


The enormous heterogeneity of qualifications frameworks is reflected by both, level descriptors and learning levels which vary massively across countries worldwide:

Number of levels

Country example


Bahrain, Thailand, Tobago, Trinidad


Bangladesh, Ghana, Hong Kong, Iceland, Sri Lanka


Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estland, Finland, France, Austria, Hungary, Turkey, Cyprus


UK (England, Northern Ireland, Wales), Maledives, Philippines


Mauritius, Namibia, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, United Arab Emirates





Preconditions to Develop a Qualifications Framework
Developing a qualifications framework requires several preconditions, that is

  • to describe all qualifications in terms of learning outcomes;
  • to depict all qualifications in a hierarchy or continuum, to be able to describe learning levels;
  • to assess all qualifications independently of the learning setting;
  • to modularise all qualifications, to assign them to different levels with the same descriptors and to describe them in terms of learning hours;
  • to employ benchmarks so that all types of learning can be accredited and assessed.
Flickr / spaceodissey
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