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Higher Education Series

Strasbourg/Paris/Split 19 June 2013
DGII/EDU/HE (2013) 15 Rev 01
Orig. Eng



Directorate General II, (Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation – Education Policy and Rights Division) of the Council of Europe and the UNESCO Division for Teacher Development and Higher Education

Distribution: LRC Committee

The Explanatory Memorandum follows the order of the subsidiary text to the Lisbon Recognition Convention


The Preamble builds on the existing legal framework for the recognition of qualifications concerning higher education, as elaborated by the Council of Europe and UNESCO. It places the Recommendation in the context of the Council of Europe/UNESCO Recognition Convention and the European Higher Education Area and points to the main developments that call for a common understanding on how to use qualifications frameworks in the recognition of foreign qualifications. Specific attention is drawn to other parties or entities developing qualifications frameworks especially in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), and the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (EQF LLL)1 and to qualifications frameworks developed or being developed in countries party to the Lisbon Recognition Convention outside the European Higher Education Area.

Regarding the EHEA, the subsidiary text recalls references to qualifications frameworks in several Bologna Process Ministerial Communiqués, including:

The Berlin Communiqué in 2003:

The Bergen Communiqué in 2005:

The London Communiqué in 2007:

The Leuven/Louvain la Neuve in 2009:

The Bucharest Communiqué in 2012

(Source: www.ehea.info)

Similar transparency tools have been developed in countries which are not members of the EHEA but are party to the Convention, these include:

New Zealand:

(Source: www.nzqa.govt.nz )


(Source: www.aqf.edu.au)


(Source: www.cicic.ca )
Further information on qualifications frameworks at a global level can be found at the European Training Foundation (www.etf.europa.eu).

The development of qualifications frameworks reinforces the use of learning outcomes within educational discourses and qualification systems. The principle of learning outcomes provides the basis on which qualifications frameworks and recognition practices build.

It should be noticed that the stage of development of qualifications frameworks and their implementation varies considerably in Europe. As of January 2012, 21 countries reported that they were in the final stages of preparing their National Qualifications Framework and self-certifying it against the QF EHEA. 16 countries were in the middle of the process and 5 countries had yet to begin the process in earnest.

The current Recommendation should be considered at first step in how to use qualifications frameworks in recognition practises. The competent recognition authorities, and the ENIC network are encouraged to develop the use of qualifications frameworks in recognition further. The Recommendation does not aim to comment or to advise how National Qualification Frameworks should be elaborated.

I. Definitions

The terms “National Qualifications Frameworks” and “QF EHEA” refer to the more general descriptions presented in Ministerial Communiqués. For the “EQF LLL” the text is the official definition as presented in the European Parliament and Council Recommendation.

a). In the Berlin Communiqué National Qualifications Frameworks are described as:

c) “The EQF LLL is a common reference framework which should serve as a translation device between different qualifications systems and their levels, whether for general and higher education or for vocational education and training. This will improve the transparency, comparability and portability of citizens' qualifications issued in accordance with the practice in the different Member States. Each level of qualification should, in principle, be attainable by way of a variety of educational and career paths.”
( Source: http://ec.europa.eu/education )

II Scope, General Considerations and Recommendations

1. As a tool for transparency, compatibility and comparability, National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) are increasingly being introduced to present and structure qualification systems, clarifying the relations between qualifications and how they can be combined to facilitate progression and support the movement of learners within and between education systems and sub-systems, such as vocational education and training and higher education. The Lisbon Recognition Convention (Article III.4) underlines that each party shall provide adequate and clear information on their education system. NQFs contribute to this body of information. ENIC centres are encouraged to include information about their NQFs on their national websites.

2. While qualifications frameworks can also provide useful information to facilitate professional recognition and access to the labour market, as well as promote the recognition of prior learning, in line with the Lisbon Recognition Convention the focus of the Recommendation is on academic recognition.

3. Qualifications frameworks were first developed outside Europe, e.g. in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Many education systems worldwide are now developing qualifications frameworks often as an integral part of the reform processes of their higher education systems.

4. In Europe, two overarching qualifications frameworks have been developed: the Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA) and the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF-LLL). The two overarching frameworks are compatible, since levels 6, 7 and 8 of the EQF-LLL correspond to the three cycles of the QF-EHEA. QF-EHEA also foresees the possibility that countries within their national frameworks develop short cycle qualifications within the first cycle, corresponding to level 5 of the EQF-LLL. This complementarity, combined with the comprehensive character of the EQF, makes visible the relationship between higher education and other parts of the education and training systems. These frameworks provide a reference point for comparing the learning outcomes of national qualifications and can thus facilitate recognition.

5. For qualifications earned at institutions within the EHEA, the competent recognition authorities should check if the NQF of the country where the qualification was obtained has been self-certified against the QF-EHEA and/or referenced against the EQF-LLL.

With a view to improving the use of national qualifications frameworks by competent recognition authorities, ENIC Centres should seek to be involved in the development processes for National Qualifications Frameworks as well as in, where called for, the referencing and self-certification processes.

1 Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2008 on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong learning, 2008/C111/01