Malta is one of the 48 member countries participating in the Bologna Process which embarked on a process to harmonise qualifications in education with emphasis on Higher Education. The then Malta Qualifications Council (MQC) was set up in 2005 under Legal Notice 347 of 2005 to pave the way for the establishment and development of the Malta Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (MQF). Eventually in 2012 the MQC and the National Commission for Higher Education (NCHE) were amalgamated to form the National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE).
As part of its mission the NCFHE is also responsible for maintaining the MQF and is the EQF National Coordination Point for Malta. Malta's Qualifications Framework is at the forefront of European developments achieving as it is a comprehensive framework which includes qualifications across compulsory, vocational and academic sectors into a single framework. The MQF determines the regulatory framework for the classification of qualifications and awards which can be provided through formal, non-formal and informal learning, based on the MQF level descriptors.
Qualifications which form part of the MQF are based on learning outcomes and, as such, are expressed in terms of knowledge, skills and competences corresponding to the respective level descriptors.
The NCFHE promotes and maintains the MQF by establishing the policies and criteria on which the Framework is based, validating informal and non-formal learning and recognizing such further and higher learning at an MQF level. The NCFHE also hosts the Maltese ENIC-NARIC centre - the Qualifications and Recognition Information Centre (QRIC) which is responsible for providing the referencing and equivalence of foreign qualifications. In a nutshell, the NCFHE focuses on: providing accreditation to further and higher educational institutions; providing accreditation to programmes or courses of studies at further and higher education levels; quality assurance of both educational institutions and programmes or courses; recognition of obtained national or international qualifications as well as prospective qualifications; validation of informal and non-formal learning and research and policy recommendation on issues related to further and higher education.
The NCFHE accredits qualifications and awards (short courses) developed and delivered in Malta, thus ensuring that programmes are delivered in learning outcomes, in accordance to established MQF level descriptors and also their workload specified in ECTS/ECVET.
NCFHE is also responsible for the licensing and accreditation of Further and Higher Education Institutions in Malta, based on the National Quality Assurance Framework. In fulfilling these responsibilities, the NCFHE promotes and facilitates access to lifelong learning and transfer and progression in lifelong learning while promoting and fostering the provision of vocational education and training, and its recognition in Malta and abroad, working closely with the Ministry for Education, as well as state, private education and training providers in Malta.
The MQF levels are defined in the table below:
Higher Education Certificate
VET Higher Diploma
2 passes at Advanced Level
3 passes at Intermediate Level
Systems of Knowledge (compulsory subject)
General Education Level 3:
5 SEC passes at Grade 1-7
Secondary School Certificate and Profile Level 3
VET Level 3
General Education Level 2:
4 SEC passes at Grade 1-7
Secondary School Certificate and Profile Level 2
VET Level 2
General Education Level 1:
Secondary School Certificate and Profile Level 1
VET Level 1
The MQF assists in making the Maltese qualifications system easier to understand and review, and more transparent at a national and international level. The MQF is also a referencing tool that helps to describe and compare both national and foreign qualifications to promote quality, transparency and mobility of qualifications in all types of education. The MQF includes examples of the main qualifications in Malta. These qualifications cover those achieved as an outcome of compulsory education, within the vocational stream as well as within Higher Education.
The MQF is based on 8 levels as in the case of the EQF, with the upper four levels (5-8) also linked to the QF/EHEA. The level descriptors for each of the MQF levels are described in terms of learning outcomes, making it easier to match them with those for the EQF and QF/EHEA. The detailed descriptors in Malta are considered as the basis for ensuring a transparent referencing process. The MQF is referenced to the EQF, QF/EHEA and the TQF, in a process that can be used to reference national qualifications to the National Qualifications Frameworks in Europe and beyond.
MQF Levels 1 to 4 include all education from compulsory school age upwards and includes institutions and students following vocational or academic courses leading to the Matriculation Certificate, Diplomas or Higher National Diploma Certificates.
The Higher Education sector in Malta includes all education, training and research that lead to qualifications classified at MQF Levels 5 to 8. To operate all education institutions offering further or higher education in or from Malta require a licence issued by the NCFHE. This means that the institution has met the stipulated standards and guidelines as established by the NCFHE. The NCFHE-licensed institutions fall under the following categories: universities, higher education institutions, further education institutions, further education centres and tuition centres.
The National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE)
Within the context of lifelong learning, the NCFHE works in partnership with learners, employers and training and education providers to achieve and maintain excellence as a contribution towards the national effort for economic competitiveness. The NCFHE was launched in 2012 via an amendment to the Education Act with the remit "to foster the development and achievement of excellence in further and Higher Education in Malta through research, effective licensing, accreditation, quality assurance and recognition of qualifications established under the Malta Qualifications Framework".
The NCFHE is committed to promoting policy reforms in further and Higher Education that contribute to sustainable socio-economic development. The NCFHE also acts as a broker between the Maltese government and Higher Education institutions and regularly consults with all the stakeholders in the sector for suggestions, recommendations and concerns that would help formulate national strategies.
The NCFHE also oversees the implementation of the Malta Qualifications Framework, quality assurance and the recognition of qualifications as part of the Copenhagen and Bologna processes. It is also the national coordination point of reference for the European Qualifications Framework, ReferNET and is part of the European Network of Information Centres in the European Region.
The NFCHE assists institutions and individuals to meet the challenges set by the Further and Higher Education Strategy 2020 by specifying the following four strategic objectives (page 5):
1. Attract more young students and adults into Further and Higher Education;
2. Ensure fair and open access to all students wishing to further their studies;
3. Make Malta a centre of excellence in education and research;
4. Sustain public responsibility for adequate regulation, resources and funding to secure an inclusive, qualitative and responsive education system.
These objectives aim to address the need to develop a workforce with a portfolio of knowledge and skills, as well as an approach to educational policy that responds to a state of economic turmoil, social changes, increased globalisation, and demographic changes leading to an ageing population.
Of particular bearing to the above is the continued objective of increasing the number of learners who pursue Further and Higher Education after finishing compulsory school, especially in the fields of science and technology. An equally important aim is that of increasing the number of adult participation rates in vocational education, training and continuous development.
The NCFHE calls for the development of a culture of quality in all levels of education in Malta.
Validation of informal and non-formal learning
The validation of non-formal and informal learning (VNFIL) is a major step in promoting lifelong learning and facilitating access to learning for individuals who have no qualifications acquired through formal education. The NCFHE is tasked with the process of recognising the skills, knowledge and competences an individual has acquired not in formal learning. This is benchmarked against national occupational standards which include learning outcomes measured and evaluated by a competent body against the said standard.
Subsidiary Legislation 327. 432 determined that a Sector Skills Unit (SSU) is to be established in each sector and include representatives from a number of industry relevant stakeholders, such as the economic sector, education and training, government and social partners, and workers’ representatives within the specific sector. They function under the auspices of the NCFHE, which is represented in every SSU meeting.
To date, the NCFHE has set up 8 SSUs and is always looking to establish new ones.
The SSU develops and reviews National Occupational Standards (NOSs) which basically specify what an individual, in a specific occupation, at a particular MQF level, must know and be able to do. The NOSs also link qualifications in the sector to the requirements of the labour market.
The NCFHE has published 80 National Occupational Standards that are pegged to the MQF and are therefore compiled using the ‘Learning Outcomes Approach’, which is achieved by stipulating and outlining related knowledge, skills and competences. The NOSs serve both employers and employees by outlining the expectations of skills and knowledge of different occupations and different levels of the same occupation.
In line with Cedefop’s European Guidelines for validating non-formal and informal learning, an effective validation process includes four phases: identification, documentation, assessment and certification. In 2017, the NCFHE signed Memoranda of Understanding with Jobsplus, the Building Industry Consultative Council (BICC) and the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) to carry out the assessment procedures for validating informal and non-formal learning, for the NOSs listed above. In 2020, the NCFHE has also signed an MOU with AME which is a private entity that will also carry out validation assessment in the Building and Construction Sector.