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 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


Novel Recipes



Level descriptor

core definition

A level descriptor is a statement that provides an indication of appropriate depth and extent of learning at a specific stage in the programme of study.

explanatory context


analytical review

For the University of Exeter (2007) a level descriptor is:

A generic statement describing the characteristics and contexts of learning expected at a particular level.

For NICATS (1999, p. 7) level descriptors are defined as:

Statements which describe the types of learning demand which the learner will encounter at each level.

It goes on to say

The level identifies the relative depth of learning which will be required of a learner undertaking a unit of assessment.... Level descriptors should be seen as a developmental continuum in which preceding levels are necessarily subsumed within those which follow. The level descriptors are therefore a guide to the curriculum designer as to the kinds of demands it is appropriate to make of learners at each of the designated levels.


The UNESCO definition is more detailed:

Level descriptors are statements that provide a broad indication of learning appropriate to attainment at a particular level, describing the characteristics and context of learning expected at that level. They are designed to support the reviewing of specified learning outcomes and assessment criteria in order to develop particular modules and units and to assign credits at the appropriate level.

Descriptors (Qualification): Qualification descriptors are statements that set out the outcomes of principal higher education qualifications at given levels (usually of an awarded degree) and demonstrate the nature of change between levels. At some levels, there may be more than one type of qualification. The first part of a qualification descriptor (of particular interest to those designing, approving, and reviewing academic programmes) is a statement regarding outcomes, i.e., the achievement of a student that he or she should be able demonstrate for the award of the qualification. The second part (of particular interest to employers) is a statement of the wider abilities that the typical student could be expected to have developed. Upon periodical review of the existing qualification descriptors and in light of the development of other points of reference, such as benchmark statements, additional qualification descriptors at each level are elaborated.

In view of the creation of the European Higher Education Area, the Joint Quality Initiative (JQI) Group proposed considering the development of descriptors for Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree (BaMa descriptors) that might be shared within Europe and be available for a variety of purposes depending on particular national, regional, or institutional contexts and requirements. (Vlãsceanu et al., 2004, pp. 34–35)

In a paper on technical education in Tanzania, Selemani (undated) refers to competence level descriptors in a ten-level framework of Technical and Vocational Education and Training :

The competence level descriptors are defined as broad, generic (cross-field) standard statements of achievement at a particular level of study irrespective of the field of specialisation and they indicate in broader terms the ability to perform the activities within an occupation or function to the level of standards expected in employment.

The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) (2011, p. 222 ) has the staggeringly unhelpful definition of level descriptors:

Level descriptors are defined as knowledge, skills and competence.

associated issues


related areas

See also



European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), 2011, Development of National Qualifications Frameworks in Europe, Working paper 12, October, available at, accessed 20 September 2012, still available 26 June 2019.

Northern Ireland Credit Accumulation and Transfer System (NICATS) 1999, Report of the Northern Ireland Credit Accumulation and Transfer System (NICATS) Project, April 1996–March 1999, available at, accessed 20 September 2012, page not available 3 January 2017.

Selemani, M., undated, The Use of National Assessment to Enhance The Quality of Technical Education, National Council for Technical Education (NACTE) Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

University of Exeter , 2007, TQA Manual, Learning and Teaching Definitions, Last updated August 2007, last reviewed September 2011 (originally 2002), accessed 20 September 2012, still available 26 June 2019.

Vlãsceanu, L., Grünberg, L., and Pârlea, D., 2004, Quality Assurance and Accreditation: A Glossary of Basic Terms and Definitions (Bucharest, UNESCO-CEPES).

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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