QUALIFICATIONS FRAMEWORKS Challenging technical questions The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is a meta-framework that acts as a translation device to make national qualifications more readable across Europe, promoting workers' and learners' mobility between countries and facilitating their lifelong learning. The overarching framework of qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (FQ-EHEA) sets the parameters within which the countries of the EHEA will develop their national qualifications frameworks. This means that national frameworks will have much in common, but not that they will be identical. National qualifications frameworks (NQF) encompass all the qualifications in a higher education system – or in an entire education system if the ‘new style’ framework is developed for this purpose. It Shows what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on the basis of a given qualification – that is, it shows the expected learning outcomes for a given qualification. It also shows how the various qualifications in the education or higher education system interact. They are: closest to the operational reality owned by national system facilitates movement within system (learning paths) ultimately determines what qualifications learners will learn describes the qualifications within a given education system and how they interlink describes the achievement represented by higher education qualifications.
Creating national qualifications frameworks (NQF) – challenging technical questions: 1.How to gain real stakeholder involvement and commitment to the process (including all stakeholders – students, employers, social partners - in a community of trust)? An appropriate open consultative procedure for reaching agreement needs to be established – this is often aided by creating a small representative group to develop proposals. 2.Decide and clarify what are the purposes (function and rationale) of the NQF - skills deficits, employability issues, lifelong learning considerations, social inclusion, curriculum reform, economic development needs, etc. What do you want it to achieve and what is realistic? This presupposes that there is a clear understanding of the context for development and the problems facing education/society/economy. Problematic qualifications and areas need to be clarified (best fit solutions can help). 3.Determine the nature of the NQF – is it to be regulatory or more flexible, permissive and advisory? 4.Consideration of the implications for the development of ‘new style’ NQF on the education systems as a whole – what else has to change? For example in higher education (HE) the existing academic infrastructure will usually need reform of current approaches to academic autonomy, quality assurance bodies – existing structures will need to alter to interact with the new framework and may need radical revision. NQF impact on recognition, mobility and transparency. These interfaces need to be explained and any potential confusions between official bodies resolved.
5.What range of qualifications is to be included (e.g. the Bologna short cycle in the HE element)? What existing qualifications need to be overhauled/abolished? Will the NQF detail all approved qualifications or just key types or groups of qualifications? 6.What is the basis and purpose of any binary divide that exists between vocational education and training (VET) and HE? Are there any implications for institutional status, role and student progression? How is VET are HE linked? How does the NQF relate to both the EQF and FQ-EHEA? 7.In HE what is the basis for distinguishing the differences between 3-4 year first cycle and 1-2 year second cycle degrees? Each must fit the stated level descriptors for their cycle. 8.How are European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) credits to be used within the NQF – what is their purpose and relationship to that of European Qualifications Framework (EQF) ECVET system? 9.What is the role and use of learning outcomes in the NQF? Learning outcomes have huge implications for curriculum development and staff development, assessment, delivery, etc. 10.How is flexibility of entry, exit and progression within the NQF to be achieved? Is the recognition of prior learning [RPL], flexible learning paths + student centred learning encouraged? 11.Consider the implications of the number and nature of levels in the NQF and the amount of detail in the level descriptors (EQF and FQ-EHEA only have very broad descriptors). Are the NQF level descriptors set at threshold (minimum) standards or something else? Are sectoral/subject benchmarks statements useful/necessary?
12.In any HE NQF element what protocols need to be established for the use and acquisition of titles and qualifications? Does a register of institutions authorised to issue qualifications exist and does it include private institutions? How does the NQF impact on internal and external quality assurance dimensions? 13.What guidance will be necessary to aid higher education institutions (HEI) positioning qualifications in the NQF? 14.Is there a process for review of the NQF and what criteria would this employ? 15.Is there a process for establishing an appropriate basis for the equivalence of ‘old’ qualifications? What is the logic for this? 16.How can any tendency by institutions to adopt cosmetic changes that just repackage existing qualifications be discouraged? A crucial aim of current educational reform is curriculum development. Fake reforms will inhibit and be exposed by the self-certification/verification/referencing process. 17.Is there a comprehensive integrated implementation strategy with timescales for the introduction of the new system? How will bottom-up and top-down initiatives successfully integrate? This is perhaps the greatest challenge. Stephen Adam, March 2011
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