Looking to the future: 20 years of the NFQ


2023 marks the 20th anniversary of the Irish National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) and to celebrate this significant milestone, QQI hosted a half day of pre-conference workshops and a full day conference on Friday 17th November at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Golden Lane. The pre-conference workshops were attended by approximately 75 participants and over 200 people attended the full day conference. 

Three different pre-conference workshops were run on Thursday 16th. Dr Padraig Walsh and Dr Bryan Maguire hosted a workshop with senior leaders from public higher and further education organisations on “Reflections on the National Framework of Qualifications”. Angela Lambkin led a workshop with a range of stakeholders from the tertiary education and guidance sector on “Communications and Promotion of the NFQ for the Next Decade” and a new interactive NFQ was launched, while Órla Barry led a workshop for prospective listed awarding bodies on the topic of “Exploring the Value of Inclusion of Awards 20 Years Later”, with Prospective Listed Awarding Bodies (LABs)” with co-presenters Aisling Reast, RCSI, and Dr Sorcha Uí Chonnachtaigh, NUI. 

The main conference included a full-day programme. Prof Irene Sheridan, Chair of the QQI Board, chaired the conference. The day opened with an introduction from Dr Padraig Walsh, CEO of QQI, that provided an overview of the development of the NFQ and landscape of the sector in the last 20 years. Although he celebrated the achievements of the Framework to date, he mostly focused on continued challenges for the Framework and the future development of the NFQ.  

The opening keynote was delivered by Dr Grant Klinkum, CEO of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA). Some of the themes examined in the keynote address included the potential transformative impact of qualifications frameworks, the role of qualifications frameworks in the recognition of indigenous knowledge, and the need for deeper engagement with stakeholders.  

Attendees broke into parallel breakout sessions which included panel discussions, focused presentations, and lightning talks discussing and exploring a range of topics related to qualifications and the NFQ. The sessions covered the role and influence of the NFQ in the global qualifications framework context; access, transfer and progression (ATP) and the recognition of prior learning (RPL); the role of academic integrity in qualifications systems; microcredentials; and integrating the NFQ within employment, workforce planning and professions.  

A report commissioned by QQI “From Counting to Cultivating Successful Participation. A Review of the Landscape of Practice Supporting Access Transfer and Progression in Irish Education and Training” which reviews the national landscape of practice supporting ATP was also launched at the event by the report writers Dr Catherine Peck and Dr Deirdre Stritch 

The afternoon included a panel discussion on the learner experience of the NFQ, where attendees heard real life, powerful examples of experiences in education and personal interaction with the NFQ. This was followed by a session where key stakeholders from across the sector, Seán Ó Foghlú, Dr Tomás Mac Eochagáin, Anne McHugh and Billy Kelly, provided their reflections and insights on the NFQ. Each highlighted the importance of protecting and maintaining the integrity of the NFQ and the need for continued collaboration, commitment and cooperation with its ongoing implementation. There was a sense that the sector needs to be re-energised to enable genuine commitment to the NFQ. 

Prof Irene Sheridan’s closing speech reflected on the contributions shared throughout the day and asked if all the opportunities the framework offers have been realised. She discussed the significant changes over the last 20 years and the impact these changes have had on the wider context in which the framework operates. She emphasised the need to consider if the framework continues to serve in the changed context, and echoed calls to focus on looking to the future.  

In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the NFQ, QQI is compiling a high-level report to provide an overview of 20 years of the NFQ with a focus on achievements to date and opportunities for the future. The report will include a wide range of stakeholder perspectives regarding the benefits of the NFQ and the role it has played in the developments in education and training over the last 20 years. This report will incorporate perspectives from the workshops and conference and will be published in early 2024. 

QQI's Qualifications Information and Learning Opportunities team wishes to extend thanks to all the contributors and those who helped to organise and run the event, the event would not have been possible without you all and your willingness to assist.