EUROPE: EQF success hailed at Brussels conference

A conference held in Brussels earlier this month to salute the European Qualifications Framework was told the four-year old initiative had been a great success. So much so that, for the first time, Europe's diverse education and training systems will share a common framework that relates their own national qualifications systems to each other.

In her keynote speech to the conference Odile Quintin, Director General of Education and Culture in the European Commission, said those concerned in implementing the EQF had "shown a willingness, both nationally and European level, to build bridges, access and progression between the different sectors and levels of education and training".

The EQF is a common European reference framework which links countries' qualifications systems together, acting as a translation device to make qualifications more readable. Its two principal aims are to promote citizen mobility between countries and to facilitate lifelong learning.

Quintin said that, given the special nature of the EQF, its acceptance across Europe and its impact on the mobility and lifelong learning of Europe's citizens, it stood as "one of the most ambitious initiatives ever in education and training in Europe".

She told delegates the EQF went "to the heart of what the EU is about: mobility of citizens, cooperation between countries, promoting prosperity and helping individual citizens fulfil their potential through learning".

It would help build a genuine European labour market and equip citizens to deal with the many changes they would face in their learning and working careers. Europeans were not yet mobile enough, either across borders or in changing jobs, and this was a loss to Europe at the macro or economic level, while denying Europeans personal and career opportunities.

Reluctance to accept citizens' qualifications and competences acquired in another country was a stumbling-block but by making qualifications more transparent and understandable, the EQF would make mobility easier and promote the value of lifelong learning, Quintin said.

She called on all those concerned "to work towards the 2010 deadline for linking national frameworks to the European one" and pledged the commission's full support for the EQF.

EU Education Commissioner Ján Figel said the process would "go from strength to strength".

Figel said the conference had confirmed that mutual trust was the main issue, underlying others such as what principles should underpin national qualifications frameworks, the role of the sectors and how to establish better links between VET and higher education, and between formal and non-formal learning.

He said the first task of the EQF advisory group should be to establish criteria for relating national and European qualifications levels: "Countries should be aiming for integration of the national referencing of qualifications systems to the EQF and to Bologna."

This would avoid double work and unnecessary use of resources, while bringing the referencing processes together would also better integrate vocational training and higher education. Although the precise level and type of evidence required to generate mutual trust still had to be determined, Figel said "we can have broadly similar referencing criteria for the Bologna and the EQF processes".

But before linking national systems to the EQF began, he said EU countries would have to designate their national coordination points. Figel said he was again calling on public authorities in all member states to complete this first step as soon as possible.