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The Framework has nine levels covering all levels of learning in secondary education, further education, vocational, and higher education. Though academic higher education courses (such as academic degrees) are not covered in the NQF, it is broadly aligned with the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ), allowing levels of achievement to be compared.
Only when a course has been accredited and become part of the NQF is it then eligible for state funding. As such, some courses which are popular internationally and offered by British based organisations are not available to state schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
|NQF level||Level criteria||Example qualifications||Equivalent FHEQ level||Equivalent FHEQ qualifications|
|Level 8||Level 8 qualifications recognise leading experts or practitioners in a particular field. Learning at this level involves the development of new and creative approaches that extend or redefine existing knowledge or professional practice.||D (Doctoral)|
|Level 7||Level 7 qualifications recognise highly developed and complex levels of knowledge which enable the development of in-depth and original responses to complicated and unpredictable problems and situations. Learning at this level involves the demonstration of high level specialist professional knowledge and is appropriate for senior professionals and managers. Level 7 qualifications are at a level equivalent to Master's degrees, postgraduate certificates and postgraduate diplomas.||M (Master's)|
|Level 6||Level 6 qualifications recognise a specialist high level knowledge of an area of work or study to enable the use of an individual’s own ideas and research in response to complex problems and situations. Learning at this level involves the achievement of a high level of professional knowledge and is appropriate for people working as knowledge-based professionals or in professional management positions. Level 6 qualifications are at a level equivalent to Bachelor's degrees with honours, graduate certificates and graduate diplomas.||H (Honours)|
|Level 5||Level 5 qualifications recognise the ability to increase the depth of knowledge and understanding of an area of work or study to enable the formulation of solutions and responses to complex problems and situations. Learning at this level involves the demonstration of high levels of knowledge, a high level of work expertise in job roles and competence in managing and training others. Qualifications at this level are appropriate for people working as higher grade technicians, professionals or managers. Level 5 qualifications are at a level equivalent to intermediate Higher Education qualifications such as Diplomas of Higher Education, Foundation and other degrees that do not typically provide access to postgraduate programmes.||I (Intermediate)|
|Level 4||Level 4 qualifications recognise specialist learning and involve detailed analysis of a high level of information and knowledge in an area of work or study. Learning at this level is appropriate for people working in technical and professional jobs, and/or managing and developing others. Level 4 qualifications are at a level equivalent to Certificates of Higher Education.||C (Certificate)|
|Level 3||Level 3 qualifications recognise the ability to gain, and where relevant apply a range of knowledge, skills and understanding. Learning at this level involves obtaining detailed knowledge and skills. It is appropriate for people wishing to go to university, people working independently, or in some areas supervising and training others in their field of work.|
|Level 2||Level 2 qualifications recognise the ability to gain a good knowledge and understanding of a subject area of work or study, and to perform varied tasks with some guidance or supervision. Learning at this level involves building knowledge and/or skills in relation to an area of work or a subject area and is appropriate for many job roles.|
|Level 1||Level 1 qualifications recognise basic knowledge and skills and the ability to apply learning with guidance or supervision. Learning at this level is about activities which mostly relate to everyday situations and may be linked to job competence.|
|Entry Level||Entry level qualifications recognise basic knowledge and skills and the ability to apply learning in everyday situations under direct guidance or supervision. Learning at this level involves building basic knowledge and skills and is not geared towards specific occupations.|
In general usage, qualifications are often compared to the best-known qualification at that level. For example, the Level 2 DiDA is often said to be equal to four GCSEs at grades A*–C.
While the NQF says what each qualification is officially worth, UCAS, the university entrance system, has its own tariff, which sometimes differs from the NQF. Furthermore, colleges and employers often have their own differing ideas as to what a qualification is worth.
Currently, qualification titles such as 'certificate' and 'diploma' are not indicators of the level of a qualification.
The NQF was introduced to help employers compare the many hundreds of qualifications available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Originally, the framework only went up to Level 5, but in 2004 the old Level 4 was subdivided into Levels 4, 5 and 6 and the old Level 5 was subdivided into Level 7 and Level 8. This allowed the NQF to better align with its university equivalent, the FHEQ.
It is planned to replace the NQF with a new framework, the Qualifications and Credit Framework, which will indicate the size of qualifications (measured in learning hours), as well as their level.