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The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) 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 EQF aims to relate different countries' national qualifications systems to a common European reference framework. Individuals and employers will be able to use the EQF to better understand and compare the qualifications levels of different countries and different education and training systems.
Agreed upon by the European institutions in 2008, the EQF is being put in practice across Europe. It encourages countries to relate their national qualifications systems to the EQF so that all new qualifications issued from 2012 carry a reference to an appropriate EQF level. An EQF national coordination point has been designated for this purpose in each country.
The core of the EQF concerns eight reference levels describing what a learner knows, understands and is able to do – 'learning outcomes'. Levels of national qualifications will be related to one (or in some cases two or several, as relevant for the national systems) of the reference levels of the EQF, ranging from basic (Level 1) to advanced (Level 8). This will enable a much easier comparison between national qualifications and may facilitate the recognition of qualifications when people move to another country.
The EQF applies to all types of education, training and qualifications, from school education to academic, professional and vocational at each of its levels. The learning outcomes approach shifts the focus from the traditional system which emphasises 'learning inputs', such as the length of a learning experience, or type of institution to what the learner has acquired by the end of the learning process. This also encourages lifelong learning by promoting the validation of non-formal and informal learning, which reflects a wider shift within which the EQF is acting as a catalyst for reforms: the EQF does not aim at reforming systems (as does for instance the implementation of the European Area of Higher Education and implementing the EQF does not require any reform of the education and training system at any level. The EQF requires that all qualifications are described in terms of learning outcomes, but this doesn't mean that the systems awarding these qualifications need to be reformed. However, most Member States are now developing their own National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) based on learning outcomes. Several countries already have one in force.
At present, an enterprise in France may hesitate to recruit a job applicant from, say, Sweden, because it does not understand the level of the qualifications presented by the Swedish candidate. But once the EQF is fully implemented, a Swedish person's certificates will bear a reference to an EQF reference level. The French authorities will have already decided where their own national certificates in the field concerned lie, so the French enterprise would use the EQF reference to get a better idea of how the Swedish qualification compares to French qualifications.
Promoting transparency and synergies
The transparency and coherence of the implementation of the EQF is monitored by the EQF Advisory Group, which brings together representatives from national authorities and other European stakeholders.
The EQF initiative is closely related to the qualifications framework for the European Higher Education Area: the two frameworks are compatible and their implementation is coordinated at national and European level.