National qualifications system
The national qualifications system includes, by definition, all aspects of a country's activity related to the recognition of learning and other mechanisms that combine education and training with the job market and civil society. It should include the development and implementation of institutional devices and processes for quality assurance, assessment and qualifications awarded. It can be made up of different subsystems and include the National Qualifications Framework and National Qualifications Catalogue (CNQ) as tools that help structure such qualifications.
In Portugal, the National Qualifications System (Sistema Nacional de Qualificações - SNQ) began with the Council of Ministers Resolution No 173/2007, 7 November. In the same year, among others, it defined objectives such as promoting upper secondary level education as a minimum qualification for the population and the investment in dual certification, both via the increase in VET provision and the recognition, validation and certification of formal, informal and non-formal learning competences.
In terms of adults, it aims to further develop a system for improving adult qualifications, using various tools, particularly the mechanisms for the recognition, validation and certification of competences acquired throughout life in formal, informal and non-formal contexts and for vocationally oriented training that the workforce can attend.
As part of the implementation of national education and training policies, the SNQ (Decree-Law No 396/2007, 31 December, as last amended by Decree-Law No 14/2017, 26 January) includes a set of structures and mechanisms that ensure the relevance of education and training to personal development and for the modernisation of enterprises and the economy.
For these aims to be operational and regulated, the SNQ boasts the following structures:
- various public bodies (National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education - ANQEP, I.P.; Directorate-General for Education - DGE; Directorate-General for Employment and Labour Relations - DGERT; and Institute for Employment and Vocational Training - IEFP, I.P.).
- bodies and structures with responsibilities in education and vocational training policy funding.
- specialised adult qualification centres, currently called Qualifica Centres.
- a network of training bodies, made up of a) basic and upper secondary education establishments; b) vocational training and vocational retraining centres managed directly or via protocols; c) private training bodies certified by Directorate General for Employment and Labour Relations (Direção-Geral do Emprego e das Relações de Trabalho - DGERT); d) training bodies that are part of other ministries or other legal persons governed by public law; e) private and cooperative schools with parallel teaching or recognition of public interest; f) public and private vocational schools; f) bodies with certified training structures in the private sector.
- a network of 18 Sector Councils for Qualifications (Conselhos Setoriais para a Qualificação - CSQ), which functions as a platform for technical-consultative discussion and reflection. Divided into sectors and following a set of structural/delimitation principles, it aims to identify the essential qualifications for competitive and modern production and the personal and social development of individuals. This network is made up of:
- specialists appointed by the government department that oversees the sector of activity covered by the CSQ
- regulatory bodies for access to and the exercise of professions and professional activities
- social partners
- direct management professional training centres and IEFP, I.P. invested vocational training centres
- public, private and cooperative educational establishments (including vocational schools, training bodies and Qualifica Centres, particularly those with sectoral or regional specialisation)
- technological, innovation and research and development centres
- top companies and business groups
- competitiveness clusters
- prestigious national and international independent experts, among others who support the ANQEP, IP in the processes of updating and developing the catalogue.
The system is made operational and regulated by:
- The National Qualifications Catalogue (Catálogo Nacional de Qualificações - CNQ) which is concerned with the strategic management of the non-higher education qualifications necessary and critical for the competitiveness and modernisation of companies and the productive sector, as well as for individuals’ personal and social development. The CNQ aims to ensure greater coordination between the competences required for the country’s socioeconomic development and the training provision available within the National Qualification System.
- The CNQ offers dual certification and includes a set of academic and professional reference frameworks for each qualification. It also includes short and medium-length pathways that are considered key to the country’s development. This tool is permanently open to improvements or new qualifications proposed by the sector councils for qualification operating, or ANQEP, IP itself. The design of these reference frameworks and assessment tools is based on the new qualification design methodology, which is published on the National Qualifications Catalogue website. In 2022, the CNQ began an updating process to make it more focussed on competences and learning outcomes. This process involves 21 diagnostic studies on the skills and qualifications needed for different sectors, as well as the design of the respective competence reference frameworks, training reference frameworks and assessment tools used for the recognition, validation and certification of skills acquired through work experience (Professional RVCC).
- The National Qualifications Framework (QNQ), which is regulated by Ordinance No 782/2009, 23 July, classifies the qualifications produced in the education and training system according to a set of areas , defining the structure of the qualification levels, including access requirements and the corresponding school qualification. The QNQ includes eight qualification levels covering qualifications at the various levels of the education and training system, regardless of the access routes (basic, upper-secondary, higher education, vocational training and processes of recognition, validation and certification of competences. The QNQ also adheres to the principles of the European Qualification Framework (EQF) in relation to the description of national qualifications in terms of learning outcomes, according to the descriptors associated with each qualification level. In addition to the clarity and transparency that it gives the entire system and the coordination of operators’ activity at national and European level, it is a key factor in the transition to an education and training system geared towards knowledge, competences and attitudes that determine and demonstrate the competences associated with each qualification level.
- The National Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (regulated by Ordinance No 47/2017, 1 February) attributes credit to dual certification qualifications within the QNQ and included in the CNQ. It does the same with other certified training not included in the Catalogue, provided that it is registered with the Information and Management System of the Education and Training Provision (Sistema de Informação e Gestão da Oferta Educativa e Formativa – SIGO) and complies with the current quality assurance criteria. The credit points of a qualification and its constituent units are obtained when trainees achieve the learning outcomes or demonstrate the competences these units refer to, i.e., when they obtain certification in the respective qualification units. This system permits the accumulation and transfer of credit, in accordance with the principles of the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET), by promoting mobility within Europe.
- The Qualifica Passport is a personal electronic, non-transferable and optional document that contains the individual record of competences acquired and training attended by citizens, throughout their life, which are referred to in the National Qualifications Catalogue. It also includes of vocational training courses not included in the National Qualifications Catalogue, which presupposes successful completion. It allows the holder to identify areas where they can acquire and/or refine competences that improve their qualification pathway, as well as offering employers a more immediate evaluation of a candidate’s suitability for a specific job.
Information and management system of the education and training provision
Other structural mechanisms were created to ensure the system is supervised, monitored, assessed and regulated, such as the Information and Management System of the Education and Training Provision (SIGO). This is a computer platform accessible to system operators and coordinators that includes educational and vocational qualifications provision divided between the different bodies of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Solidarity, Employment and Social Security. This constitutes significant progression in terms of the clarity of available provision, administrative simplification and the use of the platform to launch, supervise, monitor and manage provision.
SIGO is designed to meet the information needs of schools, training centres, the Directorate-General of School Administration, DGEstE, IEFP, IP and ANQEP, IP, which also use the information system for needs associated with their specific mission.
Statistical data of the national qualifications system
Based on the impact of the measures created via the National Qualifications System (SNQ), it is important to examine a set of statistical indicators.
National qualifications catalogue and sector councils for qualifications
In 2008, when it was launched, the National Qualification Catalogue (CNQ) included 238 qualifications, 60 of which had reference frameworks for the recognition, validation and certification of professional competences (RVCC).
Considering the data updated in 2022, the CNQ includes 392 qualifications with 171 RVCC reference frameworks created. Total qualifications include 110 Level 2 qualifications, 231 Level 4 qualifications and 51 Level 5 qualifications. This growth involved the creation of 207 new qualifications, the exclusion of 48 and 1,213 updates.
The CNQ also includes a number of short and medium-length courses related to different programmes or emerging areas of intervention, such as: Young + Digital Programme, which focusses on digital skills; Portuguese as Host Language, which is geared towards citizens whose mother tongue is not Portuguese and/or who do not have basic, intermediate or advanced skills in Portuguese; Digital Skills Certificate Programme, which aims to boost the Portuguese population’s digital skills; Train Driver, which is designed to help individuals obtain and renew locomotive and train licences; the Qualification for Internationalisation Programme, which aims to train human resources in internationalisation and international trade; the "Valorizar Social" Programme, which aims to increase management and digital skills as a factor for inclusion, as well as boosting the transformation and adaptation of social institutions to today's world and the new challenges that they face on a daily basis; Green Skills & Jobs, which provides vocational training and retraining for the unemployed and workers in companies and other employers that are directly or indirectly affected by increases in energy costs, and for the unemployed, job retention and creation by speeding up the transition and energy efficiency.
In this process of renewal and updating of reference frameworks, the role of the sector councils for qualifications (Conselhos Setoriais para a Qualificação - CSQ) is essential.
The qualification needs forecasting system (SANQ)
Law No 82A/2014, 31 December, which approved the Major Planning Options for 2015, highlighted the importance of skills needs analysis system for the country.
The qualification needs forecasting system (Sistema de Antecipação de Necessidades de Qualificações – SANQ) was created within this context and stemmed from ANQEP's need to have access to the most up-to-date knowledge regarding the supply and demand for qualifications (short and medium-term) and developments in education and training provision.
As such, the definition and development of a skills needs forecasting model was an important step in consolidating a more informed and sustained intervention regarding planning and cooperation of the training network.
The SANQ model is based on three modules (a basic diagnostic module, planning module and regional development module). These form a chain and are based on a set of methodological tools - both quantitative and qualitative - that allows a forecast of how employment and skill needs change and relate to education and training provision. SANQ’s main operational objectives are the following:
- an initial macro analysis - with information on the economic and job market dynamics that influence demand for skills (in the short and medium-term).
- the identification of potential future skills, and the need for adjustment to existing ones, allowing the National Qualifications Catalogue to be updated.
- the definition of skills needs regional assessments.
- the identification of priority career areas and prospects, both nationally and regionally, to support the education and training provision network planning process.
The objective was to construct a dynamic forecasting model, which would update information continuously, supporting the decision-making of the different stakeholders in the National Qualification System, such as:
- young people or adults looking to do a qualification, who could use the SANQ to see opportunities in the different regions;
- guidance, information and referral services and professionals, who would have another tool to help young people and adults decide on qualifications that match their expectations;
- education and training providers who could use SANQ to plan future provision;
- the bodies that establish criteria defining the training provision network (ANQEP, IP, DGEstE and IEFP, IP), as well as those responsible for funding the different types of qualification access (such as the thematic or regional community funds management programmes as part of Portugal 2030 Strategy, or the management of investments for Component 6. Qualifications and Skills - Recovery and Resilience Plan).
As part of the planning process for the dual certification provision network for young people (vocational courses and education and training courses), SANQ has been able to identify priority career areas and prospects, both nationally and regionally. Although it is based on a diagnosis of skills needs for the mainland at NUT II level (basic assessment), since the outset, the SANQ model foresees a "regional development module" that helps define skills needs at regional level (developed and coordinated by intermunicipal communities or metropolitan areas), providing a regional dimension to the definition of priorities regarding how education and training provision for young people is organised.
Based on SANQ results, every year ANQEP, I.P. defines criteria for the dual certification provision network for young people (vocational courses and education and training courses), which supports the planning and coordinating process for these networks.
After its creation and first use for planning provision for the 2015/16 school year, ANQEP updated SANQ’s basic diagnostic module in 2017, with the results used to plan provision for the following school years (2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21). In 2020, there was a new update for the basic diagnostic module.
In 2016, ANQEP provided all intermunicipal communities and metropolitan areas with the Regional Development Toolkit, which offers the possibility of sub-regional application of the business survey, as well as the tools necessary to collect qualitative information.
The model’s usefulness is based on the regular updating of the information that supports both basic diagnosis and regional development, so that the monitoring of recruitment trends, as well as qualifications and skills needs, is possible and contributes to the planning of dual certification provision networks and the update of the National Qualification Catalogue.
Intermunicipal communities’ and metropolitan areas’ (IC/MA) participation in the regional development of qualifications needs assessment and local conciliation of the provision network is a key aspect of SANQ and the planning strategy for dual certification provision.
Since SANQ’s launch, there has been a clear increase in intermunicipal community and metropolitan area participation: between 2017 and 2020, 16 IC/MA (out of a total of 23) developed the SANQ regional module, while only four did so in 2015. In 2021, 20 intermunicipal communities were involved, a number that rose to 22 in 2022 and 23 (the total number) in 2023. The increasing involvement of these bodies in the local conciliation process, which has been taking place during these years, has meant better regional assessment of qualification needs.