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National qualifications framework


2.Organisation and governance

2.5National qualifications framework

Last update: 27 November 2023

In April 2008, a European Parliament and Council Recommendation (2008/C111/01/EC, 6 May) was approved in relation to the institution of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (this Recommendation was repealed by the Council Recommendation of 22 May, 2017). The aim was to create a common framework that worked as a translation mechanism between the qualification systems of the member states, thus contributing to the promotion of lifelong learning and to increase the comparability and portability of qualifications of EU citizens.

In Portugal, the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) was created in 2007 and regulated in June 2009. It came into force in October 2010 (Ordinance No 782/2009, 23 July), guided by the principles of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), in which national qualifications are described in terms of learning outcomes.

The creation of the NQF, which was undertaken as part of the Education and Training System reform process and the creation of the National Qualifications System, was based on the following assumptions:

  • The need to integrate and coordinate qualifications obtained within the different subsystems of education and training (education, vocational training, higher education) within a single framework;
  • the importance of valuing and considering competences acquired in non-formal and informal contexts;
  • improved legibility, transparency and comparability of qualifications;
  • valuing dual certification particularly associated with upper-secondary qualifications;
  • ensuring the coordination with European Qualifications Framework, which involves the use of the EQF as a reference tool to compare the qualifications levels of different qualifications systems, in terms of lifelong learning.


The NQF is structured as follows:

Qualification Levels


Level 1

2nd cycle of primary education

Level 2

3rd cycle of primary education obtained in primary education or via dual certification

Level 3

Upper-secondary education geared towards further studies in higher education

Level 4

Upper-secondary education obtained via dual certification or upper-secondary education geared towards further studies in higher education with vocational internship – minimum 6 months

Level 5

Non-higher, post-secondary qualification with credits to continue to higher education-level studies

Level 6

Licentiate Degree (Licenciatura)

Level 7

Master Degree

Level 8


Source: Ordinance No 782/2009, 23 July


The options taken regarding the design and structure of the NQF are in response to the following aspects:

  • The NQF includes qualifications at various levels of the education and training system, regardless of entry points (primary, upper-secondary, higher education, vocational education and training and processes of recognition, validation and certification of competences, acquired both formally and informally);
  • divided into 8 qualification levels that include all the qualifications currently produced in the Portuguese education and training system;
  • the adoption of a methodology based on learning outcomes to describe each qualification level: the use of learning outcomes in defining qualification levels reflects a major change in the way qualifications are conceptualised and described, making comparability possible according to competences and not learning processes;
  • the adoption of the “knowledge, aptitudes and attitudes” fields for the definition of learning outcomes for each qualification level;
  • the adoption of descriptors of learning outcomes found in the EQF.


Descriptors for each qualification level of the National Qualifications Framework, according to the abovementioned Recommendation, are the following:

Qualification Levels

Corresponding learning outcomes




Level 1

Basic general knowledge 

Basic skills required to carry out simple tasks.

Work or study under direct supervision in a structured context.

Level 2

Basic factual knowledge of a field of work or study.

Basic cognitive and practical skills required to use relevant information in order to carry out tasks and to solve routine problems using simple rules and tools.

Work or study under supervision with some autonomy.

Level 3

Knowledge of facts, principles, processes and general concepts, in a field of work or study.

A range of cognitive and practical skills required to accomplish tasks and solve problems by selecting and applying basic methods, tools, materials and information. 

Take responsibility for completion of tasks in a field of work or study. Adapt own behaviour to circumstances in solving problems. 

Level 4

Factual and theoretical knowledge in broad contexts within a field of work or study. 

A range of cognitive and practical skills required to generate solutions to specific problems in a field of work or study.

Exercise self-management within the guidelines of work or study contexts that are usually predictable, but are subject to change. Supervise the routine work of others, taking some responsibility for the evaluation and improvement of work or study activities.

Level 5

Comprehensive, specialised, factual and theoretical knowledge within a field of work or study and an awareness of the boundaries of that knowledge.

A comprehensive range of cognitive and practical skills required to develop creative solutions to abstract problems. 

Exercise management and supervision in contexts of work or study activities where there is unpredictable change. Review and develop performance of self and others.

Level 6

Advanced knowledge of a field of work or study, involving a critical understanding of theories and principles. 

Advanced skills, demonstrating mastery and innovation, required to solve complex and unpredictable problems in a specialised field of work or study.

Manage complex technical or professional activities or projects, taking responsibility for decision-making in unpredictable work or study contexts. Take responsibility for managing professional development of individuals and groups. 

Level 7

Highly specialised knowledge, some of which is at the forefront of knowledge in a field of work or study, as the basis for original thinking and/or research. Critical awareness of knowledge issues in a field and at the interface between different fields. 

Specialised problem-solving skills required in research and/or innovation in order to develop new knowledge and procedures and to integrate knowledge from different fields.

Manage and transform work or study contexts that are complex, unpredictable and require new strategic approaches. Take responsibility for contributing to professional knowledge and practice and/or for reviewing the strategic performance of teams.

Level 8

Knowledge at the most advanced frontier of a field of work or study, and at the interface between fields.

The most advanced and specialised skills and techniques, including synthesis and evaluation, required to solve critical problems in research and/or innocation and to extend and redefine existing knowledge or professional practice. 

Demonstrate substantial authority, innovation, autonomy, scholarly and professional integrity and sustained commitment to the development of new ideas or processes at the forefront of work or study contexts including research. 

Source: Ordinance No 782/2009, 23 July


When approving the NQF, the National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education and Training (Agência Nacional para a Qualificação e Ensino Profissional - ANQEP, I.P.) was designated as the national coordination point for the implementation of the EQF. These duties are performed in conjunction with the Directorate General of Higher Education regarding levels 5-8 of the NQF.

Within this context, in 2010, ANQ began the process of referencing the NQF qualification levels to the EQF levels. This referencing process adhered to the criteria and procedures defined by the Advisory Group for the Implementation of the European Commission’s European Qualification Framework (EQF Advisory Group), which includes representatives of member states and the European social partners.

The structuring of the NQF makes it easier to compare qualifications from different countries, which not only facilitates mobility in the employment market but also mobility in education and training.

In January 2011, it was established that all certificates and diplomas issued from  1 October 2010, onwards, and which confer a qualification featured in the NQF, must include a reference to the respective level of qualification (Order No 978/2011, 12 January), which provides greater legibility and transparency in understanding qualifications obtained in the system.

In 2021, Ordinance No 194/2021, of 17 September defines the models of electronic format diplomas and certificates for most education and training provision in basic and upper secondary education: general basic education; specialised artistic courses (basic education); integrated education and training programmes; education and training courses for young people (basic education); science-humanities courses; specialised artistic courses (upper secondary education); vocational courses; own school curriculum courses (with and without dual certification); upper secondary level dual certification courses from Turismo de Portugal - showing the respective qualification level, in accordance with the QNQ and the QEQ.