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Qualifications Frameworks: Level of Qualifications

National Qualifications Framework (NQF) is a useful tool for the description of some Sectorial Qualifications Frameworks or all qualifications within a national/sub-national system. Such NQFs may also be used as tools to compare different national systems through overarching meta-frameworks. They are transparency tools to promote comparability, compatibility and mutual trust between different systems, and cross-border mobility, fair recognition and lifelong learning across Europe. NQFs may also be used to understand the overall structure of an education system.

NQFs offer a classification of qualifications through a system of levels, each of which is differentiated based on descriptors called 'learning outcomes'. These refer to the outcomes, in terms of skills, knowledge and abilities, which the holders of the qualifications at a given level will have acquired on successful completion of the qualification.

Each higher education system is divided into different cycles/levels: as a result of the Bologna Process, the majority of European countries have adopted a three-cycle structure for their higher education systems. Importantly, the divisions within each cycle, the types of qualifications placed within each cycle, the periods of study associated with these qualifications, and the use of learning outcomes vary within each national system. So, while the level or cycle of studies may be a useful indicator for a final assessment of a qualification or period of studies, this should not be taken as the only criterion used to make a full assessment of a qualification.

It should be noted that the qualifications of different systems placed at the same cycle/level are not directly equivalent between them: the number of levels within National Qualifications Frameworks varies according to the structure of an education system, e.g. the Associate degree may have its own level allocated in a NQF, but not every education system has an Associate degree. Besides, qualifications that differ in terms of learning outcomes, study load and academic rights can be placed on the same framework level, indicating their general place in the education system.

On European level two overarching meta-frameworks exist: 

  1. the Framework for Qualifications of the EHEA (QF-EHEA), which was adopted in 2005 at the Bergen Conference of European Ministers responsible for Higher Education, and consists of three levels which correspond to the 3 Bologna cycles Bachelor, Master and PhD. Countries that had developed their own National Qualifications Framework were invited to carry out self-certification exercises to verify the compatibility with the QF-EHEA. The ENIC-NARIC countries' self-certification reports can be found on the single ENIC-NARIC website's country pages under "Qualifications Framework" > "Self-certification Report".
  2. the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF), which was set up in 2008 and revised in 2017 and comprises 8 levels, with the levels 5 to 8 encompassing higher education.

The levels of National Qualifications Frameworks can be linked to the European Qualifications Framework, a process called ‘referencing’. On the website of the European Union the Europass platform offers an instrument to compare the levels of National Qualifications Frameworks across Europe with the levels of the European Qualifications Framework.

Further information:

National Qualifications Frameworks of the ENIC-NARIC Networks' countries are available on each country page. Please click on "Countries of the Networks", select the country of interest, and click on the "Qualifications Framework" section.

In 2013, the Lisbon Recognition Committee added to the Convention a subsidiary text on the use of NQFs in recognition of academic qualifications.