In 2002, the Ministers with the responsibility for lifelong learning policies of EU member countries asked the European Commission to create a framework to be of use for qualifications recognition and which would allow a dialogue between academic and professional systems in the various countries, also as a result of the push generated by policies produced by the Bologna Process.
The challenge to be faced by the European Qualifications Framework - EQF is by no means simple: on one hand each system must maintain its own structure, whereas on the other hand it has to link with a single reference framework. Furthermore, inasmuch as the EQF wishes to include all the existing qualifications in a perspective of lifelong and lifewide learning – from education and professional training to higher education, and from basic education to adult level – the framework is structured in 8 reference levels, from basic qualifications (such as primary school) to more advanced (such as PhD). Each level is determined by a series of descriptors which indicate the learning outcomes of the qualifications attributable to that level, in terms of knowledge, competences and ability which the holder of the qualification must have acquired, independently of the system or the modality with which the qualification has been obtained (formal, non-formal or informal study path).The EQF reference levels shift, therefore, the attention from a traditional approach – based on standardized programmes and courses – to a structure linked to learning outcomes.
The last three EQF levels – levels 6, 7 and 8 respectively – have been made compatible to the three cycles – the first, second and third cycles respectively – of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) QF of the Bologna Process: the qualifications belonging to such cycles/levels are thus compatible between themselves on the basis of common descriptors – the EQF learning results on one side, and the Dublin Descriptors for the Bologna Process.
It should be noted that the EQF does not intend to substitute any national education and training system, but may be a tool – and as such remain – to facilitate cooperation between the different countries. It is indeed true that every country can create its own national qualifications framework on a number of levels differing from that of the EQF, but which will then be linked – referentially – to the European framework.