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Brussels, 26 November 2007

The European Qualifications Framework: major benefits for citizens and employers throughout Europe

The European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, Mr Ján Figel', today launched the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (EQF) at a major education conference in Lisbon. The EQF will act as a translation device between the Member States' qualifications systems. This will help employers and educational establishments across Europe compare and better understand the qualifications presented by individuals. The core of the EQF system is its eight reference levels, covering the span of basic to the highest level qualifications. The Recommendation specifies that countries should relate their national qualifications systems to the EQF by 2010. By 2012, every new qualification issued in the EU should have a reference to the appropriate EQF reference level, so the benefits to mobility and lifelong learning that the EQF brings will be visible and available to every EU citizen.

The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is a translation grid for qualifications around Europe. It has two principal purposes: (1) to promote mobility between countries, and (2) to facilitate lifelong learning. Both are indispensable for achieving more and better jobs and growth, as Europe faces the challenges of becoming an advanced, knowledge-based economy.

Commissioner Ján Figel’, the European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, explained its significance: “People in Europe too often face obstacles when they try to move from one country to another to learn or work. They even sometimes face obstacles when they want to move from one part of their own country's education system to another, e.g. from vocational education and training to higher education. The EQF will make different qualifications more easily readable between different European countries, and so promote increased mobility for learning or working. Within countries, the EQF initiative has already encouraged the development of National Qualifications Frameworks. Over the next few years, the EQF will promote lifelong learning, for example by making it easier to gain credit for the learning people have already achieved."

At the core of the EQF are its eight reference levels, covering basic to most advanced qualifications. These describe what a learner knows, understands and is able to do, regardless of the system in which the learner's qualification was acquired.

The EQF therefore shifts the focus away from learning inputs (such as the length of a learning experience, or the type of institution), to learning outcomes. Shifting the focus towards learning outcomes brings significant advantages:

  • it supports a better match between education and training provisions and the needs of the labour market (for knowledge, skills and competences);
  • it facilitates the validation of non-formal and informal learning; and
  • it facilitates the transfer and use of qualifications across different countries and education and training systems.

As an instrument for promoting lifelong learning, the EQF encompasses general and adult education, vocational education and training, as well as higher education. The eight EQF levels cover the entire span of qualifications from those achieved at the end of compulsory education, up to those awarded at the highest level of academic and professional or vocational education and training.

The Recommendation that has been approved by the European Parliament foresees that Member States relate their national qualifications systems to the EQF by 2010, and that individual certificates or diplomas should bear an EQF reference by 2012.

The EQF is already influencing the development of National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) in many Member States, where NQFs are often themselves part of the wider national reform process. Most countries are now developing NQFs. The Commission is also supporting this process by funding projects bringing together groups of countries and sectors testing the implementation of the EQF.

It will therefore enable individuals and employers to use the EQF as a reference tool to compare the qualifications levels of different countries and different education and training systems.

The European Parliament approved the Commission proposal on 24 October with some changes. The Council subsequently reached a political agreement on 15 November. The EQF is now expected to be formally adopted in early 2008.

The conference on "Valuing Learning: European experiences in validating non-formal and informal learning", hosted by the Portuguese Presidency of the EU in Lisbon on 26-27 November 2007, was the ideal venue to announce the political agreement on the EQF, and to encourage the Member States to proceed with implementing the EQF. The conference focused on the development of non-formal learning and the recognition of its results.
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