Mapping the RQF and the FHEQ to the EQF

There is a clear and demonstrable link between the qualifications levels in the national qualifications frameworks or systems and the level descriptors of the EQF.

The national qualifications frameworks in England and Northern Ireland are the RQF and the FHEQ. The evidence presented in this section supports a clear and demonstrable link between the levels of these frameworks and the levels of the EQF.

2010 Referencing Outcome

England and Northern Ireland first mapped the national qualifications framework to the EQF in 2010. This produced a clear referencing between the levels of the QCF, which was the principal qualifications framework at the time, and those of the EQF, as presented below.

Table 1: 2010 QCF – EQF referencing outcome

2019 Referencing Approach

The QCF has been replaced by the RQF since 2010. The RQF mirrors the levels that were used in the QCF. In other words, the mapping of the QCF to the EQF in 2010 should translate directly to the RQF. Whilst amendments were made to the level descriptors to form the RQF, the meanings of the levels, the number of levels, their relationship to each other, and their public status remain exactly the same.

Nonetheless, a further review of the mapping was carried out to evaluate whether the RQF still supports the 2010 conclusions for level-to-level relationships with the EQF.

In 2010 the FHEQ was not referenced directly to the QCF or the EQF. The FHEQ had been mapped to the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA) in November 2008. This was done as part of the Bologna Process, in order to verify the compatibility between the two frameworks.

The 2019 mapping process, therefore, included a re-examination of the descriptors of the RQF, as well as an examination of the FHEQ, in relation to the descriptors of the EQF. The process confirmed the relationship established in 2010 and produced a clear referencing between the FHEQ, the RQF, and the EQF.


Table 2: 2019 RQF – EQF referencing outcome and examination of FHEQ – EQF, including QF-EHEA

Approach to mapping the three frameworks

The RQF and the FHEQ had not previously been directly referenced to the EQF. However, the RQF is based on the levels of the QCF (referenced to the EQF in 2010); the FHEQ is linked to the EQF through the self-certification process carried out in 2008. The referencing process reported here is a fresh approach and is thorough and comprehensive. It is described in full in Annex 2.

The following approach was taken. Taking the 2010 referencing position of the QCF and the self-certification outcome for the FHEQ as starting points, for each of the levels of the RQF and FHEQ:

  1. The descriptors were compared to the EQF level previously matched
  2. The descriptors were compared to the EQF level immediately below the level previously matched
  3. The descriptors were compared to the EQF level immediately above the level previously matched
  4. A best-fit position was determined

Each domain of the RQF and the FHEQ could be separately matched to each of the three EQF descriptors (Knowledge, Skills, and Responsibility and Autonomy).

However, in the RQF, the FHEQ, and the EQF, each framework level is to be judged by taking an overview of the two (RQF) or three (FHEQ/EQF) descriptors. It is therefore more appropriate to compare each RQF and FHEQ level to each EQF level by reading across the descriptors for the levels.

The 2017 EQF Recommendation established that the EQF is compatible with the QF-EHEA and its cycle descriptors and therefore the conclusion can be drawn that the self-certification process for the FHEQ shows the compatibility of QF-EHEA levels 5 to 8 with levels 5 to 8 of the EQF.

The FHEQ level descriptors are included in the tables for levels 4 – 8, inclusive, to show how they map to both the RQF and EQF.

Comparing the descriptors

A two-stage process was used to determine a level-to-level relationship between the RQF and the EQF levels.

  1. A full textual analysis of each of the level descriptors of the RQF was made in relation to the EQF descriptors at three consecutive [levels? A term is missing here]
  2. The textual analysis was then further analyzed from a best-fit perspective in order to determine which EQF level aligns closest to the RQF

The same two-stage process was used to establish the relationship between the FHEQ and the EQF.

When the provisional mapping of the RQF and the FHEQ to the EQF was established, it was subjected to scrutiny by qualifications users and also by the organisations responsible for the frameworks. The mapping was made available to the Steering Group, to UKGCGVETI, and to all the constituencies they represent. This scrutiny confirmed the level-to-level relationship included in Table 1, above.

The confirmatory mapping is seen as reflecting the status quo and public understanding in terms of level-to-level relationships between the three frameworks. However, whilst the mapping outcomes were confirmed, the mapping exercise did reveal a number of differences between the descriptors at Level 4 of the RQF and Level 4 of the FHEQ. These do not affect the EQF or QF-EHEA relationships, which are robust: instead, they relate to the strength of the links between the two England and Northern Ireland frameworks: the RQF Level 4 descriptor includes ‘addressing problems that are complex and non-routine, which is not a feature of the FHEQ. This may be further explored in the future by reviewing the learning outcomes of these levels.

Source: Ofqual

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