Communications framework - University of Edinburgh

Communications and reforming models of
National Qualifications Frameworks:
Scotland and Ireland
David Raffe
University of Edinburgh
Seminar on Qualifications Frameworks, National
Council on Education, Santiago, 15 October 2013
1. A conceptual framework: National
Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) and how
they differ
2. The Scottish Credit and Qualifications
Framework (SCQF): a communications
3. The Irish National Framework of Qualifications
(NFQ): a reforming framework
4. Some concluding comments
1. A conceptual framework:
National Qualifications Frameworks and how
they differ
What is a Qualifications Framework?
A qualifications framework is an instrument for the development
and classification of qualifications according to a set of criteria for
levels of learning achieved.... The scope of frameworks may be
comprehensive of all learning achievement and pathways or may
be confined to a particular sector.... Some frameworks may have
more design elements and a tighter structure than others; some
may have a legal basis whereas others represent a consensus of
views of social partners. All qualifications frameworks, however,
establish a basis for improving the quality, accessibility, linkages and
public or labour market recognition of qualifications within a
country and internationally (OECD 2007)
How NQFs differ
• National context – size of country, policy culture,
expertise, education system, labour market, concept
of qualification
• Scope – sector v comprehensive; over-arching
framework v sub-frameworks
• Design – number of levels, descriptors, fields, credit,
tight v loose, role of learning outcomes
• Leadership and control – roles of stakeholders,
regulatory v voluntary, ‘top-down’ v ‘bottom-up’
• Purposes and how NQFs try to achieve them …
Possible purposes of NQFs
To improve understanding of learning system
To increase coherence and coordination
To promote access, transfer and progression
To recognise existing skills
To provide instrument of accountability and control
To update and extend standards and make them more
To enhance quality of learning
To make education more demand-focused
To promote mobility
To link national qualifications to trans-national
Possible change processes: how NQFs
may try to achieve their purposes
A common ‘language’
Stakeholder engagement and coordination
Quality assurance
Making individual qualifications more transparent (eg through
learning outcomes)
Cultural change
Choice may depend upon
- National context: governance, culture, etc
- Time scale
Three types of NQF
• Communications framework: starts from existing system,
describes it, aims to make it more ‘transparent’ and
support rationalisation and coherence; a tool for change
rather than a driver of change
• Reforming framework: starts from existing system, aims
to make it more transparent but also to achieve specific
reforms, e.g. fill gaps, improve quality, update standards
• Transformational framework: starts from desired future
system, aims for radical change, driver of change as well
as tool for change
… or a continuum of NQFs
Existing system
Future system
Tool for change
Driver of change
Loose design
Tight design
… but …
• An NQF may vary across its ‘sub-frameworks’ and between
sub-frameworks and over-arching framework
• An NQF may change over time
2. The Scottish Credit and Qualifications
Framework (SCQF): a communications
Scotland: the national context
Separate system within UK
Small country, uniform institutions
Policy-making culture
Earlier reforms developed
– Higher education degrees
– Schools and colleges qualifications
(Scottish Qualifications Authority)
– Competence-based occupational
qualifications (SVQs)
… which established much of
architecture of future framework
• Pressures for more unified system
• Choice of ‘communications’ NQF
A communications NQF : describing
the existing system
Scottish Credit and Qualifications
Framework (SCQF)
• Design: comprehensive, links sub-frameworks;
‘loose’; 12 levels; level descriptors for 5
‘characteristics’ of outcomes; credit
• Purposes: to make system easier to understand;
to promote access and progression
• Change processes: common language,
unitisation, engaging stakeholders
SCQF: Implementation
• Formal launch 2001, implementation from 2003
• Voluntary framework, led by ‘owners’ of
qualifications sub-frameworks (including
universities) and quality body
• Other organisations can also become ‘credit-rating
bodies’ and admit qualifications to the framework
• Implementation slow – especially non-mainstream
• Partnership strengthened in 2007
• But framework has retained stakeholder support
SCQF: Uses
• Uses include:
– Programme development, planning and managing educational
– Coordinating provision across institutions and sectors
– Supporting access, progression and credit transfer
– Recognition of prior learning
– Guidance
– Human resource management
• Slow to realise potential uses – still greater than actual
• A ‘useful tool’ – whose use depends upon other drivers
SCQF: Impacts and issues
• Broadly successful but
– Aims were modest
– Built on (more radical) earlier reforms
• Much of impact achieved by becoming ‘national language’
– promotes coherence
• More impact in education than in labour market
• Barriers to a unified framework:
– Different types of learning
– Institutional barriers
– Political barriers
• Needs to be part of a broader policy strategy
3. The Irish National Framework of
Qualifications (NFQ): a reforming framework
• Small country, uniform institutions
• Policy community
• Emerging ‘sub-frameworks’ for:
Non-university higher education
General education (schools)
Further education and training
Pressures for more coherent system
Pressures for reform within sectors …
European influence – especially HE
Choice of ‘reforming’ framework
A reforming NQF: describing the existing
system and driving specific reforms
• Design: comprehensive; loose; 10 levels;
descriptors for knowledge, skills, competence;
award types; guidelines for quality assurance
and for access transfer and progression;
regulatory within 2 sectors
• Purposes: broader than Scotland: (also) raising
standards, enhancing quality, changing culture
• Change processes: broader than Scotland: (also)
regulation, quality assurance, cultural change
NFQ: Implementation
• Formal launch 2003
• Built on earlier and continuing reforms
• Initially led by single Authority & separate
awards councils for each sub-framework
• Merged into single body in 2012 – now more
emphasis on integration across sub-frameworks?
• Stakeholder engagement
NFQ: Issues
• Reasonably successful – given more ambitious aims and
different starting point than Scotland – but
• Implementation and impact slow …
• … and variable across sectors; less in general education
• Competing philosophies of NQF and educational
• Slow to integrate sub-frameworks
• Concerns that many changes have been superficial
• ‘Anomalies’ in placing existing qualifications
• Impact needs strong ‘drivers’ (funding, public
• More impact in education than labour market
4. Concluding comments
General model of change
An NQF is a social construct and not just a technical
instrument: it is about trust, understanding, culture and
pragmatic compromise.
The introduction of an NQF requires
• Long time scales
• Stakeholder involvement and partnership
• A loose but variable design
• ‘Iterative alignment’ of NQF and practice
• Balance development within sub-frameworks and
integration across them
• ‘Policy breadth’ – to be part of a broader policy programme
Possible Issues for Chile
• What objectives? For which sectors?
• Will they change? What is the time scale?
• How would the objectives be achieved? (Which ‘change
processes’ would work in Chile?)
• Priorities: development within sectors or integration across
• Is there the will to join voluntarily in a non-regulatory ‘unifying
framework’? How to create it?
• Are employment stakeholders equally engaged?
• Does Chilean higher education speak with a single voice
(enough to share the leadership?)
• What is the broader policy/reform programme?
Thank you for your attention
[email protected]
Some references
CES Briefings.
Collins, T., Kelly, F., Murdoch, H., Raffe, D. and Murphy, A. (2009) Framework Implementation and Impact Study:
Report of Study Team. Dublin: National Qualifications Authority of Ireland.
European Training Foundation, CEDEFOP and UNESCO (2013) Global NQF Inventory,FFFG22d8f11eac534299
Howieson, C. and Raffe, D. (2013) The paradox of Scotland: limited credit transfer in a credit-based lifelong
learning system. Oxford Review of Education. DOI: 10.1080/03054985.2013.806250.
International Labour Organisation. ILO research programme on implementation and impact of NQFs.
Raffe, D. (2011) Are ‘communications frameworks’ more successful? Policy learning from the Scottish Credit
and Qualifications Framework. Journal of Education and Work, 24, 3-4, 283-302.
Raffe, D. (2011) The role of learning outcomes in National Qualifications Frameworks, in Bohlinger, S. and
Münchhausen, G. (eds) Validierung von Lernergebnissen: Recognition and Validation of Prior Learning.
Bielefeld: Bertelsmann.
Raffe, D. (2013) What is the evidence for the impact of National Qualifications Frameworks? Comparative
Education, 49, 2, 143-162.
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