Giving credit where credit Is due

Tertiary Education Futures Blogs
Publication Date
13/09/2021

How the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework is keeping pace with Scottish education in the 21st century

Aileen Ponton, Chief Executive of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership
Aileen Ponton, Chief Executive of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership

Education is always evolving – perhaps now more than ever. Large-scale transformations like the ongoing digital revolution and an ageing population continue to shape where and how education is delivered. New approaches to curricula, new methods of assessment, and increased work-based learning have all come to the fore over the last few years. With this comes the challenge of ensuring these new forms of learning are meaningfully recognised. Individuals must be able to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have gained in a particular setting in a currency that is understood by other institutions and employers.

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) has been in place since 2001 and is one of the oldest qualifications frameworks in the world. It is also quite unique in that its original vision was to have a framework that could encompass all types of assessed learning. From its earliest days, the Framework looked to find ways to include professional qualifications and vocational and community-based learning programmes as well as the more mainstream Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and university qualifications. This ambition is reflected in the Framework’s very first Implementation Plan, which stated that:

In the future, provided it comes within an appropriate quality assurance system, and is subject to reliable and valid means of assessment, any short programme, module, unit or work-based learning has the potential for incorporation into the framework.

In this way, SCQF helps to bridge the gap between different parts of the Scottish education system, allowing individuals to progress from one destination to another without losing any learning in the process.

The SCQF now lists around 11,500 qualifications and learning programmes on its database. Around 1,100 of these have nothing to do with either post-secondary degrees or SQA provision, illustrating the wide range of learning that takes place outside of a traditional school or university classroom.

The Framework is built on 12 levels on a scale of increasing difficulty. Requirements for inclusion in the Framework are that the programme or qualification is based on defined learning outcomes; is assessed and quality-assured; and has at least ten hours of learning (1 SCQF credit point) attached to it. This allows for a wide variety of qualifications and programmes to be recognised regardless of their size or complexity. Credit Rating Bodies (CRBs) – which range from universities to city and guilds to the national fire and rescue service – are responsible for deciding the level and credit value of a particular qualification or programme and uploading it onto the SCQF database. This model empowers CRBs to take ownership of the credit rating process while a robust quality assurance model ensures a consistency of approach across CRBs. Twenty years on, the SCQF now lists around 11,500 qualifications and learning programmes on its database.

Around 1,100 of these have nothing to do with either post-secondary degrees or SQA provision, illustrating the wide range of learning that takes place outside of a traditional school or university classroom. Similarly, of the total number of qualifications that sit at SCQF level 6, 93% are not Highers. SCQF supports a varied group of programme owners who teach everything from police training to Microsoft programmes to accounting and banking, all of which now sit on the SCQF. Apprenticeships are also found on the Framework and its list of recognised work-based learning opportunities continues to grow.

Its role as a neutral organisation is key to ensuring the ongoing quality and integrity of the SCQF. That said, it also works hard to promote the Framework and support organisations in getting recognition for qualifications and learning programmes of all types. For example, it offers a range of workshops and capacity-building sessions including one called “Would You Credit It?”, aimed at organisations who would like to see their programmes added to the Framework but are not sure where to begin.

Education today is different than it was thirty years ago, and if the current speed of change is any indication, the system of the future may well look unrecognisable. On the immediate horizon, the recently published OECD review and Scottish Funding Council review of tertiary provision present recommendations for how the system can be further reformed. However, the SCQF is confident it will keep pace with these and other changes and continue to add value through recognising increasingly diverse forms of provision.


This blog was published as part of our Tertiary Education Futures project

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