Verification of Compatibility of Irish National Framework of Qualifications with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area icon

Verification of Compatibility of Irish National Framework of Qualifications with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area



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Verification of Compatibility of Irish National Framework of Qualifications with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area


Final Report – November 2006

Verification of Compatibility of Irish National Framework of Qualifications with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area


Report of Steering Committee for National Consultation – November 2006


Index


Page

Introduction 3


Summary 5


Verification of the Criteria 8


Verification of the Procedures 19


Conclusion 21


References 22


Appendix 1 – Comparison of the Dublin descriptors

with the award-type descriptors in the

Irish National Framework of Qualifications 24


Appendix 2 – Analysis of non-outcomes issues which are

relevant to verifying the compatibility of the Irish Framework

with the Bologna Framework 38


Introduction


The Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area, adopted by European Ministers for higher education in Bergen in May 2005, is based on the report of a working group established under the Bologna process. This report is available here: http://www.bologna-bergen2005.no/Docs/00-Main_doc/050218_QF_EHEA.pdf


The rationale for the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area is to provide a mechanism to relate national frameworks to each other so as to enable:


  • International transparency – this is at the heart of the Bologna process and while devices, such as the Diploma Supplement, have a role to play in this objective, a framework provides a simplifying architecture for mutual understanding which increases the likelihood that qualifications will be easily read and compared across borders.




  • International recognition of qualifications – this will be assisted through a framework, which should provide a common understanding of the outcomes represented by qualifications for the purposes of employment and access to continuing education.




  • International mobility of learners and graduates – this depends on the recognition of their prior learning and qualifications gained. Learners can ultimately have greater confidence that the outcomes of study abroad will contribute to the qualification sought in their home country. A framework will also be of particular help in supporting the development and recognition of joint degrees from more than one country.



The first, second and third cycles established in the Bologna Process are the key elements of the overarching framework. These cycles can be best understood by reference to internationally acceptable descriptors which have been developed jointly by stakeholders across Europe – the so-called “Dublin descriptors” (see Appendix 1). These were developed by a group of European higher education specialists, and cover all three cycles, in addition to a short-cycle qualification (within or linked to the first cycle). They are of necessity quite general in nature. Not only must they accommodate a wide range of disciplines and profiles but they must also accommodate, as far as possible, the national variations in how qualifications have been developed and specified. Qualification descriptors are usually designed to be read as general statements of the typical achievement of learners who have been awarded a qualification on successful completion of a cycle.


There is a second European Meta-Framework for Qualifications under development at this time – the European Qualifications Framework (EQF). The European Commission published a consultative document on EQF in July 2005 and the Commission consulted on this proposal for two years. Following this consultative process, the Commission published a further proposal in September 2006. The aim is that EQF will relate to all education and training awards in Europe, including those aligned with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area. While EQF directly incorporates the cycle descriptors of the Bologna Framework, it does have its own separate level descriptors. It is anticipated by many stakeholders that the existence of two separate and distinct overarching frameworks, however complementary, will be problematic in implementation and communication. Stakeholders consider that this is particularly the case in relation to countries outside of the European Higher Education Area given that the two frameworks cover different, although significantly common, geographical areas.


The success and acceptance of the Bologna Framework depends on trust and confidence amongst all stakeholders. This is to be achieved through a ‘self-certification’ process in each participating country seeking to link its national framework to the Bologna Framework. Ireland has been invited by the chairperson of the Bologna Follow-Up Group Working Group on Qualifications Frameworks to undertake a pilot project of the self-certification of the Compatibility of the Irish National Framework of Qualifications with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area.


This document sets out the Irish response in relation to the criteria and the procedures established in the report of the Bologna Framework Working group which was adopted by European Ministers for higher education in Bergen in May 2005.


The document has been agreed by the steering committee established for this purpose. The membership of the steering committee is as follows:

  • Sjur Bergan, Head of the Department of Higher Education and History Teaching, Council of Europe

  • Bryan Maguire, Higher Education and Training Awards Council

  • Frank McMahon, Dublin Institute of Technology (alternate, Dr. Tom Duff)

  • Jim Murray, Qualifications Authority

  • Seán Ó Foghlú, Qualifications Authority, Chairperson of Steering Committee

  • Lewis Purser, Irish Universities Association

  • Robert Wagenaar, University of Groningen, joint co-ordinator of the Tuning project.


An initial draft of the document was published in June 2006 with a view to the consideration of the draft by stakeholders. On behalf of the steering committee, the Qualifications Authority distributed this draft to stakeholders. The steering committee also hosted a workshop on 3 October 2006 in the Davenport Hotel in Dublin. Stakeholders were invited to make submissions in advance of the planned workshop. The document has now been adopted by the relevant Irish authorities.


Summary


This document verifies the compatibility of the Irish National Framework of Qualifications with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area which was established in May 2005.


Ireland has been invited by the chairperson of the Bologna Follow-Up Group Working Group on Qualifications Frameworks to undertake a pilot project of the self-certification of the Compatibility of the Irish National Framework of Qualifications with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area.


The document sets out the Irish response in relation to the criteria and the procedures established.


Criteria & Procedures


Criteria for verifying that national frameworks are compatible with the EHEA framework were set out in the report to Ministers in Bergen as follows:



  • “The national framework for higher education qualifications and the body or bodies responsible for its development are designated by the national

ministry with responsibility for higher education


  • There is a clear and demonstrable link between the qualifications in the

national framework and the cycle qualification descriptors of the European framework


  • The national framework and its qualifications are demonstrably based on

learning outcomes and the qualifications are linked to ECTS or ECTS compatible credits


  • The procedures for inclusion of qualifications in the national framework

are transparent


  • The national quality assurance system for higher education refer to the national framework of qualifications and are consistent with the Berlin Communiqué and any subsequent communiqué agreed by ministers in the Bologna Process




  • The national framework, and any alignment with the European framework, is referenced in all Diploma Supplements




  • The responsibilities of the domestic parties to the national framework are clearly determined and published.”


Procedures for verifying that national frameworks are compatible with the EHEA framework were set out in the report to Ministers in Bergen as follows:


  • “The competent national body/bodies shall certify the compatibility of the

national framework with the European framework.


  • The self-certification process shall include the stated agreement of the

quality assurance bodies in the country in question recognised through the Bologna Process


  • The self-certification process shall involve international experts




  • The self-certification and the evidence supporting it shall be published and shall address separately each of the criteria set out




  • The ENIC and NARIC networks shall maintain a public listing of States that have confirmed that they have completed the self-certification process




  • The completion of the self-certification process shall be noted on Diploma Supplements issued subsequently by showing the link between the national framework and the European framework”.



Process


The Authority established a steering group for the process, chaired by the Authority, with representatives of the Irish Universities Association, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Dublin Institute of Technology. In addition, following consultation with the Chairperson of the Bologna Qualifications Frameworks Working Group, Robert Wagenaar and Sjur Bergan joined the group. Robert Wagenaar of the University of Groningen is the joint co-ordinator of the Tuning project. Sjur Bergan is the Head of the Department of Higher Education and History Teaching at the Council of Europe (Directorate of School, Out-of-School and Higher Education Directorate General IV - Education, Culture and Cultural Heritage, Youth and Sport). Both were experts attached to the working group that prepared the report on the European Framework for the Ministers at Bergen.


A draft report on the verification process was discussed in summer and early autumn 2006 with a wider group of stakeholders, including representatives of higher education institutions, students, the Department of Education and Science, the Higher Education Authority, the Irish Universities Quality Board and social partners (including employer and trade union representatives).


Following this consultative process, the final verification report has been prepared by the steering committee and agreed among the Authority, the Irish Universities Association, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, the Dublin Institute of Technology and the Irish Universities Quality Board.


Conclusion


The document concludes that:

  • The Irish Higher Certificate is an intermediate qualification within the Bologna first cycle.

  • The Irish Ordinary Bachelor Degree is compatible with the Bologna first cycle descriptor. However, holders of Irish Ordinary Bachelor Degrees and their equivalent former awards do not generally immediately access programmes leading to second cycle awards.

  • The Irish Honours Bachelor Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna first cycle.

  • The Irish Higher Diploma is a qualification at the same level as completion of the first cycle, and is a qualification typically attained in a different field of learning than an initial first cycle award.

  • The Irish Masters Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna second cycle.

  • The Irish Post-Graduate Diploma is an intermediate qualification within the Bologna second cycle.

  • The Irish Doctoral Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna third cycle.


It is of note that there is an apparent inconsistency or paradox in the treatment of both the Ordinary Bachelor Degree and the Honours Bachelor Degree as first cycle qualifications compatible with the Bologna first cycle descriptor. The compatibility of both with the Bologna first cycle descriptor has been demonstrated in terms of the comparisons of the learning outcomes. Notwithstanding this, these awards are included at two different levels in the Irish framework, with different descriptors, and the Ordinary Bachelor Degree does not typically give access to Masters Degree (second cycle) programmes at present in Ireland.


Furthermore, it is considered that the Irish authorities should review this verification in the light of the implementation of the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area by other countries, particularly in the context of new progression arrangements being put in place. It is anticipated that such a review might take place when at least 20 countries have aligned their national frameworks to the European Framework.


^ Verification of the Criteria


Each of the criteria is set out below and addressed in turn.


Criterion 1 – The national framework for higher education qualifications and the body or bodies responsible for its development are designated by the national ministry with responsibility for higher education.


The National Qualifications Authority was established on a statutory basis, under the Qualifications (Education and Training Act) 1999 on 26 February, 2001. This legislation was proposed by the Minister for Education and Science, whose responsibilities include higher education. The legislation can be found here: http://www.nqai.ie/Qualifications%20(Education%20and%20Training)%20Act,%201999.pdf


Section 7 of the Qualifications Act requires the Authority “to establish and maintain a framework . . . for the development, recognition and award of qualifications in the State based on standards of knowledge, skill or competence”. Under section 8, the Authority is required to “establish policies and criteria on which the framework of qualifications shall be based.”


Building on this, the Authority has defined the National Framework of Qualifications to be:


"The single, nationally and internationally accepted entity, through which all learning achievements may be measured and related to each other in a coherent way and which defines the relationship between all education and training awards."


The Irish Framework was developed by the Authority in consultation with stakeholders and was launched in October 2003. It is a ten level framework, which captures all learning, from the very initial stages to the most advanced. Qualifications achieved in school, further education and training and higher education and training are all included in the Framework. Each of these qualifications is quality assured and every provider delivering programmes that lead to qualifications in the Framework is also quality assured


The Irish Framework includes award-types of different classes. Amongst these are the large or ‘major’ awards. In addition, qualifications are also awarded for smaller learning achievements which are known in the Framework as minor, special purpose and supplemental awards.


Sixteen major award-types have been established for the Irish Framework. Eight of these are higher education awards-types as follows:

  • The Higher Certificate at level 6.

  • The Ordinary Bachelor Degree at level 7.

  • The Honours Bachelor Degree at level 8.

  • The Higher Diploma at level 8.

  • The Masters Degree at level 9.

  • The Post-Graduate Diploma at level 9.

  • The Doctoral Degree at level 10.

  • The Higher Doctorate at level 10.


Each of these eight major award-types has a descriptor associated with it which describes the purpose, level, volume, learning outcomes, progression and transfer and articulation associated with it. Each of the award-types is understood to be different than the other award-types in an Irish context and has value and relevance for the labour market and for progression to further learning opportunities. Access to employment of different kinds is generally accepted across society with different levels and major award-types of higher education awards. This is underpinned in research undertaken annually by the Higher Education Authority which tracks the first destination (in employment or further learning) of graduates. It is also of note that the Bologna declaration set out that the degree awarded after the first cycle shall also be relevant to the European labour market as an appropriate level of qualification. In this regard, the research referred to above verifies such relevance.


Criterion 2 – There is a clear and demonstrable link between the qualifications in the national framework and the cycle qualification descriptors of the European framework


The Dublin descriptors which were adopted as part of the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area were developed as the Irish National Framework of Qualifications was being developed and implemented. Representatives of Irish authorities (the Department of Education and Science, the Qualifications Authority and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council) were involved in the development of the Dublin descriptors in a cross-country collaboration of the Joint Quality Initiative and sought to ensure their compatibility with Irish Framework descriptors. The first two Dublin descriptors of the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (the first and second cycle descriptors) were in place prior to the establishment of the Irish Framework. The third Dublin descriptor (the third cycle) was developed after the establishment of the Irish Framework.


It is also of note that the February 2005 Report of the Working Group on the establishment of the Bologna Framework also recommended the inclusion in the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area of a descriptor for the higher education short cycle (within or linked to the first cycle). This was also one of the Dublin descriptors which was developed after the establishment of the Irish Framework. In adopting the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area in Bergen in May 2005, Ministers agreed that the Framework would include three cycles including, within national contexts, the possibility of intermediate qualifications. For the purposes of this verification of the compatibility of the Irish Framework with the Bologna Framework, the Irish authorities have decided to include in the verification process the alignment with the higher education short cycle (as an intermediate qualification signalled by Ministers) and its descriptor given that the descriptor has much agreement across Europe in the context of the work of the Joint Quality Initiative and the recommendations of the Bologna working group.


Detailed background work has been undertaken analysing the outcomes in the Irish Framework and comparing these with the cycle descriptors. This is attached at appendix 1. It is considered that there are clear and demonstrable links between the descriptors for particular major-award types in the Irish Framework and cycle qualification descriptors in the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area.


In the Lisbon Recognition Convention, the concept of substantial difference has been developed. The concept of substantial difference has to date related to comparing two individual qualifications, or to comparing an individual qualification to a generic type of qualification. To date, the concept has not generally related to comparing two generic descriptors for types of qualifications. However, it is considered that this concept is relevant to the consideration of the clear and demonstrable link between qualifications and national frameworks and the cycle qualification descriptors of the European framework. Accordingly, it is suggested that there are no substantial differences between certain descriptors for major award-types in the Irish National Framework of Qualifications and the cycle descriptors. This is set out in more detail below:

  • The outcomes in the descriptors of the Irish Higher Certificate (at level 6 in the Irish Framework) and the higher education short cycle (within or linked to the first cycle), developed by the Joint Quality Initiative as part of the Bologna process generally correspond, within the limits of comparison possible across the two sets of strands. Thus it is considered that the Irish Higher Certificate is an intermediate qualification within the first cycle.

  • Comparison of outcomes in the first cycle descriptor and the Ordinary Bachelor Degree descriptor (at level 7 in the Irish Framework) supports the contention that the Irish Ordinary Bachelor Degree is a first cycle qualification. Furthermore, the Ordinary Bachelor descriptor does not correspond with the descriptor for the short cycle and there are substantial differences between the two descriptors.

  • Comparison of outcomes in the first cycle descriptor and the Honours Bachelor Degree descriptor (at level 8 in the Irish Framework) supports the contention that the Irish Honours Bachelor Degree is a first cycle qualification, although in some respects the outcomes go beyond those required for a first cycle qualification.

  • Comparison of outcomes in the first cycle descriptor and the Higher Diploma descriptor (at level 8 in the Irish Framework) supports the contention that the Irish Higher Diploma is a qualification at the same level as completion of the first cycle.

  • Comparison of outcomes in the second cycle descriptor and Masters Degree descriptor (at level 9 in the Irish Framework) supports the contention that the Irish Masters Degree is a second cycle qualification.

  • Comparison of the outcomes of the second cycle descriptor and the Post-Graduate Diploma descriptor (at level 9 in the Irish Framework) supports the contention that the Irish Post-Graduate Diploma is an intermediate qualification within the second cycle.

  • The third cycle descriptor and the Irish Doctoral Degree descriptor (at level 10 in the Irish Framework) are broadly similar in content, though the Irish descriptor appears somewhat broader in intention. Both focus on the creation of new knowledge and allude to the broader obligations such a function brings with it.


While the material above describes in detail comparisons between the descriptors for qualifications in the Irish Framework and the cycle descriptors of the Bologna Framework, it is also the case that there are other issues which are relevant to verifying the compatibility of the Irish Framework with the Bologna Framework. These issues relate to access and progression to programmes leading to Irish qualifications within the cycles and leading to European and other qualifications. They also relate to issues such as the credit associated with Irish programmes leading to Framework awards and the general format of programmes which is encouraged in Ireland. Collectively, these issues provide an important context for elucidating how Irish qualifications are perceived and understood both within and without Ireland. Detailed background work has been undertaken on these issues and it is attached at appendix 2.


A summary of the typical arrangements for progression are as follows:

  • Entry to a programme leading to a Higher Certificate is generally for school leavers and holders of equivalent qualifications.

  • Entry to a programme leading to an ab-initio Ordinary Bachelor Degree is typically for school leavers and those with equivalent qualifications. In addition, there are 1-year add-on Ordinary Bachelor Degree programmes for holders of the Higher Certificate.

  • Entry to a programme leading to an Honours Bachelor degree is typically for high-achieving school leavers or holders of equivalent qualifications. In addition, there are typically programmes of 1 year duration leading to Honours Bachelor Degrees for holders of Ordinary Bachelor Degrees.

  • Entry to a programme leading to a Higher Diploma is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees but can also be for holders of Ordinary Bachelor Degrees. It is of note that the Higher Diploma is typically in a different field of learning than the initial award.

  • Entry to a programme leading to a taught Masters degree is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees. Also in some cases, entry to such programmes can be permitted for those with Ordinary Bachelor Degrees or equivalent who have some relevant work experience. Furthermore, in some cases, entry to such programmes is permitted for people with extensive experience.

  • Entry to a programme leading to a research Masters Degree is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees, typically with a high classification attained – first or second class honours.

  • Entry to a programme leading to a Post-Graduate Diploma is typically for holders of Honours Bachelors Degrees but can also be for holders of Ordinary Bachelor Degrees.

  • Entry to a programme leading to a Doctoral Degree is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees. The general model is that a holder of an Honours Bachelor Degree with a high classification enters initially onto a Masters research programme, and transfers on to a Doctoral programme after one year on the Masters research programme. In total, the number of years in the programme would generally be at least 3 years. There is also access to research Doctoral Degrees for holders of Masters Degrees whether taught Masters or research Masters.


In conclusion, it is considered that:

  • The Irish Higher Certificate is an intermediate qualification within the Bologna first cycle.

  • The Irish Ordinary Bachelor Degree is compatible with the Bologna first cycle descriptor. However, holders of Irish Ordinary Bachelor Degrees and their equivalent former awards do not generally immediately access programmes leading to second cycle awards.

  • The Irish Honours Bachelor Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna first cycle.

  • The Irish Higher Diploma is a qualification at the same level as completion of the first cycle, and is a qualification typically attained in a different field of learning than an initial first cycle award.

  • The Irish Masters Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna second cycle.

  • The Irish Post-Graduate Diploma is an intermediate qualification within the Bologna second cycle.

  • The Irish Doctoral Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna third cycle.


It is of note that there is an apparent inconsistency or paradox in the treatment of both the Ordinary Bachelor Degree and the Honours Bachelor Degree as first cycle qualifications compatible with the Bologna first cycle descriptor. The compatibility of both with the Bologna first cycle descriptor has been demonstrated in terms of the comparisons of the learning outcomes. Notwithstanding this, these awards are included at two different levels in the Irish framework, with different descriptors, and the Ordinary Bachelor Degree does not typically give access to Masters Degree (second cycle) programmes at present in Ireland.


This implies a recognition that Ireland has two sub-levels within the first cycle – the minimum attainment, represented by the Ordinary Bachelor Degree and a higher attainment with more advanced learning outcomes, represented by the Honours Bachelor Degree. The distinction between the Ordinary and Honours Bachelor Degree has a long history in Ireland, and is intended to serve the interests and needs of learners. In this connection, the Ordinary Bachelor Degree can serve either as an exit qualification for those learners who have not attained the full set of learning outcomes associated with the Honours Bachelor Degree; or as a key staging post in integrated programmes designed to bring learners from Level 6 through to Level 8. In addition, many Ordinary Bachelor Degrees are purposely designed to meet the education and training requirements of particular occupations.


Criterion 3 – The national framework and its qualifications are demonstrably based on learning outcomes and the qualifications are linked to ECTS or ECTS compatible credits


The Irish Framework is required in law to be based on learning outcomes (or as the legislation states, “standards of knowledge, skill and competence”) – this is set out in the material provided for in relation to criterion 1.


The descriptors for the major award-types in the framework are based on strands and sub-strands of learning outcomes as follows:


  • knowledge: breadth and kind

  • know-how and skill: range and selectivity

  • competence: context, role, learning to learn and insight


The descriptors for the major award-types are included in appendix 4 of the Authority’s determinations document: http://www.nqai.ie/determinations.pdf.


Irish higher education awarding bodies have agreed to use the descriptors of the higher education award-types as the descriptors of the awards that they make.


Following the establishment of the Irish Framework, the Authority – in partnership with education and training stakeholders, through its Technical Advisory Group on Credit – has been working towards the development of a national approach to credit. A twin track approach has been pursued (one for further education and training, the other for higher education and training), as the way forward on credit is more clearly signposted for higher education and training at this time within the context of the Bologna process and the general acceptance and use of ECTS. As part of this process, the Authority's Technical Advisory Group on Credit (Higher Education Track) has produced a set of ‘Principles and operational guidelines for the implementation of a national approach to credit in Irish higher education and training’. These ‘Principles and operational guidelines’ have been adopted by the Authority. The operational guidelines recommend that a typical credit volume or credit range be established for each major award-type from levels 6-9 in the Framework in line with existing ECTS conventions and current practice in the Irish higher education system as follows:

Level 6 Higher Certificate = 120 credits

Level 7 Ordinary Bachelor Degree = 180 credits

Level 8 Honours Bachelor Degree = 180-240 credits

Level 8 Higher Diploma = 60 credits

Level 9 Masters Degree (Taught) = 60-120 credits

Level 9 Postgraduate Diploma = 60 credits


Irish Doctoral Degrees and Masters Degrees (by research) do not usually have credit values assigned. However, Masters Degrees (by research) typically have a 2 year duration which would equate with an appropriate number of credits. Institutional practice on assigning credit to professional doctorates differs. National discussions on developing a possible credit range for doctorates, which could include professional doctorates, are at an early stage.


All Irish higher education awarding bodies are operating within these arrangements. The Principles and operational guidelines are available here: http://www.nqai.ie/en/Publications/File1,843,en.doc


Criterion 4 – The procedures for inclusion of qualifications in the national framework are transparent


Under section 8, the Authority is required to “establish policies and criteria on which the framework of qualifications shall be based.” The initial Framework policies and criteria have been adopted by the Authority and are available here: http://www.nqai.ie/polandcrit.pdf


Chapter 6 of these policies sets out the process for the inclusion of awards in the Framework as follows:

  • “It is the role of the Authority to determine the level indicators and the award-type descriptors. These will form the basis for the setting of standards for named awards by the Further Education and Training Awards Council, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Dublin Institute of Technology.




  • In relation to school and university awards, the aim is that the level indicators and the award-type descriptors in the framework will be developed in a way that will facilitate the inclusion of these.”


The Authority has also adopted policies and criteria on the inclusion in, or alignment with, the National Framework of Qualifications of the awards (or the learning outcomes associated with them) of certain awarding bodies which are not already recognised through the Framework under section 8 of the Qualifications Act. These policies and criteria are available here:

http://www.nqai.ie/en/FrameworkDevelopment/File1,1683,en.doc


These make provision for the recognition through the Framework of


  • The awards of Irish bodies which make awards on a statutory basis (where the body’s awards are not yet in the Framework and where the awards cannot be withdrawn).

  • The learning outcomes associated with the awards of certain Irish bodies which do not make awards on a statutory basis but which recognise the attainment by learners of learning outcomes in a formal way associated with the legal regulation of the operation of a profession or of a professional title by such bodies.

  • The awards of certain bodies from outside the State which make awards in Ireland


Awards made to learners in Ireland by awarding bodies based in other countries are not included in the Irish framework, but they may be formally aligned. A policy published in July 2006 provides for the alignment of such awards on the basis of best fit of learning outcomes to levels or award-types in the Irish national framework. Criteria include legal authority to make the awards in the home country; inclusion in the national framework or equivalent in the home country; and external quality assurance in the home country which is also applied to the awards made in Ireland. The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council review applications for the alignment of higher education awards under this process.


It is also of note that under the Qualifications Act, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council has the power to delegate to institutes of technology (other than the Dublin Institute of Technology which already was an awarding body) the power to make awards and that, to date, the power to make some awards has been delegated to all of the institutes of technology.


Accordingly, Irish higher education awarding bodies are now using the descriptors of the higher education award-types as the descriptors of the awards that they make and it is a matter for them to have processes in place for their own award-making. These are detailed further in the material provided for in relation to criterion 5 below.


It is also the case that as the Framework is implemented, many existing awards will no longer be granted. Also, many learners hold Irish awards that were part of former systems and have already ceased to be made. It is necessary to map these ‘existing and former’ awards (sometimes referred to as ‘legacy’ awards) onto the Framework, so that holders of such awards are not disadvantaged. The task of working out the placement of existing and former awards is well advanced. The Authority has agreed with two higher education and training awarding bodies – the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Dublin Institute of Technology – to the placement of a range of existing and former awards. Former awards may also be compatible with the Bologna Framework but this issue has not been systematically tested. These awards were designed on different principles. For example, while they may have represented the achievement of learning outcomes they were not specified in such terms.


Criterion 5 – The national quality assurance systems for higher education refer to the national framework of qualifications and are consistent with the Berlin Communiqué and any subsequent communiqué agreed by ministers in the Bologna Process


There are three separate, but linked, systems for quality assurance in Irish higher education in place for each of the following:

  • The universities and associated colleges

  • The Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the associated institutes of technology and providers within the independent sector

  • The Dublin Institute of Technology

In 2004 Irish stakeholders established the Irish Higher Education Quality Network to:

  • Provide a forum for discussion of quality assurance issues amongst the principal national stakeholders involved in the quality assurance of higher education and training in Ireland

  • Provide a forum for the dissemination of best practice in quality assurance amongst practitioners and policy makers involved in the Irish higher education and training sector

  • Endeavour, where appropriate, to develop common national principles and approaches to quality assurance in Irish higher education and training.

The membership consists of the principal stakeholders - practitioners, policy makers and students - involved in quality assurance in Irish higher education and training, as set out below:

  • Union of Students in Ireland

  • Irish Universities Quality Board

  • Council of Directors of the Institutes of Technology

  • Irish Universities Association

  • Dublin Institute of Technology

  • Higher Education Colleges Association

  • Higher Education Authority

  • Higher Education and Training Awards Council

  • National Qualifications Authority of Ireland

  • Department of Education and Science

The work of the Network takes place in the context of the implementation of the Irish Framework in which all of its members are involved. Furthermore, the Network reviewed the legislative requirements and procedures for quality assurance for the different institutions in the Irish higher education sector and in May 2005 identified a set of common underpinning principles of Good Practice The principles are agreed by the Network as consonant with the legislative arrangements that govern quality assurance in the Irish Higher Education sector, and as conforming to the principles outlined in the Berlin Communiqué, and to the ‘Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area’, as developed by the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), in co-operation with the European University Association (EUA), the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) and the National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB) and as adopted by Ministers at Bergen in May 2005. The principles are available here: http://www.iheqn.ie/_fileupload/publications/File808en.doc

The universities are in the process of completing the implementation of the Framework. In December 2005, the Qualifications Authority and the Registrars of the Irish universities agreed a policy approach regarding the completion of the implementation of the National Framework of Qualifications in the university sector. The agreed approach focuses, in particular, on the inclusion of the universities sub-degree and other smaller awards in the Framework, and sets outs an agreed basis and process for their inclusion. The process is to be completed during the 2006/07 academic year. Further details are available here: http://www.nqai.ie/en/Publications/File,1183,en.doc

The Irish Universities Quality Board has been established by decision of the governing authorities of the Irish Universities

    • to increase the level of inter-university co-operation in developing their quality assurance procedures and processes, in line with best international systems

    • in representing their approach nationally and internationally as a unique quality model appropriate to the needs of the Irish Universities

    • to facilitate the conduct of reviews of the effectiveness of quality assurance procedures and their outcomes

The Irish Universities Quality Board is in the process of updating the Framework for Quality in Irish Universities and this will include the formal incorporation of the Irish Framework. This information is available here: www.iuqb.ie.


The Higher Education and Training Awards Council has incorporated the Irish Framework in its policies and criteria for setting the standards of awards, for making awards, for delegating authority to make awards and for quality assurance. Furthermore, in December 2005, a review of the performance by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council of its functions, incorporating the extent to which the Council complies with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area, was commenced by the Qualifications Authority. Information on the review is available here: http://www.hetac.ie/publications.cfm?sID=32 . The review was completed in July 2006.


The Dublin Institute of Technology has incorporated the Irish Framework into its quality assurance procedures. In March 2005, a review of the effectiveness of the quality assurance procedures of the Institute was commenced by the European University Association, on behalf of the Authority and the review process was completed in June 2006. This information is available here: http://www.nqai.ie/en/PoliciesandProcedures/


Criterion 6 – The national framework, and any alignment with the European framework, is referenced in all Diploma Supplements


The Irish Framework is already referred to in Irish Diploma Supplements. In addition, the cycles of the Bologna process are referred to and this reference was in place prior to the adoption of the European Framework. A copy of the existing Irish template for the Diploma Supplement is available here: http://www.europass.ie/europass/WhatisEuropass/DiplomaSupplement/File,1175,en.pdf


It is the intention of the Irish authorities to review the existing template when the verification of the compatibility of the Irish Framework with the Bologna Framework has been completed.


Criterion 7 – The responsibilities of the domestic parties to the national framework are clearly determined and published.


These are referred to above. These include the responsibility of the Authority for developing the Framework and for establishing policies and criteria, as well as the individual responsibilities of higher education awarding bodies.


It is also of note that a review of the implementation and impact of the Irish National Framework of Qualifications is planned – it is among the responsibilities of the Qualifications Authority to do so. Should any review result in major changes in the Framework, it would be necessary to review the alignment set out in this document.


^ Verification of the Procedures


Each of the procedures is set out below and addressed in turn.


Procedure 1 – The competent national body/bodies shall certify the compatibility of the national framework with the European framework.


The verification process is considered important by Irish authorities.


The Authority established a steering group for the process, chaired by the Authority, with representatives of the Irish Universities Association, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Dublin Institute of Technology. In addition, following consultation with the Chairperson of the Bologna Qualifications Frameworks Working Group, Robert Wagenaar and Sjur Bergan joined the group. Robert Wagenaar of the University of Groningen is the joint co-ordinator of the Tuning project. Sjur Bergan is the Head of the Department of Higher Education and History Teaching at the Council of Europe (Directorate of School, Out-of-School and Higher Education Directorate General IV - Education, Culture and Cultural Heritage, Youth and Sport).


A draft report on the verification process was discussed in summer and early autumn 2006 with a wider group of stakeholders, including representatives of higher education institutions, students the Department of Education and Science, the Higher Education Authority, the Irish Universities Quality Board and social partners (including employer and trade union representatives).


Following this consultation, a final verification report was produced by the steering group. This report has been agreed by the Authority, the Irish Universities Association, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, the Dublin Institute of Technology, the Higher Education Authority and the Irish Universities Quality Board.


Procedure 2 – The self-certification process shall include the stated agreement of the quality assurance bodies in the country in question recognised through the Bologna Process


This report on the verification of the compatibility of the Irish National Framework of Qualifications has been agreed, inter alia, by the Qualifications Authority, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, the Higher Education Authority and the Irish Universities Quality Board. These are the four quality assurance bodies in Ireland of relevance to the higher education sector and the Bologna process.


Procedure 3 – The self-certification process shall involve international experts


See the response to procedure 1 above. Robert Wagenaar and Sjur Bergan have been part of the steering group managing the verification process.


Procedure 4 – The self-certification and the evidence supporting it shall be published and shall address separately each of the criteria set out


On completion of the process, this report will be published on the website of the Authority and in hard copy format.


^ Procedure 5 – The ENIC and NARIC networks shall maintain a public listing of States that have confirmed that they have completed the self-certification process


The Authority is the Irish ENIC/NARIC and this document will be published on the website of the Authority. The Authority will inform the networks when the process has been completed.


Procedure 6 – The completion of the self-certification process shall be noted on Diploma Supplements issued subsequently by showing the link between the national framework and the European framework.


It is the intention of the Irish authorities to review the existing Diploma Supplement template when the verification of the compatibility of the Irish Framework with the Bologna Framework has been completed.


Conclusion


The report concludes that:

  • The Irish Higher Certificate is an intermediate qualification within the Bologna first cycle.

  • The Irish Ordinary Bachelor Degree is compatible with the Bologna first cycle descriptor. However, holders of Irish Ordinary Bachelor Degrees and their equivalent former awards do not generally immediately access programmes leading to second cycle awards.

  • The Irish Honours Bachelor Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna first cycle.

  • The Irish Higher Diploma is a qualification at the same level as completion of the first cycle, and is a qualification typically attained in a different field of learning than an initial first cycle award.

  • The Irish Masters Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna second cycle.

  • The Irish Post-Graduate Diploma is an intermediate qualification within the Bologna second cycle.

  • The Irish Doctoral Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna third cycle.


It is of note that there is an apparent inconsistency or paradox in the treatment of both the Ordinary Bachelor Degree and the Honours Bachelor Degree as first cycle qualifications compatible with the Bologna first cycle descriptor. The compatibility of both with the Bologna first cycle descriptor has been demonstrated in terms of the comparisons of the learning outcomes. Notwithstanding this, these awards are included at two different levels in the Irish framework, with different descriptors, and the Ordinary Bachelor Degree does not typically give access to Masters Degree (second cycle) programmes at present in Ireland.


Furthermore, it is considered that the Irish authorities should review this verification in the light of the implementation of the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area by other countries, particularly in the context of new progression arrangements being put in place. It is anticipated that such a review might take place when at least 20 countries have aligned their national frameworks to the European Framework.


On completion of the process, this report will be published on the website of the Authority and in hard copy format, and the Authority will inform the ENIC/NARIC networks that the process has been completed.

References


Bologna Working Group on Qualifications Frameworks, ^ A Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Educations Area (February, 2005): downloadable at http://www.bologna-bergen2005.no/Docs/00-Main_doc/050218_QF_EHEA.pdf


Diploma Supplement: Irish National Template, downloadable at http://www.europass.ie/europass/WhatisEuropass/DiplomaSupplement/File,1175,en.pdf


Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999 [Ireland]: downloadable at http://www.nqai.ie/Qualifications%20(Education%20and%20Training)%20Act,%201999.pdf


National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, ^ Determinations for the Outline National Framework of Qualifications (October, 2003): downloadable at http://www.nqai.ie/determinations.pdf.


National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, Policies and Criteria for the establishment of the National Framework of Qualifications (October, 2003): downloadable at http://www.nqai.ie/polandcrit.pdf


National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, ^ Policies and Criteria for the Inclusion in, or Alignment with, the National Framework of Qualifications of the Awards of Certain Awarding Bodies (July, 2006): downloadable at

http://www.nqai.ie/en/FrameworkDevelopment/File1,1683,en.doc


National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, ^ Principles and operational guidelines for the implementation of a national approach to credit in Irish higher education and training (first published on the Authority’s website, November 2004; printed, July 2006): downloadable at http://www.nqai.ie/en/Publications/File1,843,en.doc


National Qualifications Authority of Ireland,^ Towards the completion of Framework implementation in the universities – a discussion paper (January, 2006): downloadable at http://www.nqai.ie/en/Publications/File,1183,en.doc


Irish Higher Education Quality Network ^ Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement in Irish Higher Education and Training: I. General Principles of Good Practice;

II. Principles of Good Practice for the conduct of Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement Reviews: downloadable at http://www.iheqn.ie/_fileupload/publications/File808en.doc


Documentation relating to the review of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council is downloadable at http://www.hetac.ie/publications.cfm?sID=32


Documentation relating to the review of effectiveness of the quality assurance procedures of the Dublin Institute of Technology is downloadable at http://www.nqai.ie/en/PoliciesandProcedures/


Documentation relating to the Irish Universities Quality Board is downloadable at www.iuqb.ie

Appendix 1




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