What Is the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning and Why Does It Matter?

4 April 2024/Study

Context of the study

The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is a European Union (EU) transparency tool for qualifications. Initiated in 2008 and reviewed in 2017, the EQF enables the comparison of qualifications from one country to qualifications from another country at specific levels. The EQF aims to improve the overall transparency, comparability, and portability of qualifications and to facilitate lifelong learning. It serves as a tool for a better understanding of qualifications acquired across diverse governance settings and countries. The implementation of the EQF is governed by the EQF Advisory Group (AG) which is composed of the Commission, Cedefop, ETF, Council of Europe, national representatives and other stakeholders. In addition, EQF National Coordination Points (NCPs) provide support to national authorities and work to inform relevant stakeholders about the EQF.

The updated 2017 EQF Recommendation aimed to enhance the EQF’s implementation framework with specific recommendations for its continued implementation. Building on its 2008 predecessor, the 2017 Recommendation sought to further improve the transparency, comparability and portability of qualifications, facilitate lifelong learning by linking formal, non-formal, and informal learning and better supporting the validation of learning outcomes across different settings. Finally, the recommendation aimed to modernise education and training systems to increase employability, mobility, and the social integration of learners and workers.

The 2017 EQF Recommendation is linked to and aligned with many broader EU-level policy initiatives. Some of these include the European Pillar of Social Rights, whose Action Plan of March 2021 highlights an individual’s right to access quality education across their lifespan; the European Education Area (EEA) by 2025 which aims for improved cross-border mobility and cooperation in education and training; and the European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience which builds links between EU policymaking in skills, higher education and research and development.

Objectives of the study

In light of this context, in 2022, the European Commission initiated the study to support the evaluation of the implementation of the 2017 EQF Recommendation (from 1 June 2017 to 1 June 2022) in the 38 participating EQF countries, made up of the 27 Member States, the United Kingdom (until 1 February 2020) four EFTA countries, five candidate and two potential candidate countries. Following the Better Regulation Guidelines, the evaluation assessed the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, EU added value, and relevance of the 2017 EQF Recommendation.

The work was led by Ockham IPS in cooperation with Visionary Analytics, as well as national experts, encompassing qualitative and quantitative methods, including desk research, and extensive stakeholder consultations through interviews, surveys, and workshops.

The study contributes to the wider policy debate surrounding the role of the EQF in supporting the transparency and recognition of skills and qualifications and points to areas of success and those which need further attention to strengthen its positive effects. In particular, the study contributes to a better understanding of the importance of the EQF to various stakeholder groups and its relation to other instruments which will improve the synergies between them, as well as provide a footing for strategic discussions on future development.

Results of the study

The study highlighted the significant progress of EQF implementation, however, there were several identified challenges that remain. The key findings of the evaluation of the 2017 EQF Recommendation include:

  • There has been a strengthening of the EQF and a boost to its implementation since 2017, particularly in relation to referencing of National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) to the EQF. The EQF is widely accepted in institutions working with qualifications and a procedure was established to compare the EQF to third-country qualifications.
  • The EQF contributes to increased transparency of qualifications, especially in the formal domain. Further efforts are needed in NQFs including qualifications awarded outside formal settings, such as learning at work or during leisure time.
  • The EQF led to national discussions, cooperation, and increased understanding of other qualifications systems and national debates on the modernising of education and training. However, awareness of the EQF among the wider public remains limited.
  • The EQF indirectly supports lifelong learning, sparking NQF revisions which were in some instances linked to national lifelong learning policies.
  • The EQF effects on employability, mobility, and social integration of workers and learners are challenging to discern, given the external factors at play and that the EQF is not well known to the wider public.
  • The EQF is seen as an international benchmark and has even inspired the development of regional and national qualifications frameworks in third countries.
  • The EQF contributes to a better understanding and fairer recognition of non-EQF third-country qualifications, to some extent.
  • The benefits of the implementation of the EQF outweigh its limited costs and its implementation is regarded by stakeholders as being largely efficient.
  • The EQF plays an important role in the Europass framework, providing information on qualifications and descriptions of national education and training systems.
  • EU intervention played a vital role in the positive effects of the EQF, enabling the development and cooperation of a common approach to qualifications.
  • The relevance of the EQF in increasing the transparency of qualifications has been demonstrated, with more focus placed on the transparency of skills and third-country qualifications.
  • The EQF offers flexibility, but more guidance in responding to emerging needs, such as the integration of micro-credentials into qualifications frameworks, accommodating qualifications from non-formal and informal settings within NQFs, and levelling of international qualifications.

The study also identified several lessons learned from the implementation of the 2017 EQF Recommendation:

  • The existing structure is well-equipped to support transparency, comparability, and portability. Efforts should be made by Member States to update referencing reports and link databases and registers to the Europass platform.
  • The EQF mainly acts as a transparency tool for qualifications in the formal domain. Efforts are needed to integrate qualifications beyond this into NQFs.
  • While the EQF is integral to other EU policies and tools, synergies should be strengthened to facilitate a more comprehensive approach to skills and qualifications across Europe.
  • The EQF has clear practical value for stakeholders working with qualifications, but enhancing public awareness is essential to improve the wider public’s (e.g. workers, employers, and students) understanding of the EQF’s purpose and benefits.


The evaluation of the 2017 EQF Recommendation underscores the continued relevance of the EQF and the importance of ongoing efforts to strengthen and promote its use. The EQF serves as a cornerstone of transparency and recognition in the evolving landscape of skills and qualifications. The recommendations and lessons learned from this study can support EQF stakeholders, policymakers, and practitioners involved in education, training, and employment to build upon its successes and advance EQF and wider EU policy goals of lifelong learning, mobility, social integration, and employment across the EU and beyond.

If you would like to learn more about the study and its outcomes, you can read the Final Report here: External independent supporting study

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