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EQF and EHEA relationship?

2. What is the relationship between the EQF and the framework for the European Higher Education Area?

At the European level, the development of qualifications frameworks began with a qualifications framework for one education sector: The Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA) has been formed since 1999 (Bologna Declaration; the Dublin descriptors were adopted in 2005); whereas, the development of the EQF started in 2005. The two frameworks clearly have similarities and overlapping areas: both are meta-frameworks, cover a broad scope of learning and are designed to improve transparency with regard to qualifications within Europe. They are both associated with quality assurance and use the concept of “best fit” to determine levels. Both also have clear aspirations to support lifelong learning and labour mobility.

Despite these obvious similarities between the two frameworks, differences can also be observed with regard to their aims and the descriptors used. The QF-EHEA intends to harmonise systems whereas the EQF intends to relate systems to each other: One central objective of the Bologna process is to harmonise the European higher education systems by introducing common degree structures (three-cycles degree system). The EQF, on the other hand, is not an instrument for harmonising qualifications or parts of qualifications systems but it is intended to function as a type of translation device to make relationships between qualifications and different systems clearer. To link these two meta-frameworks, the EQF document asserts compatibility with the QF-EHEA. A main reason for drawing the higher levels of the EQF directly on the EHEA descriptors is to avoid the development of two isolated frameworks. Thus, the learning outcomes of certain EQF levels correspond to the cycle descriptors of the QF-EHEA. There is a clear cross-referencing at levels 5-8. Thus, the QF-EHEA’s respective cycle descriptors – developed by the Joint Quality Initiative, as part of the Bologna process – are understood to be compatible with the descriptors for the EQF levels 5-8. Although different descriptors are used, both frameworks have a common view of the dimensions of progression regarding knowledge, skills (application) and professional conduct.

However, since the EQF is an overarching framework and seeks to include different forms of learning (not only learning in higher education but also more professional oriented qualifications), the descriptors are broader, more generic and have to be more encompassing than the Dublin descriptors applied to define the levels for the QF-EHEA. This means that the levels can be seen as equivalent, although the level descriptors are not the same. Consequently, the EQF levels 5-8 can be compatible not only with qualification degrees acquired in formal way by studying in a higher education institution, but also with vocational qualifications awarded through formal, non-formal or informal learning.

In the QF-EHEA, learning outcomes are understood as descriptions of what a learner is expected to know, to understand and to do at the end of the respective cycle. The Dublin descriptors refer to the following five dimensions: “knowledge and understanding”, “applying knowledge and understanding”, “making judgements”, “communication” and “learning skills”. Whereas the first three dimensions are mainly covered by the knowledge and skills dimensions in the EQF, the EQF does not explicitly refer to key competences such as communication, or meta-competences, such as learning to learn. These are partly included in an inherent manner in all the columns, but can mainly be assumed in the competence column (see question 10).

Although the descriptors defining levels in the EQF and the Dublin descriptors differ, the EQF level descriptors fully integrate the Bologna descriptors and are thus compatible to these.