Criteria and procedures of the reference quality

The EQF recommendation encourages member states to reference the national qualifications levels to the EQF levels by 2010. In order to ensure the evolvement of the process in a reliable and understandable manner for the stakeholders of all the countries involved in the process, the EQF Advisory Group has agreed upon the procedures and criteria necessary for managing this process.
          
The aim of these criteria and procedures is to ensure that information and documentation that are made accessible to the public are approved by competent authorities and they are appropriate, transparent, comparable and reliable. Such an emphasis shows that the success of the EQF implementation depends on whether the countries are able to reference their qualifications and levels to the EQF levels in a justified, clear and reasonable way. It means that people who are not familiar with the qualifications in a member state would be able to assess whether or not the information is correct.

Since the level descriptions of the EstQF are identical with those of the EQF, high quality referencing of the types of qualifications from the four sub-frameworks to the EstQF is critical. Therefore the criteria for referencing the EstQF to the EQF are defined in terms of the placement of qualifications to the EstQF:

1) The responsibilities and/or legal competence of all relevant national bodies involved in the referencing process, including the National Coordination Points (NCP), are clearly determined and published by the competent public authorities.
The Estonian Qualifications Authority (Kutsekoda) was nominated as the NCP for the EQF implementation in Estonia with the 26.02.2010 decision of the Ministry of Education and Research. This information is presented on the Kutsekoda website www.kutsekoda.ee. In order to ensure the involvement of all key stakeholders in these processes, a broad-based steering committee was established with the 4.10.2010 order of the minister of education and research. The steering committee includes representatives of the Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the State Chancellery, Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kutsekoda, Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions, Public Servants Trade Unions Central Organization TALO, Estonian Association of Student Unions, Estonian Association of Pupils’ Unions, Estonian ENIC/NARIC Centre. Initially, a separate working group was established to prepare the Bologna self-certification report. With the 9.08.2011 order of the minister of education and research the steering committee for the EQF referencing was amended to include additional representatives of the higher education sector.
            
2) There is a clear and demonstrable link between the types of qualification descriptions and the level descriptors of the EstQF.
According to the Occupational Qualifications Act, the EstQF has 8 levels, the 1st of which is the lowest and the 8th is the highest. The descriptions of the EstQF qualification levels are identical to the EQF level descriptions. The sub-frameworks for general education qualifications, VET qualifications, higher education qualifications, and occupational qualifications contain more detailed and specific descriptors and rules for designing and awarding qualifications. The EstQF levels are assigned to general education qualifications (4 types of qualifications), VET qualifications (4 types of qualifications), higher education qualifications (4 types of qualifications), and occupational qualifications. Learning outcomes (LOs) based descriptions of these types of qualifications have been compared with level descriptions of the EstQF and the best fit found.
            
3) The qualifications are based on the principle and objective of learning outcomes and linked to arrangements for validation of non-formal and informal learning and, where these exist, to credit systems.
The qualifications of general education, VET, and higher education are described in terms of LOs. For all the aforementioned qualification types, the principles of recognition of non-formal and informal learning are defined in the relevant regulations of the Government of the Republic (National Curriculum for Basic Schools, Simplified National Curriculum for Basic Schools, National Curriculum for Upper Secondary Schools, Standard of VET, and Standard of Higher Education). On the basis of these principles the awarding institutions shall establish the procedures for RPL. In the system of higher education, a credit point system, which conforms to the ECTS, is used. In the VET system, a credit point system based on a study week is used, and transition to a credit point system for VET that conforms to the ECVET is planned.
                
4) The procedures for inclusion of qualifications in the EstQF or for describing the place of qualifications in the EstQF are transparent.
Referencing general education, VET and higher education qualifications to the EstQF levels has been laid down in the relevant regulations of the Government of the Republic (National Curriculum for Basic Schools, Simplified National Curriculum for Basic Schools, National Curriculum for Upper Secondary Schools, Standard of VET, and Standard of Higher Education). Representatives of stakeholders were involved in developing all of the aforementioned regulations. The EstQF levels of occupational qualifications are determined in the process of developing the corresponding occupational qualification standards and laid down by a corresponding decision of the sector skills council (SSC).
       
The EstQF shall include qualifications that meet the following criteria: they are defined in a LOs based qualification standard (curriculum or occupational qualification standard), meeting the requirements of the national framework standard(s) (if applicable); they are awarded by a state recognised institution (educational institution or an institution awarding occupational qualifications (IAOQ)).
                  
5) The national quality assurance system(s) for education and training refer(s) to the EstQF and are consistent with the relevant European principles and guidelines.
In the general education system, a quality assurance system stipulated by the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act has been implemented. In general education schools as awarders of qualification, self-assessment systems are created, the effectiveness of which is regularly assessed. External evaluation of general education qualifications includes state examinations in the end of upper secondary school.
           
In the VET system, a quality assurance system stipulated by the Vocational Educational Institutions Act has been implemented. In the VET institutions as awarders of qualification, self-assessment systems are created, the effectiveness of which is regularly assessed externally. External evaluation of VET qualifications includes assessment by the relevant IAOQ. Implementation of a new quality assurance system for VET qualifications, following the principles of European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for VET is in a pilot phase. In the new system the duties of a quality agency are carried out by the Estonian Higher Education Quality Agency (EKKA).
                
In the higher education system, a comprehensive quality assurance system that follows the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) has been implemented based on the Universities Act and the Institutions of Professional Higher Education Act. The duties of a quality agency are carried out by the EKKA. The responsibilities of the EKKA and the main principles of external quality assurance are in full accordance with the ESG.
In higher education institutions as awarders of qualifications, comprehensive quality assurance systems have been created. The effectiveness of internal quality assurance systems will be assessed regularly in the process of institutional accreditation that was piloted in 2011 and will have its full functionality since 2012.
                       
The principles and procedures for ensuring the quality in the occupational qualifications system have been laid down by the Occupational Qualifications Act, which follows the requirements of ISO 17924 (General requirements for certification of persons). Quality assurance in the occupational qualifications system involves: quality assurance of granting IAOQ the right to award occupational qualifications, quality assurance of occupational qualification standards, assessment of the quality of assessing the competence of applicants by the IAOQ, and regular external evaluation of IAOQ.
           
6) The referencing process shall include the stated agreement of the relevant quality assurance bodies.
In the case of general education qualifications, the quality assurance institution is the Ministry of Education and Research. The reference of general education qualifications to the EstQF has been laid down in the National Curriculum for Basic Schools, Simplified National Curriculum for Basic Schools and the National Curriculum for Upper Secondary Schools.
In the case of VET qualifications, the quality assurance institution is the Ministry of Education and research. The reference of VET qualifications to the EstQF has been laid down in the Standard of VET.
In the case of higher education qualifications, the quality assurance institution is the EKKA. The reference of higher education qualifications to the EstQF has been laid down in the Standard of Higher Education.
In the case of occupational qualifications, the quality assurance institution is the Kutsekoda. The reference of specific occupational qualifications to the EstQF is decided by the SSC of the relevant field of occupational activity. According to theOccupational Qualifications Act, the Kutsekoda monitors the activities of SSC-s.
All the above mentioned quality assurance bodies have been represented in the steering committee for governing the referencing process.
                       
7) The referencing process shall involve international experts.
The following persons were involved in the referencing process of the EstQF to the EQF: Carita Blomqvist (Finland), Margaret Cameron (UK) and Baiba Ramina (Latvia). International experts participated in the referencing process starting from December 2010, when they received the first version of the referencing report. In February 2011 one day meeting was held with international experts, where the steering committee discussed comments and suggestions of experts. These included particularly explanation of the logic behind the structure of EstQF and placement of general education qualifications. International experts had also a possibility to comment the final version of the report.
                 
8) The competent national body or bodies shall certify the referencing of the types of national qualifications with the EstQF. One comprehensive report, setting out the referencing and the evidence supporting it, shall be published by the competent national bodies, including the NCP, and shall address separately each of the criteria (LO descriptors).
By December 2010, the EQF referencing report in Estonian was prepared and translated into English. The report contains a description of the process of referencing general education qualifications, initial VET qualifications and higher education qualifications and occupational qualifications to the EQF levels, and an analysis of the conformity of the referencing process with quality criteria agreed upon in the European Union.This report is a summary of assigning EstQF level to all types of Estonian qualifications with the relevant supporting evidence. The report has been approved by the steering committee including representatives of competent national bodies and stakeholders.
The reference of general education qualifications to the EstQF has been laid down in three regulations of the Government of the Republic: National Curriculum for Basic Schools, Simplified National Curriculum for Basic Schools and National Curriculum for Upper Secondary Schools. The summary of an analysis based on the types of LOs is presented in the report.
The reference of VET qualifications to the EstQF has been laid down in the Government of the Republic regulation: VET Standard. The summary of an analysis based on the types of LOs is presented in report.
The reference of higher education qualifications to the EstQF has been laid down in the Government of the Republic regulation: Higher Education Standard. The summary of an analysis based on the types of LOs is presented in the report.
The reference of occupational qualifications to the EstQF is determined by the SSC of the relevant occupational field. This information is presented in the register of occupational qualifications (www.kutsekoda.ee). The methodology of the analysis based on the types of LOs is presented in the report.
                  
9) The official EQF platform shall maintain a public listing of member states that have confirmed that they have completed the referencing process, including links to completed referencing reports.
Estonia completed the referencing process of its qualification to the EQF and obtained a confirmation on the positive result of the external evaluation by the EQF Advisory Group in the end of 2011. The report was included into the EQF official platform including examples of qualifications.
              
The final report will be published on the web site of the Ministry of Education and Research (http://www.hm.ee), on the website of the Kutsekoda (http://www.kutsekoda.ee) and on the website of the Estonian ENIC/NARIC Centre (http://www.archimedes.ee/enic).
               
10) Following the referencing process, all new qualification certificates, diplomas and Europass documents issued by the competent authorities contain a clear reference to the appropriate EstQF level.
Starting from 2012 awarding institutions will add a reference to the corresponding EQF and EstQF level to the issued qualification certificates, diplomas and Europass documents, incl. academic transcripts and Diploma Supplements, provided that the corresponding qualification meets all the requirements for inclusion into the EstQF.