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.


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Qualifications framework

core definition

A qualifications framework sets out all qualifications covered by the range of the framework as a hierarchy with generic descriptors of the required achievement to attain the qualification.

explanatory context

The main point of a qualifications framework is to make transparent the meaning and value of a qualification, enabling comparisons with qualifications in other jurisdictions that also have qualifications frameworks.

analytical review

The European Commission (2012) states

The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) acts as a translation device to make national qualifications more readable across Europe, promoting workers' and learners' mobility between countries and facilitating their lifelong learning. The EQF aims to relate different countries' national qualifications systems to a common European reference framework. Individuals and employers will be able to use the EQF to better understand and compare the qualifications levels of different countries and different education and training systems. Agreed upon by the European institutions in 2008, the EQF is being put in practice across Europe. It encourages countries to relate their national qualifications systems to the EQF so that all new qualifications issued from 2012 carry a reference to an appropriate EQF level. An EQF national coordination point has been designated for this purpose in each country.

The Official Bologna Website (2007–2010) states:

A qualifications framework encompasses all the qualifications in a higher education system—or in an entire education system if the framework is developed for this purpose. It shows what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on the basis of a given qualification—that is, it shows the expected learning outcomes for a given qualification. It also shows how the various qualifications in the education or higher education system interact, that is how learners can move between qualifications. Qualifications frameworks therefore focus on outcomes more than on procedures, and several learning paths—including those of lifelong learning—may lead to a given qualification.

Qualifications frameworks play an important role in developing degree systems as well as in developing study programmes at higher education institutions. They also facilitate the recognition of qualifications, and they are important for those who make use of qualifications, in particular learners and employers.

In the European Higher Education Area, qualifications frameworks are found at two levels. An overarching framework has been adopted for the EHEA in 2005; and by 2010, all member countries will develop national qualifications frameworks that are compatible with this overarching framework. In this sense, the overarching framework sets the parameters within which each country will develop its own national framework, and it is the national framework that most directly affects study programmes.


The European Higher Education Area (2016):

Qualifications frameworks describe the qualifications of an education system and how they interlink.
National qualifications frameworks describe what learners should know, understand and be able to do on the basis of a given qualification as well as how learners can move from one qualification to another within a system.National qualifications frameworks are developed to be compatible with the overarching framework of qualifications of the European Higher Education Area, which was adopted in 2005 and consists of three cycles (e.g. bachelor, master, doctorate). The overarching framework makes recognition of qualifications easier since specific qualifications can be related to a common framework.

The Hong Kong Education Bureau (2008), referring to the development in Hong Kong, states

The Qualifications Framework (QF) was officially launched on 5 May 2008. It aims to help Hong Kong people set clear goals and directions for continuous learning to obtain quality-assured qualifications. In the long run, it will help enhance the overall quality and competitiveness of the local workforce. The QF in Hong Kong is a seven-level hierarchy of qualifications covering the academic, vocational and continuing education sectors.

The British Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) (2012) defines qualifications framework as:

A formal structure identifying qualification levels in ascending order and stating the requirements for qualifications to be awarded at each one. See also framework for higher education qualifications.

Under framework for higher education qualifications, also in the Glossary, it states:

Framework for higher education qualifications. A published formal structure that identifies a hierarchy of national qualification levels and describes the general achievement expected of holders of the main qualification types at each level, thus assisting higher education providers in maintaining academic standards. QAA publishes the following frameworks: The framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ) and The framework for qualifications of higher education institutions in Scotland (FQHEIS). See also qualification descriptors.

Under qualification descriptor it states:

Qualification descriptors. Generic statements about the main qualifications at each level (for example, bachelor's degree with honours, master's degree), specifying what students should know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate on being awarded that qualification, and exemplifying its nature and characteristics.

In the later Glossary (QAA, undated) qualifications framework is defined as:

A formal structure identifying qualification levels in ascending order and stating the requirements for qualifications to be awarded at each one. In UK higher education ‘the Qualifications Frameworks’ refers specifically to the Frameworks for Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies, which form part of the Quality Code, Part A


In its Code of Practice, QAA (2010) also described qualifications frameworks:

Framework for higher education qualifications (the FHEQ) for institutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland sets out the descriptors of the five levels of higher education qualifications awarded by universities and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The FHEQ for institutions in Scotland sets out the six levels of higher education qualifications awarded by universities and colleges in Scotland; this is part of the wider Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). Qualification descriptors in both consist of a statement of the outcomes and achievements that a student should be able to demonstrate for the qualification to be awarded, and a statement of the wider abilities that the typical student could be expected to have developed in the process of attaining that award.

National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (2003) defined the Irish national framework of qualifications as:

the single, nationally and internationally accepted entity, through which all learning achievements may be measured and related to each other in a coherent way and which defines the relationship between all education and training awards.


Accredited Qualifications, 2012, referring to the United Kingdom, states:

Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF)

What is the Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF)?

The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) is a new credit transfer system which has replaced the National Qualification Framework (NQF). It recognises qualifications and units by awarding credits. And since each unit has a credit value and the credits can be transferred, the system gives the learners the ability to get qualifications at their own pace. The QCF is jointly regulated by the England’s regulator Ofqual, Wales’ DCELLS and Northern Ireland’s CCEA.

associated issues

The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) (2011, pp. 24–25) comments:

many of the new [European] qualifications frameworks share common characteristics. Very often these characteristics differ from the ‘first generation frameworks’, especially in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and France (and, outside Europe, in South Africa and New Zealand). Assuming that emerging European frameworks are just copies of the old (NVQ-based) frameworks is not confirmed by the evidence. Raffe (2011) makes a distinction between outcomes-led (like the English NVQ framework) and outcomes-referenced frameworks. Outcome-led frameworks can be seen as the most radical approach as they tend systematically to reduce the influence of input factors like duration and institutional origin; this promotes qualification truly independent of delivery mode or learning approach. Comprehensive NQFs in Europe are outcomes-referenced and see learning outcomes as an important (although not the only) element for developing a common language across sectors. These frameworks also (although to varying degree) take input factors into account, trying to reflect institutional and programme structures, and accepting that volume and learning mode varies and matters. Comprehensive frameworks may include outcomes-led as well as outcomes-referenced sub-frameworks. The sub-frameworks for professional qualifications included in comprehensive NQFs in Estonia and Slovenia exemplify outcome-led approaches.

In the review of the contributions in the first 15 years of the international journal Quality in Higher Education, Harvey and Williams (2010) write the following about the contributions on qualifications frameworks:

Another development addressed in three papers was the development of national qualifications frameworks.

Leong and Wong (2004) examined issues that have come to the fore in the development of a qualifications framework in Hong Kong. The initial concept of rationalisation of existing qualifications and standardisation of the nomenclature of qualifications may appear straightforward but many problems have arisen. They reported, then unresolved, problems derived from the emergence of private higher education and its quality assurance; the proposal for a single regulatory framework for the sub-degree sector; governmental regulation versus voluntary regulation; the nature and extent of institutional autonomy; and the relationship between foreign qualifications and the qualifications framework.

Blackmur (2004) critiqued the idea of national qualification frameworks (NQF) as implemented in several countries. He argued that a NQF classification system is a hierarchy and that, in practice, the number of levels is determined on a more or less arbitrary basis. The information provided by an NQF to the labour market is meant to serve economising and equity purposes. However, far from informing governments and markets efficiently, a structured, levelled NQF distorts information about qualifications to such an extent that serious consideration needs to be given to abandoning the NQF classification system as a viable instrument of public policy. This conclusion is of special relevance to the Bologna process and associated moves towards the development of a European Qualifications Framework. As an alternative he outlined of a ‘networked’ register of qualifications, which may add value to the processes of describing the attributes of qualifications.

Fernie and Pilcher (2009) noted that arguments for National Qualification Frameworks (NQF) are compelling and such frameworks are now an international phenomenon. Yet, few studies take a critical perspective and challenge the broad assumptions underpinning NQF. Focusing on the Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework (SCQF) they pointed to conflicts and tensions regarding the diffusion and use of the SCQF, such as whether all institutions are interpreting it in the same way, and indeed, whether resistance to change has rendered attempts to diffuse the SCQF as potentially naďve. They argued that research into the SCQF needs to address various areas including the political dimension, diffusion and consistency of use. They noted that the politics surrounding the funding of such research may also be problematic given that most has been evaluative and funded by the SCQF itself; which is not sufficiently critical or independent. This may also be the case with other NQF. The taken-for-granted assumptions that the SCQF and its diffusion are unproblematic, universally welcomed and benign must be challenged.

Discussing the similarities in national qualification frmeworks and their purposes, Drowley and Marshall (2013) suggest:

At first sight, documents specifying NQFs look remarkably similar, non-contentious and compelling (Fernie & Pilcher, 2009). There seems to be global agreement concerning broad structure and overall purposes of NQFs, regardless of national context. The universal discourse adopted within NQFs is ‘common sense’ (Allais, 2003, p. 319). It is difficult to criticise the aims they espouse, which include: providing information about qualifications to all stakeholders; equality of opportunity; widening participation; incentives for learners; parity of esteem for different types of learning; accountability of education and training providers; learner and workforce mobility; responsiveness of educational provision to needs of the economy; and transparency, accessibility, flexibility and portability of learning opportunities and qualifications. Another general purpose and a key driver behind the current proliferation of NQFs across the Arab region, has been the developmentof quantitative measures to enable comparison of qualifications awarded in different countries, thus facilitating international student and workforce
mobility (Leong & Wong, 2004).
Despite the semblance of similarity, NQFs can be differentiated by the emphasis placed on different purposes. They also vary along dimensions closely related to those purposes, including: scope; prescriptiveness; breadth of policy reforms that accompany and facilitate implementation; and the degree to which they reflect an incremental approach to development (Raffe, 2003).

related areas

See also

academic infrastructure

Bologna process



Accredited Qualifications, 2012, 'Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF)' available at, accessed 9 January 2017, still available 30 June 2019.

Allais, S.M., 2003, ‘The National Qualifications Framework in South Africa: a democratic project trapped in a neo-liberal paradigm?’, Journal of Education and Work, 16(3), pp. 305–24.

Blackmur, D., 2004, ‘A critique of the concept of a national qualifications framework’, Quality in Higher Education, 10(3), pp. 267–284.

Bologna Process (2010), The Official Bologna Process website July 2007 - June 2010, Qualifications Frameworks in the EHEA, available at, accessed 12 September 2012, page not available 9 January 2017.

Drowley, M. and Marshall, H., 2013, 'National qualifications frameworks: local learning from global experience', Quality in Higher Education, 19(1).

Education Bureau (Hong Kong), 2008, Qualifications Framework, available at, accessed 11 September 2012 , page not available 9 January 2017.

European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), 2011, Development of National Qualifications Frameworks in Europe, Working paper 12, October, available at, accessed 3 September 2012, still available 30 June 2019.

European Commission, Education & training, Lifelong Learning Policy, 2012, The European Qualifications Framework (EQF), available at, last updated 8 August 2012, accessed 12 September 2012, page not available 9 January 2017.

European Higher Education Area, 2016, 'Qualifications frameworks/three-cycle system 2007–2009', published 29 August 2016, Last modified 13 October /2016, available at, accessed 9 Januray 2017, still available 30 June 2019.

Fernie, S. and Pilcher, N., 2009, ‘National qualification frameworks: developing research perspectives’, Quality in Higher Education, 15(3), pp. 221–232.

Harvey, L. and Williams, J. 2010, 'Fifteen Years of Quality in Higher Education', Quality in Higher Education, 16(1), pp. 4–36.  

Leong, J.C.Y. and Wong, W.S., 2004, ‘The accreditation and quality assurance of sub-degree/degree qualifications in the establishment of a Hong Kong qualifications framework: local, regional and transnational implications’, Quality in Higher Education, 10(1), pp. 43–49.

National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, 2003, Report on the workshop on the inclusion of international awards in the national framework of qualifications. Dublin: NQAI, available at, accessed 25 May 2005, not available 9 October 2012.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), 2010, Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education. Collaborative provision and flexible and distributed learning (including e-learning) ?Amplified version October 2010, available at, accessed 11 September 2012, page not available 9 January 2017.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), 2012, Glossary, available at, accessed 11 September 2012, page not available 9 January 2017.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), undated, Glossary, available at h, accessed 8 January 2017, not available 20 June 2019.

Raffe, D., 2003, ‘‘Simplicity itself’: The creation of the Scottish credit and qualifications framework’, Journal of Education and Work, 16(3), pp. 239–57.

Raffe. D., 2011, 'The role of learning outcomes in national qualifications framework', in Validierung von Lernegebnisses/Recognition and validation of learning outcomes. Bonn: BIBB, p. 87–104.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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