Overview of the National Framework of Qualifications
The National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) is a system used to understand, describe and map out the different levels of qualifications in the Irish education and training system.
There are 10 levels in the framework, with the NFQ showing how General Education Awards, Further Education and Training, and Higher Education Awards correspond to each of the 10 levels.
Some of the key information that the NFQ conveys are the main qualifications awarded at each level, how to progress from one level to the next, and how to compare qualifications to other foreign qualifications and international frameworks, such as the European Qualifications Framework.
All qualifications on the NFQ are listed in the Irish Register of Qualifications.
Outline of the National Framework of Qualifications
Below is a table that outlines the National Framework of Qualifications, including all of Ireland’s major qualifications, their NFQ level, and their equivalent compared to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF).
Note that this outline doesn’t include information such as non-major awards, awarding bodies and specific award categories that the major awards belong to.
|NFQ Level||Major Awards||EFQ Level|
|1||Level 1 Certificate||Junior Cycle||1|
|2||Level 2 Certificate|
|3||Level 3 Certificate||2|
|4||Level 4 Certificate||Leaving Certificate||3|
|5||Level 5 Certificate||4|
|6||Advanced Certificate||Higher Certificate||5|
|7||Ordinary Bachelor Degree||6|
|8||Honours Bachelor Degree||Higher Diploma|
|9||Masters Degree||Post-Graduate Diploma||7|
|10||Doctorate Degree||Higher Doctorate||8|
Levels of the National Framework of Qualifications
The National Framework of Qualifications is made up of 10 levels and shows how different qualifications and awards relate to each other using this level system.
These levels are described in terms of general and non-subject-specific indicators of a person’s knowledge, skill and competence.
Awarding bodies are national bodies in Ireland that have the power to grant qualifications. Awarding bodies that are included on the NFQ include Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the State Examinations Commission (SEC), Irish Institutes of Technology, and Irish universities.
QQI is the Irish state agency responsible for overseeing all levels featured on the NFQ, alongside other responsibilities such as regulating and managing the delivery of Ireland’s education system.
The SEC are mostly concerned with school awards from levels 3-5. These include the Junior Certificate (Level 3) and the Leaving Certificate (Level 4 and 5).
Irish Institutes of Technology can award qualifications from levels 6-10. There are 13 Institutes of Technology in Ireland, including Dublin Institute of Technology, which awards its own qualifications under the Dublin Institute of Technology Act, 1992.
A named award is the qualification that a learner receives. This is often for achievement in a specific field of learning, such as a Level 5 Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring, or an Honours Bachelor Degree in Environmental Science.
Each named award corresponds with a level in the NFQ, and are developed by individual awarding bodies.
In addition to the major awards, the NFQ also covers non-major awards that can be granted to learners.
Minor awards are given for partial completion of the outcomes of a major award. These are available at all levels.
Supplemental awards are given for achievements in learning additional to major awards. These are available to attain from level 4 onwards.
Special purpose awards are given for relatively narrow or purpose-specific achievements. These are available at all levels.
Professional awards are occupation-orientated qualifications, such as apprenticeships. These are available to attain from level 5 onwards.
What is the National Framework of Qualifications Used For?
The National Framework of Qualifications is primarily used as a frame of reference for learners in the Irish education system, advisors, employers and education providers.
Learners can use NFQ to help plan education, training and career progression by providing a pathway through different qualifications and showing how they lead into each other. It can also help them to make informed choices about their routes and qualifications by showing as many pathways within the established education system as possible.
In addition, learners or workers travelling to Ireland with qualifications gained abroad can use the NFQ to have these qualifications recognised.
Advisors can use the NFQ to support and instruct learners to make their existing knowledge, skill or competence levels visible in a clearly set out framework. It is also used to easily explain how Ireland’s national system of qualifications work, as well as to assist learners in identifying pathways towards the qualifications they may wish to achieve.
Employers can use the NFQ to understand and compare different qualifications to help in the recruitment process. They can also utilise the expanded grid of level indicators, which outlines the qualification requirements associated with work competency and performance. It also provides a way to keep the recruitment process fair and equal by ensuring that qualifications are recognised at the right level.
Education providers can use the NFQ to help develop courses and programmes that are recognised on a national and international level. They can also use it as a reference point to easily validate previous learning and achievements, which may help regulate enrolment and minimum entry requirements.
What is the European Qualifications Framework?
The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is an overarching framework used across Europe. It is designed to promote mobility within the EU and by helping to compare foreign qualifications between different countries’ own national qualifications systems.
The EFQ has eight levels, which are described through learning outcomes such as skill, knowledge and competence. All qualifications in the NFQ have a corresponding level on the EFQ, which helps to validate and improve the visibility of Irish qualifications in Europe.
In addition to the EFQ, there is also the Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA), also known as the Bologna Framework. The QF-EHEA aims to make European higher education more comparable and compatible across the participating 49 countries.
It consists of three cycles, each encompassing different levels of further and higher education. The First Cycle covers bachelor degrees and its equivalents, the Second Cycle covers postgraduate degrees such as Masters, and the Third Cycle covers Doctorate degrees and its equivalents.
How Can I Use The National Framework of Qualifications When Choosing a Course?
Due to the way in which the National Framework of Qualifications is laid out, it can be easy to utilise it to make informed decisions about the courses or programmes you would like to pursue.
However, you should keep in mind the following questions when choosing a course or programme to pursue:
- What qualification does the course or programme award, and is this included on the NFQ?
- What level is the qualification on the NFQ?
- What type of qualification is it?
- Who is the awarding body?
- What options are available to progress onto further learning after you receive the qualification?
You should think carefully about what level and type of qualification you would like to pursue, as well as how those will integrate with your future plans. For example, it may be that pursuing a professional or vocational award such as an apprenticeship would suit your progression through your studies better than pursuing a major award.
It’s also important to consider the European and international dimensions of the NFQ in case you wish to work or study abroad in the future. You’ll need to make sure that your qualification’s level on the EQF is high enough to enable you to pursue your ideal courses and work pathways.
The National Framework of Qualifications is a key tool in the Irish education system used to compare Irish qualifications to equivalent international ones, and also to standardise and maintain the quality of courses offered in Ireland.
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