In the London Communiqué (May 2007), the Ministers responsible for Higher Education in the countries participating in the Bologna Process emphasised the importance of Qualifications frameworks as instruments necessary to “achieving comparability and transparency within the European higher education Area (EHEA) and facilitating the movement of learners within, as well as between, higher education systems”. Qualifications frameworks are also seen as tools to “help higher education institutions to develop modules and study programmes based on learning outcomes and credits, and improve the recognition of qualifications as well as all forms of prior learning”.
A qualifications framework encompasses all the qualifications in an education system. It shows what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on the basis of a given qualification - in terms of expected learning outcomes – as well as how the various qualifications in the education or higher education system interact, allowing learners to move between qualifications.
Three levels of qualifications frameworks exist in Europe
At European level
In 2005 in Bergen, an “overarching framework for qualifications of the European Higher Education Area” has been established by the Ministers responsible for Higher Education in the countries participating in the Bologna process. It covers higher education qualifications and is valid for all 46 members of the European Higher Education Area. The overarching framework comprises three cycles (including, within national contexts, the possibility of intermediate qualifications), generic descriptors for each cycle based on learning outcomes and competences, and credit ranges in the first and second cycles.
Overarching framework for qualifications of the European Higher Education Area
In addition, a European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF) has been developed by the European Commission and formally adopted by the European Union in April 2008. It covers all levels of education and is valid for EU countries, EU accession countries and countries of the European Economic Area. The levels span the full scale of qualifications, from basic (Level 1, for example school leaving certificates) to advanced (Level 8, for example Doctorates) levels. As an instrument for the promotion of lifelong learning, the EQF encompasses all levels of qualifications acquired in general, vocational as well as academic education and training. Additionally, the framework addresses qualifications acquired in initial and continuing education and training. The eight reference levels are described in terms of learning outcomes.
The European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (EQF)
More information on European qualifications frameworks can be found on the official website of the Bologna Declaration Process in the section dedicated to qualifications frameworks.
At national level
All countries of the European Higher Education Area have committed to developing national qualifications frameworks compatible with the overarching framework of the European Higher Education Area by 2010. The ‘Tuning’ general brochure ‘Tuning Educational Structures in Europe’ defines a national qualifications framework as: “a single description, at national level or level of an educational system, which is internationally understood. The framework describes all qualifications awarded in the system considered and relates them to each other in a coherent way. One very clear example is that of the Republic of Ireland.
More information on national qualifications frameworks can be found on the official website of the Bologna Declaration Process in the section dedicated to national frameworks.
At sectoral level
A ‘sectoral qualifications framework’ is defined as a framework of qualifications established by a sector (e.g. an academic discipline or profession). It shows what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on the basis of a given qualification in a particular sector - in terms of expected learning outcomes.
The “Polifonia” Tuning Working Group developed a sectoral qualifications framework for higher music education with a set of subject-specific learning outcomes for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd study cycles in music.
In 2010-12, AEC particpated in a wider project aimed at producing a Sectoral Qualifications Framework for the Humanities and Arts (SQF HUMART). This resulted in a framework linked to the EQF and proposing shared characteristics for what are referred to as the Creative & Performing Disciplines (Music, Performing Arts, Fine Art, Architecture). This framework can be found at www.unideusto.org/tuningeu/sqf-humanities-and-arts.html