Skills beyond school

The Role of National Qualifications Systems in Promoting Lifelong Learning


Dissemination Conference


Policy implications of national qualifications systems and
their impact on lifelong learning,
20-21 October 2005, Dublin Ireland



The dissemination conference of the OECD activity: The Role of National Qualifications Systems in Promoting Lifelong Learning, took place in Dublin on 20-21 October, 2005.  The conference was co-organised by the OECD and the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (acting on behalf of the Irish Department of Education and Science and Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment).


During the OECD Education Committee’s discussion of the 2001-2002 Programme of Work, 17 countries initially expressed interest in the proposed activity on The Role of National Qualification Systems in Promoting Lifelong Learning. An expert meeting in September 2000 helped to explore underlying issues and to gain an initial view of reforms and policy approaches in different countries. Drawing on the results of this meeting, a proposal was issued for the activity to examine the effects that qualifications and qualification policies can have upon various aspects of lifelong learning. The proposal suggests a fact-finding approach, as well as a series of international meetings on particular aspects of the relationship between qualifications and lifelong learning.

As a consequence, the OECD activity on The Role of National Qualification Systems in Promoting Lifelong Learning is composed of three main activities. Initially, some countries volunteered to prepare a background report based on a set of guidelines prepared by the OECD Secretariat. The background reports are not comparative in themselves nor intended as the basis for comparisons as they are describing and analysing issues only from a domestic point of view. They are made up of four components and a set of conclusions. To complement the background reports, it was also proposed to adopt a more comparative approach based on international workshops. Three topics were identified by countries for these international workshops. A final activity consisted of gathering data on lifelong learning in order to provide a more quantitative approach to the analysis.

Overall, 24 countries have participated in the activity: 15 delivered a background report: Australiathe French Community of Belgium (Report in French only), DenmarkFrance (Report in French only), Germany Greece Ireland, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands New Zealand , Portugal (Report in English Annexes in English Report in Portuguese Annexes in Portuguese ), SloveniaSwitzerland (Report in French only), United Kingdom ; and 19 were involved in one or more of the three Thematic Groups.

The activity began with a meeting of national representatives and experts in March 2001 at the OECD, in Paris. Representatives of countries that had decided to participate in the activity, as well as representatives of other countries, were invited to take part in this meeting. Several international organisations also participated, and have become regular contributors to the activity: the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), the European Commission, the European Training Foundation, the International Labour Office and the World Bank. The OECD Trade Union Advisory Committee has also been involved. Other meetings of national representatives and experts were held in March 2002 and November 2002 to monitor the progress of the activity.


Lifelong learning for all has become a widely shared policy objective within OECD countries and beyond. It is seen as a necessary condition for individual success in the labour market and social well-being as well as a basis for democracy and citizenship. It is also believed that the competitiveness of national economies depends heavily on the capacity of societies to encourage and to facilitate lifelong learning. However, certain groups of the population are experiencing difficulties in undertaking learning activities, especially among the adult population (see

In trying to move from rhetoric to reality in providing lifelong learning opportunities for all, some governments and stakeholders have reached a point where qualification systems are viewed as a tool for promoting lifelong learning. This OECD activity hopes to demonstrate how national qualification systems serve this purpose and considers the extent to which national qualification systems influence the volume, distribution and quality of lifelong learning. The outcomes are intended to be practical and inform decision-makers about possible policy actions based on the national qualification system that can promote lifelong learning for all.

As a consequence, this activity pursues the following three objectives: i) to gather information about qualification systems in participating countries; ii) to examine the impact of different qualification policies on lifelong learning; and iii) to help countries to share know-how and policy experience gained from recent reforms and adjustments of qualification systems.

In a nutshell, this activity is not only about national qualification systems nor only about lifelong learning: it deals specifically with the impact of the former on the latter.

The OECD Secretariat acknowledges the contribution of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority Research Team to this activity, particularly the work of Mike Coles.

Documents appended

  • Report of the Thematic Group 1 on “The development and use of ‘Qualification Frameworks’ as a means of reforming and managing qualifications systems” (EnglishFrench)
  • Report of the Thematic Group 2 on “Standards and quality assurance in qualifications with special reference to the recognition of non-formal and informal learning” (EnglishFrench)
  • Report of the Countries involved in the Thematic Group 3 on “Co-operation of different institutions and stakeholders of the qualifications systems” (EnglishFrench)

Useful links

Australia: The Australian Qualifications Framework
Australia: Higher Education Quality Assurance
Australia: Australian National Training Authority
Australia: Vocational Education and Training Quality Assurance
Australia: Schools Quality Assurance
Australia: The Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-first Century
Germany: Federal Ministry of Education and Research -- lifelong learning
Germany: Federal Ministry of Education and Research -- homepage
Greece: Ekepis (National Accreditation Centre for Continuing Vocational Training)
Greece: Ministry of Employment and Social Protection
Greece: Ministry of Education
Greece: Organisation for Vocational Education and Training
Greece: Employment Observatory Research-Informatics S.A.
Ireland: National Qualifications Authority of Ireland
United Kingdom: Department for Education and Skills
New Zeland: New Zealand Qualifications Authority


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