The EQF was adopted by the EU in 23 April 2008 and approaches its first anniversary in a few days time. Time to reflect a bit on what it has brought to us.
The intention of the EQF is to make qualifications (as the name says) better comparable between member states’ education and recognition systems. It disects human capacities into three major areas: knowledge, skills and competences. For those wondering what the difference between skills and competence is, here is a rough guide to the working definitions:
Knowledge comprises data and facts, principles and theories
Skills are cognitive and/or practical abilities, this includes creativity, dexterity, language and communication skills, intuitiveness and logic.
Competences comprises the ability to act independently and responsibly
These three areas are divided into levels 1 to 8 (basic to expert), but there is no level 0 (no knowledge of the area). The good thing about the framework is that it can be applied to any domain or discipline. Equally, it is meant to cover every area of learning: formal education, professional and lifelong learning.
Adoption in real organisations or institutions has been slow to say the least. One reason for this is that in practice the framework is too detailed. Studies into corporate activities in the area of identifying staff levels of competences revealed that the middle management, who are the most likely to engage in such measuring, would suffice with three levels instead of eight.
Another criticism I would like to level against the EQF is its notion of innovation. Indeed, already from level 5 upwards there is a strong emphasis on innovation and change. This is not really surprising because we live in a changing world, where adaptability and innovation are valued highly. Higher, in fact, than experience – which used to have a higher rating (and still has) in traditional industry.
Evidence for this emphasis are terms like “boundaries of knowledge”, “advanced knowledge”, “forefront of knowledge”, “most advanced frontier”, “innovation”, “new strategic approaches”. All of these occur as critical elements in the upper levels of the Framework. In implementation this would mean that you can’t advance to the top expert layer without it.
Still, I am sceptical about this view. Take the ‘customer’ view and ask yourself this question: Would you like your appendix removed by a surgeon who’s removed 1000 appendices, or rather one who tells you “let’s try something really new today…”. Similarly, I am happier being a passenger on board a plane with a captain who’s done hundreds plus hours on a Boing 737 than with a helicopter pilot who’s being innovative, or on a spaceship to Mars. In some cases, I believe, experience outweighs innovation. Frankly, I don’t like living the life of a guineapig!