Getting to grips with the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ)

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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If you want to know how a course stacks up, the first thing to do is see where it falls on the National Framework of Qualifications. The National Framework of Qualifications  (NFQ) is a system of ten levels. Each of these levels relates to an education or training achievement. Put simply, the higher the level, the more difficult it is to achieve. For example, the Junior Cert is a Level 3 award on the NFQ; an ordinary Bachelor’s degree is a Level 7.

Ireland has collaborated with other countries to ensure that qualifications frameworks are connected. This means that there is a formally established relationship between the Irish NFQ and the European Qualifications Framework as well as the Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area.

As a result, the NFQ is a useful guide if you are thinking of further education or upskilling. By knowing where a particular course or qualification falls on the NFQ, you’ll be able to make the right choice for your career. Here we look at the different levels.

Level 1 & 2

Level 1 and 2 Certificates meet the needs of a variety of people. This includes the young and old, as well as those with intellectual and other disabilities. In addition, Level 1 Certificates may be appropriate for adults returning to training, and learners with few or no previous qualifications. Each certificate comprises a number of components, often in basic literacy and numeracy.

Awarded by: Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI)

Level 3

Level 3 Certificate

The Level 3 Certificate recognises specific personal and practical skills as well as knowledge and basic transferable skills.

Awarded by: QQI

Junior Certificate

The Junior Certificate is also a Level 3 award. In order to receive it, students must successfully complete examinations from the junior cycle. The junior cycle is the first three years of secondary education. Students generally continue their education and study for the Leaving Certificate or a Level 4 Certificate.

Awarded by: State Examinations Commission (Department of Education and Skills)

Level 4 & 5

Level 4 Certificate

The Level 4 Certificate recognises vocational and personal skills, as well as knowledge and understanding to specified standards. Successful students may take up introductory vocational employment or go on to do a Level 5 Certificate.

Awarded by: QQI

Level 5 Certificate

The Level 5 Certificate are vocationally specific and require a general theoretical understanding. Once Level 5 is completed, the student can start working or apply for a range of higher education institutions and programmes.

Awarded by: QQI

Leaving Certificate

The Leaving Certificate is at Levels 4 and 5. It is the final course in the Irish secondary school system.  It takes a minimum of two years preparation. This award may lead to further education.

Awarded by: State Examinations Commission (Department of Education and Skills)

Level 6

Advanced Certificate

An Advanced Certificate award enables learners to develop a comprehensive range of skills. These may be specific to a vocation or of a general supervisory nature. They also require detailed theoretical understanding. Modules include advanced vocational and occupational skills. Most people with Level 6 Advanced Certificates take up positions of employment.

Awarded by: QQI

Higher Certificate

The Higher Certificate is generally takes two years to complete. Entry to a Higher Certificate programme is generally for school leavers as well as those with equivalent qualifications. A Higher Certificate holder at this level may continue to a programme on the next level of the framework.

Awarded by: Institutes of Technology, QQI and some Universities

Level 7

Ordinary Bachelor Degree

It generally takes three years of study to achieve an Ordinary Bachelor Degree. School leavers and those with equivalent qualifications may enter this programme. In addition, there are transfer arrangements in place across higher education as well as a number of programmes of one-year duration leading to the Ordinary Bachelor Degree for holders of the Higher Certificate.

Awarded by: Institutes of Technology, QQI and Universities

Level 8

Honours Bachelor Degree

The Honours Bachelor Degree is generally awarded after successfully finishing a three to four year course of education. However, there are longer programmes in areas such as architecture, dentistry and medicine. Entry is for school leavers and also for those with equivalent qualifications. In addition, there are transfer arrangements across higher education. Furthermore, there are a number of one-year programmes leading to Honours Bachelor Degrees for people with an Ordinary Bachelor Degree.

Awarded by: Institutes of Technology, QQI and Universities

Higher Diploma

It normally takes one year’s study to achieve a Higher Diploma. Most students need an Honours Bachelor Degrees to do a Higher Diploma study. However, holders of Ordinary Bachelor Degrees may also do a Higher Diploma. It is especially noteworthy that the Higher Diploma is typically in a different field than the initial award.

Awarded by: Institutes of Technology, QQI and Universities

Level 9

Postgraduate Diploma

The Postgraduate Diploma is normally awarded following completion of a programme of one-year duration . Entry is typically for those with Honours Bachelor Degrees but holders of Ordinary Bachelor Degrees may also apply. The Post-graduate Diploma is an intermediate qualification.

Awarded by: Institutes of Technology, QQI and Universities

Masters Degree

There are two types of Masters Degree in Ireland. Firstly, there is the taught Masters Degree. This is awarded following the completion of a programme of one to two years duration. Entry to a programme leading to a taught Masters Degree is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees. In some cases, people with Ordinary Bachelor Degrees may be admitted. In addition there is the Research Masters Degree programmes, which typically last two years.

Awarded by: Institutes of Technology, QQI and Universities

Level 10

Doctoral Degree

You need an Honours Bachelor Degree to enter a doctoral programme.  In some disciplines, a Masters Degree is also preferred.  Doctoral programmes are between three and four years in duration.

Awarded by: Institutes of Technology, QQI and Universities

Higher Doctorate

The High Doctorate award recognises excellent and distinguished contributions to learning. It is used for career progression to advanced levels of academia and research.

Awarded by: Institutes of Technology, QQI and Universities

Anne Sexton

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  1. Aref Mansour 3rd January 2017 at 10:22 am

    I am a qualified maintenance aircraft engineer, awarded by the Irish aviation authority. What level am I?

    1. Anne Sexton 3rd January 2017 at 11:08 am

      Hi Aref

      That’s slightly different as the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is responsible for licensing aircraft and aviation personnel. This includes, amongst others, pilots, air traffic controllers and people or organisations involved in aircraft maintenance.

      The IAA oversees several different levels of pilot licences. These include student pilot, private pilot, and airline transport pilot. They also set examinations for pilot licences. Approved training organisations and registered training facilities carry out flight training in Ireland. Approved training organisations conduct flight training (for aeroplane or helicopter) approved by the IAA for both private and professional licences and ratings.

      The licence received applies to a particular type of aircraft, such as for airplanes, helicopters or microlights.

      The IAA issues licences in accordance with national legislation and European regulations.

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