Documents considered by the Committee on 13 July 2016 Contents

6European Qualifications Framework

Committee’s assessment

Legally and Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the joint Sub–Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy

Document details

Proposal for a Council Recommendation on the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning

Legal base

Articles 165 and 166, TFEU

Department

Business, Innovation and Skills

Document Numbers

(37864), 10209/16 + ADD 1, COM(16) 383

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

6.1Qualifications differ across the European Union and it is therefore difficult to assess the knowledge and capabilities of workers. An earlier attempt to develop a system, the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), allowing comparisons between qualifications in different Member States has proven to be of limited effectiveness. As part of its New Skills Agenda, the Commission therefore proposes to revise the system.

6.2The Minister for Skills, Nick Boles, offers a holding response. He notes that the UK has previously supported the EQF but with participation on a voluntary basis. The Government will consider the proposals carefully, being mindful of the need to avoid competence creep. He says that, while the issue of subsidiarity does not arise, the Government will look carefully at each part of the Recommendation to ensure that the principle is upheld.

6.3The Minister notes the UK’s support for the European Qualifications Framework but offers no views on the weaknesses identified by the Commission as well as the solutions proposed. We would find it helpful to receive the Government’s assessment as to whether implementation of the EQF in the UK has been affected by any of the weaknesses identified by the Commission. Has the UK assessed the impact of those inconsistencies on UK nationals seeking to work elsewhere as well as on UK employers recruiting from the EU market?

6.4The Minister notes that the Government will consider the proposed changes carefully, being mindful of the need to avoid competence creep. We look forward to receiving his analysis, including an assessment of whether the proposals are likely to add to the value of the EQF. We would ask that any identified concerns about “competence creep” set out the detail of the Government’s concern.

6.5The Commission argues that the failure to meet the objectives of the original (2008) EQF Recommendation is mainly due to limitations in that Recommendation. Does the Government agree or has there also been a lack of commitment to the process among Member States?

6.6The Minister’s comments on subsidiarity are unclear. He says that the issue does not arise as this is an area of limited competence but he also indicates that the Government will look carefully at each part of the Recommendation to ensure that subsidiarity is maintained. It is true to say that the Protocol on the Role of National Parliaments in the EU, allowing national parliaments to submit Reasoned Opinions on the basis of subsidiarity, does not apply in this instance. Nevertheless, the principle of whether or not action is best taken at the EU-level still applies. We note too that the question of competence to act is distinct from the principle of subsidiarity. We would welcome clarification of the Government’s position and of its specific concerns regarding both competence and subsidiarity.

6.7The Minister notes that the Government has supported the EQF as a sensible framework for ensuring comparability and mutual recognition for qualifications and experience. Once the UK has withdrawn from the EU, will the UK wish to participate in the EQF by means of a bilateral agreement or with individual Member States? We note that one of the identified weaknesses has been the lack of any provision for alignment between the EQF and the qualifications frameworks of third countries. To what extent would a lack of alignment impact upon UK businesses or citizens?

6.8Boosting skills is a priority initiative of the European Commission and represents an important strand of work for the Government. We will retain the draft Recommendation under scrutiny and look forward to a response by the end of September. We are drawing it to the attention of both the House and of the joint Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy established by the Education Committee and Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Council Recommendation on the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning: (37864), 10209/16 + ADD 1, COM(16) 383.

Background

6.9In 2008, the European Parliament and Council adopted a Recommendation on a European Qualifications Framework (EQF) for lifelong learning. The European Commission reports that it is “reaching its full implementation.” A total of 39 countries (EFTA and accession States) participate in the EQF. By early 2016, 22 of the 28 EU Member States had finalised the process of referencing their national qualifications to the EQF. Despite the level of engagement seen so far, the EQF’s objectives of transparency, comparability and portability have not been fully reached. The Commission attributes this largely to limitations of the 2008 Recommendation.

6.10Problems identified have included:

6.11It is against this background that the Commission proposes to revise the EQF.

Commission proposal

6.12The Commission proposes this draft non–binding Recommendation on the basis of Articles 165 and 166 TFEU. These require the Union to contribute to the development of quality education, and to develop a vocational training policy, by encouraging co–operation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action. The Union may act by way of a Council Recommendation based on a Commission proposal.

6.13The Commission makes the following proposals for changes to the EQF:

Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum of 7 July 2016

6.14The Minister sets out the Government’s standard position on EU documents since the UK’s vote to leave the EU:

“On 23 June, the EU referendum took place and the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It will be for the next Prime Minister to begin negotiations to exit the EU, and until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. During this period the Government will continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation.”

6.15The Minister provides a comment on subsidiarity:

“The issue of subsidiarity does not arise as this is an area where the EU has limited competence; responsibility for education and training already rests with Member States (and is devolved in the UK and other Member States). The Commission’s analysis is that to promote cross-border mobility it is necessary to have arrangements at EU level to improve transparency and understanding of qualifications and that it is not possible to achieve this through action at the national level. At the same time, the Commission states that Member States’ responsibility for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems must be respected and that the initiative does not interfere with the responsibility of Member States for the content and design of their education and training systems. Nonetheless, we will look carefully at each part of the Recommendation to ensure that subsidiarity is maintained.”

6.16He sets out the other elements of the Government’s position on the draft Recommendation in the following terms:

“The Government is committed to empowering people to be able to fulfil their potential and contribute to the UK’s economic growth and prosperity; investment in skills helps people find and keep jobs and increases workplace performance and productivity.

“The Government has supported the EQF as a sensible framework for ensuring comparability and mutual recognition for qualifications and experience.

“The Government has previously supported participation in EQF being on a voluntary basis.

“The proposals are not binding and the UK Government continues to make its own laws regarding education and training.

“We agree with much of the analysis in the EU Skills Agenda Communication stressing the importance of skills in the context of employability and competitiveness.

“We will consider the European Commission’s proposals and recommendations carefully. And respond in due course.

“We will look carefully at the Recommendation and consider its merits whilst being mindful of the need to avoid competence creep.

“The EU enables countries to share best practice and exchange views on education and training. We support this.”

Previous Committee Reports

None.





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18 July 2016