The National Framework of Qualifications

A 10-level system used to describe qualifications in the Irish education and training system.

Click on any level in our interactive fan below to find out more about.

The NFQ lists the main qualifications awarded at each level and pathways from one NFQ level to the next. The NFQ shows how general education, further education and training, and higher education awards are mapped against the 10 levels of the framework.

If you're interested in learning more about policies and standards relating to the NFQ, and about how the Framework is aligned to other qualifications frameworks internationally, please see here.

  • Major Awards: named in the outer rings, are the principal class of awards made at a level
  • Minor Awards: are for partial completion of the outcomes for a Major Award
  • Supplemental Awards: are for learning that is additional to a Major Award
  • Special Purpose Awards: are for relatively narrow or purpose-specific achievement
  • Professional Awards: are for occupation-orientated qualifications including apprenticeships

Levels 1 and 2 are the initial levels of the framework and represent further education and general education qualifications. This includes junior cycle and general literacy and numeracy qualifications.

Major Awards

Level 1 Certificate

Level 1 and 2 certificates are designed to meet the needs of learners, both young and old, including those with intellectual and other disabilities, adults returning to training, and learners with few or no previous qualifications, including those within the workforce. These awards provide certification for learners who may progress to higher levels and also for those whose principal achievements rest at these levels. Each certificate comprises a number of components, most often in basic literacy and numeracy, which the learner can achieve at their own pace and accumulate over time towards one of the named certificates above.  

Credit Volume

The level 1 certificate is 20 FET credits

Awarding Body

QQI is the awarding body for further education awards at Levels 1 – 6. QQI sets the standards for QQI awards and validates programmes of education and training providers, such as Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and other community, voluntary and independent providers. QQI assesses the fitness of providers to offer QQI award and awards the qualifications and issues certificates. 

Junior Cycle

As part of the new Junior Cycle, schools can now include programmes called (NFQ) Level 2 Learning Programmes and Level 1 Learning Programmes. They are designed for a small number of students with particular special educational needs. L2 Learning Programmes are suited to students with general learning disabilities in the higher functioning moderate and low functioning mild categories, and L1 Learning programmes are designed for students in the low moderate, and severe and profound range of general learning disabilities.

Awarding Body

The State Examinations Commission is responsible for the development, assessment, accreditation and certification of the second-level examinations of the Irish state: the Junior Cycle and the Leaving Certificate. The State Examinations Commission is a non-departmental public body under the aegis of the Department of Education

Other Awards

Only minor awards are available at levels 1 and 2 and are awarded by QQI. 

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators

Levels 1 and 2 are the initial levels of the framework and represent further education and general education qualifications. This includes junior cycle and general literacy and numeracy qualifications.

Major Awards

Level 2 Certificate

Level 1 and 2 certificates are designed to meet the needs of learners, both young and old, including those with intellectual and other disabilities, adults returning to training, and learners with few or no previous qualifications, including those within the workforce. These awards provide certification for learners who may progress to higher levels and also for those whose principal achievements rest at these levels. Each certificate comprises a number of components, most often in basic literacy and numeracy, which the learner can achieve at their own pace and accumulate over time towards one of the named certificates above.  

Credit Volume

The Level 2 certificate is 30 FET credits

Awarding Body

QQI is the awarding body for further education awards at Levels 1 – 6. QQI sets the standards for QQI awards and validates programmes of education and training providers, such as Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and other community, voluntary and independent providers. QQI assesses the fitness of providers to offer QQI award and awards the qualifications and issues certificates. 

Junior Cycle

As part of the new Junior Cycle, schools can now include programmes called (NFQ) Level 2 Learning Programmes and Level 1 Learning Programmes. They are designed for a small number of students with particular special educational needs. L2 Learning Programmes are suited to students with general learning disabilities in the higher functioning moderate and low functioning mild categories, and L1 Learning programmes are designed for students in the low moderate, and severe and profound range of general learning disabilities.

Awarding Body

The State Examinations Commission is responsible for the development, assessment, accreditation and certification of the second-level examinations of the Irish state: the Junior Cycle and the Leaving Certificate. The State Examinations Commission is a non-departmental public body under the aegis of the Department of Education

Other Awards

Only minor awards are available at levels 1 and 2 and are awarded by QQI. 

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators

Level 3 is often the first award achieved by young people in Ireland as it represents the award at Junior Cycle.

Both further and general education is offered at level 3.

Major Awards

Level 3 Certificate

The Level 3 Certificate enables learners to gain recognition for specific personal skills, practical skills and knowledge, basic transferable skills, the enhancement of individual talents and qualities and achievements and learning relevant to a variety of progression options. 

Credit Volume

The Level 1 Certificate is 60 FET credits

Awarding Body

QQI is the awarding body for further education awards at Levels 1 – 6. QQI sets the standards for QQI awards and validates programmes of education and training providers, such as Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and other community, voluntary and independent providers. QQI assesses the fitness of providers to offer QQI award and awards the qualifications and issues certificates. 

Junior Cycle

Following the completion of the Junior Cycle, each student receives a composite Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) from his/her school. The JCPA reports student achievement across a range of areas of learning in Junior Cycle and not just on achievement in state examinations. This also includes reporting on classroom-based assessments, well-being, and other areas of learning.

Awarding Body

The State Examinations Commission is responsible for the development, assessment, accreditation and certification of the second-level examinations of the Irish state: the Junior Cycle and the Leaving Certificate. The State Examinations Commission is a non-departmental public body under the aegis of the Department of Education

Other Awards

Minor, special purpose and supplemental awards are available at Level 3 and are awarded by QQI.

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators. 

Both further and general education is offered at level 3.

Major Awards

Level 4 Certificate

The Level 4 Certificate enables learners to gain recognition for the achievement of vocational and personal skills, knowledge and understanding to specified standards, the enhancement of individual talents and qualities and the achievement and learning relevant to a variety of progression options, including employment at an introductory vocational level, and programmes leading to a Level 5 Certificate. 

Credit Volume

The Level 4 certificate is 90 FET credits

Awarding Body

QQI is the awarding body for further education awards at Levels 1 – 6. QQI sets the standards for QQI awards and validates programmes of education and training providers, such as Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and other community, voluntary and independent providers. QQI assesses the fitness of providers to offer QQI award and awards the qualifications and issues certificates. 

Leaving Certificate

Senior Cycle has a particular role to play in the preparation of learners for adult life in a changing economic and social context. A broad curriculum at Senior Cycle that allows for a degree of specialisation for learners continues to be viewed as the best means of achieving continuity and progression from Junior Cycle and assisting learners to prepare for the future. Senior Cycle education seeks to provide learners with a high-quality learning experience to prepare them for the world of work, for further and higher education and for successful personal lives.

Awarding Body

The State Examinations Commission is responsible for the development, assessment, accreditation and certification of the second-level examinations of the Irish state: the Junior Cycle and the Leaving Certificate. The State Examinations Commission is a non-departmental public body under the aegis of the Department of Education

Other Awards

Minor, special purpose and supplemental awards are available at Level 4 and are awarded by QQI.

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators. 

Level 5 is a commonly used level on the framework as it typically represents the transition from general education to tertiary education.  Both further and general education is offered at level 5. 

Major Awards

Level 5 Certificate

The Level 5 Certificate enables learners to develop a broad range of skills, which are vocationally specific and require a general theoretical understanding. Qualification holders are enabled to work independently while subject to general direction. The majority of certificate/module holders at Level 5 take up positions of employment. They are also deemed to meet the minimum entry requirements for a range of higher education institutions/programmes. 

Credit Volume

The Level 5 Certificate is 120 credits 

Awarding Body

QQI is the awarding body for further education awards at Levels 1 – 6. QQI sets the standards for QQI awards and validates programmes of education and training providers, such as Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and other community, voluntary and independent providers. QQI assesses the fitness of providers to offer QQI award and awards the qualifications and issues certificates. 

Leaving Certificate

Senior Cycle has a particular role to play in the preparation of learners for adult life in a changing economic and social context. A broad curriculum at Senior Cycle that allows for a degree of specialisation for learners continues to be viewed as the best means of achieving continuity and progression from Junior Cycle and assisting learners to prepare for the future. Senior Cycle education seeks to provide learners with a high-quality learning experience to prepare them for the world of work, for further and higher education and for successful personal lives.

Awarding Body

The State Examinations Commission is responsible for the development, assessment, accreditation and certification of the second-level examinations of the Irish state: the Junior Cycle and the Leaving Certificate. The State Examinations Commission is a non-departmental public body under the aegis of the Department of Education

Other Awards

Minor, special purpose, supplemental and professional awards are available at Level 5 and are awarded by QQI.

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators. 

Levels 6 represents the first level of tertiary qualifications, post Leaving Cert. It is offered in both further and higher education.

Major Awards

Advanced Certificate

An Advanced Certificate award enables learners to develop a comprehensive range of skills, which may be vocationally specific and/or of a general supervisory nature and require detailed theoretical understanding.  Modules include advanced vocational/occupational skills, enabling certificate holders to work independently or progress to higher education and training.  The majority of Level 6 qualification holders take up positions of employment, some of whom may be self-employed. 

qualifications, including those within the workforce. These awards provide certification for learners who may progress to higher levels and also for those whose principal achievements rest at these levels. Each certificate comprises a number of components, most often in basic literacy and numeracy, which the learner can achieve at their own pace and accumulate over time towards one of the named certificates above.  

Credit Volume

The Advanced Certificate is 120 FET credits.

Awarding Body

QQI is the awarding body for further education awards at Levels 1 – 6. QQI sets the standards for QQI awards and validates programmes of education and training providers, such as Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and other community, voluntary and independent providers. QQI assesses the fitness of providers to offer QQI award and awards the qualifications and issues certificates. 

Higher Certificate

The Higher Certificate is normally awarded after completion of an accredited programme of two years’ duration (120 ECTS credits) in a recognised higher education institution/provider. Entry to these programmes is generally for school leavers and those with equivalent qualifications. The Higher Certificate is a short cycle higher education qualification within the QF-EHEA. 

Credit Volume

The Higher Certificate is 120 ECTS.

Awarding Body

QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology make higher education awards at Levels 6-10. The Universities and Technological Universities have autonomous awarding powers at these levels and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. Institutes of Technology have autonomous awarding powers at Levels 6-9, and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. The Joint Sectoral Protocol between QQI and Designated Awarding Bodies provides for the formal inclusion of awards made by designated awarding bodies within the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Joint-sectoral protocol DABs.pdf (qqi.ie)

Other Awards

Minor, special purpose, supplemental and professional awards are available at Level 6-9 and can be awarded by QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology.

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators.

Level 7 is offered only in higher education. 

Major Awards

Ordinary Bachelor Degree

The Ordinary Bachelor Degree is normally awarded after completion of an accredited programme of three years’ duration (180 ECTS credits) in a recognised higher education institution/provider. Entry to a programme leading to an ab-initio Ordinary Bachelor Degree is typically for school leavers and those with equivalent qualifications. In addition, there are one-year add-on Ordinary Bachelor degree programmes (60 ECTS credits) for holders of the Higher Certificate.  The Ordinary Bachelor Degree is compatible with the Bologna First Cycle descriptor, although holders of this award do not generally gain immediate access to programmes leading to Second Cycle awards in Ireland.

Credit Volume

The Ordinary Bachelor Degree is 180 ECTS.

Awarding Body

QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology make higher education awards at Levels 6-10. The Universities and Technological Universities have autonomous awarding powers at these levels and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. Institutes of Technology have autonomous awarding powers at Levels 6-9, and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. The Joint Sectoral Protocol between QQI and Designated Awarding Bodies provides for the formal inclusion of awards made by designated awarding bodies within the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Joint-sectoral protocol DABs.pdf (qqi.ie)

Other Awards

Minor, special purpose, supplemental and professional awards are available at Level 6-9 and can be awarded by QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology.

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators. 

Level 8 is a well understood level in Ireland as it is the most commonly used level post-secondary school education.

Major Awards

Honours Bachelor Degree

The Honours Bachelor Degree is normally awarded following completion of a programme of three or four years’ duration (180-240 ECTS credits) in a recognised higher education institution/provider, although there are examples of longer programmes in areas such as architecture, dentistry and medicine. Entry to a programme leading to an ab-initio Honours Bachelor degree is typically for school leavers and those with equivalent qualifications. In addition, there are typically programmes of one year’s duration (60 ECTS credits) leading to Honours Bachelor Degrees available to holders of the Ordinary Bachelor Degree.  The Honours Bachelor Degree is a Bologna First Cycle qualification.

Credit Volume

The Honours Bachelor Degree is between 180 and 240 ECTS

Awarding Body

QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology make higher education awards at Levels 6-10. The Universities and Technological Universities have autonomous awarding powers at these levels and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. Institutes of Technology have autonomous awarding powers at Levels 6-9, and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. The Joint Sectoral Protocol between QQI and Designated Awarding Bodies provides for the formal inclusion of awards made by designated awarding bodies within the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Joint-sectoral protocol DABs.pdf (qqi.ie)

Higher Diploma

The Higher Diploma is normally awarded following completion of an accredited programme of one year’s duration (60 ECTS credits) in a recognised higher education institution/provider. Entry to a programme leading to a Higher Diploma is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees but can also be for holders of Ordinary Bachelor Degrees. It is of note that the Higher Diploma is typically in a different field of learning than the initial award. The Higher Diploma is a qualification at the same level as completion of the Bologna First Cycle.

Credit Volume

The Higher Diploma is 60 ECTS

Awarding Body

QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology make higher education awards at Levels 6-10. The Universities and Technological Universities have autonomous awarding powers at these levels and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. Institutes of Technology have autonomous awarding powers at Levels 6-9, and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. The Joint Sectoral Protocol between QQI and Designated Awarding Bodies provides for the formal inclusion of awards made by designated awarding bodies within the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Joint-sectoral protocol DABs.pdf (qqi.ie)

Other Awards

Minor, special purpose, supplemental and professional awards are available at Level 6-9 and can be awarded by QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology.

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators. 

Level 9 is typically consider postgraduate education as entry is reserved for those with undergraduate qualifications.

Major Awards

Masters Degree

There are two types of Masters Degree in Ireland: taught Masters Degrees and research Masters Degrees.

The taught Masters Degree is awarded following the completion of an accredited programme of one to two years’ duration (60-120 ECTS credits). Entry to a programme leading to a taught Masters Degree is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees.  Also, in some cases, entry to such programmes can be permitted for those with Ordinary Bachelor Degrees or equivalent who have some relevant work experience. Furthermore, in some cases, entry to such programmes is permitted for people with extensive experience in a relevant area. 

Research Masters Degree programmes are typically of two years’ duration, although they are not credit rated.  Entry to a programme leading to a research Masters Degree is typically for holders of an Honours Bachelor Degree, with a high classification, i.e. first or second class honours. 

The Irish Masters Degree is compatible with completion of the Bologna Second Cycle.

Credit Volume

The Masters Degree is between 60 and 120 ECTS, although a Research Masters Degree is not credit rated. 

Awarding Body

QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology make higher education awards at Levels 6-10. The Universities and Technological Universities have autonomous awarding powers at these levels and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. Institutes of Technology have autonomous awarding powers at Levels 6-9, and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. The Joint Sectoral Protocol between QQI and Designated Awarding Bodies provides for the formal inclusion of awards made by designated awarding bodies within the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Joint-sectoral protocol DABs.pdf (qqi.ie)

Postgraduate Diploma

The Post-graduate Diploma is normally awarded following completion of a programme of one year’s duration (60 ECTS credits) in a recognised higher education institution. The award is usually made in a field of learning different from that in which a learner is already qualified. Entry to a programme leading to a Post-graduate Diploma is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees but can also be for holders of Ordinary Bachelor Degrees. The Post-graduate Diploma is an intermediate qualification within the Bologna Second Cycle.

Credit Volume

The Postgraduate Diploma is 60 ECTS.

Awarding Body

QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology make higher education awards at Levels 6-10. The Universities and Technological Universities have autonomous awarding powers at these levels and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. Institutes of Technology have autonomous awarding powers at Levels 6-9, and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. The Joint Sectoral Protocol between QQI and Designated Awarding Bodies provides for the formal inclusion of awards made by designated awarding bodies within the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Joint-sectoral protocol DABs.pdf (qqi.ie)

Other Awards

Minor, special purpose, supplemental and professional awards are available at Level 6-9 and can be awarded by QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology.

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators. 

Level 10 represents the highest level of academic achievement in the Irish education system 

Major Awards

Doctoral Degree

Entry to a programme leading to a Doctoral Degree is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees.  The general model is that a holder of an Honours Bachelor Degree with a high classification enters initially a Masters research programme, and transfers to a Doctoral programme after one year on the Masters research programme.  In total, the number of years in the programme would generally be at least three.  There is also direct access to Doctoral Degrees for holders of Masters Degrees, whether taught Masters or research Masters. Various models for Doctoral Degree programmes now exist, ranging from the traditional research doctorate to professional and practitioner doctoral programmes, which have substantial taught components. Most doctoral programmes are now structured to include some taught components.

Credit Volume

There is no credit volume associated with doctoral degrees, though they typically last at least 3 years. 

Awarding Body

QQI, Universities, Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology make higher education awards at Levels 6-10. The Universities and Technological Universities have autonomous awarding powers at these levels and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. Institutes of Technology have autonomous awarding powers at Levels 6-9, and are responsible for the design, development and awarding of qualifications. The Joint Sectoral Protocol between QQI and Designated Awarding Bodies provides for the formal inclusion of awards made by designated awarding bodies within the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Joint-sectoral protocol DABs.pdf (qqi.ie)

Knowledge, Skills & Competence

For more information about knowledge, skills and competence that should be demonstrated at each Level, please visit the grid level indicators. 

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