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Overarching framework of qualifications of the EHEA

The overarching framework of qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA Framework or QF-EHEA) was adopted by the Ministers of Education of the Bologna Process at their meeting in Bergen in May 2005, through the Bergen Communiqué

We adopt the overarching framework for qualifications in the EHEA, comprising three cycles (including, within national contexts, the possibility of intermediate qualifications), generic descriptors for each cycle based on learning outcomes and competences, and credit ranges in the first and second cycles. We commit ourselves to elaborating national frameworks for qualifications compatible with the overarching framework for qualifications in the EHEA by 2010, and to having started work on this by 2007.

The impetus for the work on the overarching framework was given through the Berlin Communiqué, adopted in 2003:

Ministers encourage the member States to elaborate a framework of comparable and compatible qualifications for their higher education systems, which should seek to describe qualifications in terms of workload, level, learning outcomes, competences and profile. They also undertake to elaborate an overarching framework of qualifications for the European Higher Education Area.

Within such frameworks, degrees should have different defined outcomes. First and second cycle degrees should have different orientations and various profiles in order to accommodate a diversity of individual, academic and labour market needs. First cycle degrees should give access, in the sense of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, to second cycle programmes. Second cycle degrees should give access to doctoral studies.

Ministers invite the Follow-up Group to explore whether and how shorter higher education may be linked to the first cycle of a qualifications framework for the European Higher Education Area.

Follow up to the work on qualifications framework was given in the London Communiqué, adopted in 2007:

Qualifications frameworks are important instruments in achieving comparability and transparency within the EHEA and facilitating the movement of learners within, as well as between, higher education systems. They should also help HEIs to develop modules and study programmes based on learning outcomes and credits, and improve the recognition of qualifications as well as all forms of prior learning.

We note that some initial progress has been made towards the implementation of national qualifications frameworks, but that much more effort is required. We commit ourselves to fully implementing such national qualifications frameworks, certified against the overarching Framework for Qualifications of the EHEA, by 2010. Recognising that this is a challenging task, we ask the Council of Europe to support the sharing of experience in the elaboration of national qualifications frameworks. We emphasise that qualification frameworks should be designed so as to encourage greater mobility of students and teachers and improve employability.

The EHEA Framework was developed by a working group chaired by Mogens Berg (Denmark) and backed up by a report. It also relied on the outcomes of two Bologna conferences held in København in March 2003 [background report; conference report] and in January 2005 [conference report].

European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF)

The European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF) has been developed by the European Commission. It was signed on 23 April 2008 by the Presidents of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union and is therefore formally adopted. For more information read press release and memo (question and answer paper) at the European Commission website or download the full text of the Recommendation in English, French, or German.  

What is the role of the overarching frameworks?

The overarching framework of qualifications of the European Higher Education Area sets the parameters within which the countries of the EHEA will develop their national qualifications frameworks. This means that national frameworks will have much in common, but not that they will be identical. Qualifications frameworks are intended to be an instrument that help learners as well as those who develop higher education programmes and the competent national authorities. They should help learners move within a given education system as well as between systems. Qualifications frameworks are therefore important in promoting mobility within education systems as well as internationally. They are not intended to be administrative straightjackets or to make all national education systems identical. Rather, the EHEA Framework is an instruments that will help European higher education strike a balance between what we have in common and what is particular to each system. In this sense, the EHEA Framework is an instrument that promotes transparency by providing a common framework for the diversity that is one of the strengths of European higher education and hence a framework to help understand diversity.

Thus, the EHEA Framework:

Schematically, the relationship between the EHEA Framework and national frameworks may be summarized as follows:

National framework:

EHEA Framework

What is the relationship between the EHEA framework and the EQF?

The EHEA Framework was adopted by Ministers of the Bologna Process in May 2005. It covers higher education qualifications and is valid for all 46 members of the European Higher Education Area, whether these are members of the European Union or not. It provides the framework within which the national qualifications frameworks in these 46 countries will be developed as far as their higher education qualifications are concerned, and it represents the “face” of European higher education qualifications towards the rest of the world.

The European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF) was formally adopted by the European Union in April 2008. It covers all levels of education and is valid for EU countries, EU accession countries and countries of the European Economic Area.

One difficulty is that the EQF, which was developed after the EHEA Framework, does not sue the same wording for the higher education qualifications in the framework. The EQF may therefore create the impression that there are two distinct overarching frameworks for higher education in Europe. It is therefore important to underline that while the wording of the EQF is not identical to that of the EHEA Framework, there are no major differences between the two, and that it is perfectly possible to develop national qualifications framework that are compatible with the EQF as well as with the EHEA Framework. This was recognized by Ministers in the London Communiqué (2007):

We are satisfied that national qualifications frameworks compatible with the overarching Framework for Qualifications of the EHEA will also be compatible with the proposal from the European Commission on a European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning.

We see the overarching Framework for Qualifications of the EHEA, which we agreed in Bergen, as a central element of the promotion of European higher education in a global context.

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