Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

Competence is the acquisition of knowledge skills and abilities at a level of expertise sufficient to be able to perform in an appropriate work setting (within or outside academia).

explanatory context

Competence tends to be a particular concern when assessing some professional disciplines, such as medicine, health, teaching, social work, architecture.

analytical review

The Association europeenne des conservatoroires (AEC, 2004) defines competence as:

A measure of learning achievement. A student who is said to have achieved a given competence (sometimes competency) needs to have demonstrated that he or she has acquired a particular skill and is able to practise it at an acceptably high standard.

The OECD DeSeCo Project (2005) report states:

A competency is more than just knowledge and skills. It involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilising psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context. For example, the ability to communicate effectively is a competency that may draw on an individual's knowledge of language, practical IT skills and attitudes towards those with whom he or she is communicating.

The report adds:

The DeSeCo Project's conceptual framework for key competencies classifies such competencies in three broad categories. First, individuals need to be able to use a wide range of tools for interacting effectively with the environment both physical ones such as information technology and socio-cultural ones such as the use of language. They need to understand such tools well enough to adapt them for their own purposes; to use tools interactively. Second, in an increasingly interdependent world, individuals need to be able to engage with others, and since they will encounter people from a range of backgrounds, it is important that they are able to interact in heterogeneous groups. Third, individuals need to be able to take responsibility for managing their own lives, situate their lives in the broader social context and act autonomously.

The OECD DeSeCo Project (2005) emphasises reflectiveness, which it says is at the heart of competence:

An underlying part of this framework is reflective thought and action. Thinking reflectively demands relatively complex mental processes and requires the subject of a thought process to become its object. For example, having applied themselves to mastering a particular mental technique, reflectiveness allows individuals to then think about this technique, assimilate it, relate it to other aspects of their experiences, and to change or adapt it. Individuals who are reflective also follow up such thought processes with practice or action.

The Graduate Recruitment Bureau (2011) definition is:

Competencies: Specialist knowledge needed to do a particular job. Can sometimes be called skills.

Nygaard, Højlt and Hermansen (2008, p. 36) define competence as:

he ability to apply one’s qualifications (knowledge and skills) in such a way that the task at hand is carried out to the standards of performance required in a particular context so the person is seen as competent by relevant peers.

In answer to the question 'What is competence?', the UK Cultural Heritage National Training Organisation (CHNTO, 2004) refers to vocational qualifications and states:

NVQs/SVQs are competency-based qualifications, meaning that they attest to the ability of an individual to do a job of work to nationally agreed standards. A key concept in this is the idea of competence. This word carries a number of distinct connotations, but the meaning used in NVQs/SVQs indicates that competence is linked to an ability to: perform activities within an occupation or function; work consistently to agreed standards - a person's performance must meet specific criteria before he/she can be termed competent; transfer skills to a range of situations within, and even external to, the central occupational area.

In the NCVQ approach, competence is seen as having dimensions of quality and scope. The desired quality of performance should be encapsulated into the performance criteria, whereas the scope of the competence can be found in the range statements which describe the different situations in which someone is expected to be able to work. Candidates' competence is judged on a binary scale - "competent" or "not yet competent" - according to whether they meet the predetermined standards or not.

The UK Training Agency (1988) defines 'Occupational competence' as:

... the ability to perform the activities within an occupation or function to the standards expected in employment. (This includes)... the ability to transfer skills and knowledge to new situations... organisation and planning of work, innovation and coping with non-routine activities... (and the) personal effectiveness... to deal with co-workers, managers and customers. It stems from an understanding (that) to perform effectively in a work role an individual has to combine... performance of various technical and task components, overarching management of the various technical and task components to achieve the overall work function, management of the variance and unpredictability in the work role and the wider environment, (and) integration of the work role within the context of the wider organisation, economic, market and social environment. 


Wojtczak (22002) defines competence in generic terms:

Competence: Possession of a satisfactory level of relevant knowledge and acquisition of a range of relevant skills that include interpersonal and technical components at a certain point in the educational process. Such knowledge and skills are necessary to perform the tasks that reflect the scope of professional practices. Competence may differ from 'performance', which denotes actions taken in a real life situation. Competence is therefore not the same as 'knowing', on the contrary, it may well be about recognizing oneÅfs own limits. The more experienced the professional being tested, the more difficult it is to create a tool to assess their actual understandings and the complex skills of the tasks they undertake. A holistic integration of understandings, abilities and professional judgments i.e., a 'generic' model, is one where competence is not necessarily directly observable, but rather can be inferred from performance.

In the medical setting, clinical competence is:

The mastery of relevant knowledge and the acquisition of a range of relevant skills at a satisfactory level including interpersonal, clinical and technical components at a certain point of education, such as at graduation. In the case of clinical training, which is primarily based on an apprenticeship model, teachers define what the student is expected to do and then test their ability to do it. However, in actuality, most clinical actions are concerned with problems for which there are no clear answers and no single solution. In such situations, an experienced doctor searches his or her mind and sifts through a wide range of options and in some cases the solution will be something he or she has never arrived at before. Therefore, competence itself is only of value as a prerequisite for performance in a real clinical setting and does not always correlate highly with performance in practice.

The European Commission (CEC, 2002, p. 15) defines key competences as:

a package of knowledge, skills and attitudes which all individuals need for employment, subsequent learning as well as personal fulfilment and development. They are a prerequisite for participation in lifelong learning (numeracy, literacy, learning to learn skills, etc.).

associated issues


related areas

See also


standards of competence


Association europeenne des conservatoires [Academies de musique et musikhochschulen] (AEC), 2004, Glossary of terms used in relation to the Bologna Declaration, accessed September 2004. Not available at this address 31 January 2011.

Commission of the European Communities (CEC), 2002, A memorandum on lifelong learning: Commission staff working paper. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities, available at MemorandumEng.pdf, accessed 23 May 2005.

Cultural Heritage National Training Organisation (CHNTO), 2004, Career development: Introduction,, page undated, accessed November 2004. The page address exists but is now (15 February 2011) a page entitled 'What is Cultural Heritage'.

Graduate Recruitment Bureau, 2011, Higher education Glossary, available at, acessed 15 September 2012, still available 21 June 2019.

Nygaard, C., Højlt T. and Hermansen, M., 2008), 'Learning-based curriculum development', Higher Education, 55(1), pp. 30–55.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), DeSeCo Project, 2005, The Definition and Selection of Key Competencies: Executive Summary, available at, accessed 20 September 2012, still available 21 June 2019.

Training Agency, 1988, The Concept of Occupational Competence Sheffield, Training Agency.

Wojtczak, A., 2002, Glossary of Medical Education Terms,, December, 2000, Revised February 2002, accessed 2 September 2012, page not available 30 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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