Documents considered by the Committee on 25 April 2017 Contents

23European Qualifications Framework

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Education Committee

Document details

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

Legal base

Articles 165 and 166, TFEU

Department

Education

Document Number

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

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

23.1Qualifications 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 proposed to revise the system.

23.2When the Committee last considered this document at its meeting of 23 November 2016, it was evident that the UK and other Member States had significant misgivings about key elements of the Commission proposal. At that stage negotiations were yet to begin. We therefore requested an update once discussions had begun. We also asked for clarity on the Minister’s statement that there was little evidence that the EQF has had a domestic impact on UK businesses or citizens.

23.3The Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills (Robert Halfon) explains that negotiations have begun and improvements to the text have been made. He expects the proposal to be on the agenda of the 22 May Education Council for political agreement.

23.4The Minister provides a more nuanced appraisal of the benefits of the EQF, considering that it represents “a modest but useful” contribution to enhancing transparency of education qualifications across countries. He adds that the proposals currently under discussion include exploring ways of enhancing the EQF in order to enable comparisons with the qualifications frameworks of third countries. The Government will consider the potential advantages and disadvantages of that for the UK in a post-Brexit context as the ideas develop.

23.5The Minister has provided a helpful summary of developments in the negotiation of this non-binding Recommendation. We note that political agreement may be sought at the 22 May Education Council. We are content to release the proposal from Scrutiny in advance of that Council, and we look forward to a post-Council update. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Education 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

23.6In 2008 the European Parliament and Council adopted a Recommendation on a European Qualifications Framework (EQF) for lifelong learning. The European Commission reported that it was “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 Commission judged that the EQF’s objectives of transparency, comparability and portability had not been fully reached. The Commission attributed this largely to limitations of the 2008 Recommendation.

23.7Further background and detail on the content of the proposal, the issues raised by the Committee and the position of the Government were set out in our Reports of 13 July and 23 November 2016.87

Minister’s letter of 30 March 2017

23.8The Minister explains that the proposal is currently being discussed in Council working group. He summarises progress in the following terms:

“The text has improved somewhat from our point of view. The proposal now makes it clear that the EQF and national qualification frameworks should not be automatically linked to credit systems, for which we believe that the EQF is not the appropriate mechanism. Links with the European Classification of Skills, Competences, Qualifications and Occupations (ESCO) are also to be voluntary.”

23.9The proposal is expected to be on the agenda for the Education Council on 22 May. While a few Member States are still raising difficulties with aspects of the text, the Minister expects that, on balance, there will be political agreement at the Council. This is partly because, he says, a voluntary framework like EQF provides ample opportunity and flexibility for Member States to implement (or not) in accordance with national circumstances.

23.10On the value of the EQF to the UK, the Minister expresses the Government’s position in the following terms:

“It is difficult to assess the direct impact of the EQF on the mobility of students or workers across the EU, and to disaggregate the “EQF effect” from wider and more important trends. In general, it is reasonable to conclude that the performance of economies, job creation rates and the quality of education institutions are much more significant in terms of influencing the choices of workers and students. Since the EQF was adopted in 2008, the UK has, however, taken the view that it represents a modest but useful contribution to enhancing transparency of education qualifications across countries, importantly on a voluntary basis. The EQF has also become something of an international benchmark, and there is some evidence to suggest that it has helped to share understanding of qualification systems internationally.”

23.11On matters relating to Brexit, the Minister says:

“Turning to Brexit, whilst the UK remains a member of the EU we will monitor the development of EQF and assess its impact. The proposals currently under discussion include exploring ways of enhancing EQF in order to enable comparisons with the qualification frameworks of third countries. We will consider the potential advantages and disadvantages of that for the UK in a post-Brexit context as the ideas develop.”

Previous Committee Reports

Nineteenth Report HC 71-xvii (2016–17), chapter 5 (23 November 2016) and Eighth Report HC 71-vi (2016–17), chapter 6 (13 July 2016).


87 Nineteenth Report HC 71-xvii (2016–17), chapter 5 (23 November 2016); Eighth Report HC 71-vi (2016–17), chapter 6 (13 July 2016).




27 April 2017