Harmonisation of skills and qualifications

Towards a South Asian Qualification Reference Framework

The International Labour Organization for Sri Lanka and the Maldives (ILO) jointly with Sri Lanka's Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) hosted a virtual awareness session on the South Asian Qualification Reference Framework (SAQRF) on 23 June 2022. A fruitful discussion was held with the active participation of nearly 90 stakeholders.

News | 23 June 2022
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (ILO News) - Stakeholders representing governing bodies of the tertiary education sector of Sri Lanka, quality assurance officials of private and public universities, officials of state institutions engaged in skills development, employment promotion, foreign employment, as well as researchers, representatives of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and trade unions as well as development partners took part in this virtual awareness session.

Ms Simrin Singh, the ILO Country Director for Sri Lanka and The Maldives delivered the opening remarks of the session and highlighted the history of the SAQRF initiative.

The development of a South Asian Qualifications Reference Framework (SAQRF) was endorsed in the SAARC Plan of Action for Cooperation on Matters Related to Migration (adopted in Kathmandu, May 2016). By adopting this framework, it is expected to facilitate the harmonisation of skills qualifications at the regional level and enhance the recognition of skills of migrant workers from South Asia in the destination countries to collectively reap the benefits, Ms Singh added.

Ms Singh emphasised the ILO’s contribution to the SAQRF highlighting that “in mid to late 2020 the ILO supported the initial development of the South Asian Qualifications Reference Framework (SAQRF) by conducting a survey and interviews with representatives from member states. Later on, a feasibility report was produced as an outcome of the discussion”.

At present, the ILO through its migration-focused GOALS regional Project is engaging with South Asian member states to design and develop the SAQRF. The GOALS project has appointed an experienced consultant to provide technical support for this effort while the locally appointed Technical Team is engaged in providing technical inputs to the Consultant on the country’s contexts and understandings, in order to ensure this framework is designed to meet the demands of member states.

Mr Gabriel Bordado, Skills Specialist ILO DWT-New Delhi was invited to brief the participants on the developments of the SAQRF. According to Mr Bordado, at present the key focus is on greater mobility for South Asian students and workers for better employment. Emphasising the main challenges relating to education and skills migration Mr Bordado highlighted the underutilisation of workers’ skills and qualifications in countries of destination, lack of employment opportunities in countries of origin, weak education and training systems and policies, low-skilled workers’ vulnerability to exploitation and lack of systematic information on skills and qualifications as some areas of concern.

Ms Andrea Bateman, ILO Consultant for SAQRF shared the present status of the draft SAQRF being developed. As highlighted by Ms Bateman the key aim of developing a Regional Qualification Framework (RQF) is to develop a common understanding amongst member states as well as to seek commonalities and clarify differences in skills and qualifications. Further, RQF acts as a reference instrument as well as a self-assessment instrument to promote and monitor the improvement of qualifications systems.

According to Ms Bateman, the benefits of having an RQF are enormous. Creating a common identity, enabling the mobility of workers and students, facilitating recognition and credit transfer, ensuring the transparency of multiple complex systems, supporting economic imperatives such as removal of barriers to trade, and expanding integration and harmonisation are some identified key benefits.

Dr Janaka Jayalath, Deputy Director-General, Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) and a member of the Technical Committee for SAQRF highlighted the country-specific contribution to SAQRF. Dr Jayalath’s presentation focused on mapping of comparable levels of the National Vocational Qualification Framework (NVQF) and the Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF). Highlighting the practical aspects of the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) and the cognitive component of the Sri Lanka Qualification Framework Dr Jayalath emphasised the need for bridging the NVQ and SLQF components.

Mr G.M.R.D. Aponsu, Director Planning, Ministry of Education and a member of the Technical Committee for SAQRF also presented the country-specific contribution to SAQRF. As per Mr Aponsu, listed are some of the key areas to be addressed to move forward with the SAQRF while ensuring its sustainability:
  • Updating of SLQF/NVQF giving attention to the digitalisation process in education
  • Developing a human resource pool for quality assurance experts
  • Ratifying regional conventions for recognising higher education
  • Multilateral/ Bi lateral Agreements on recognising higher education
  • National Information Centre for higher education qualifications
At the end of this awareness session, the floor was open for Q&A and discussion. With the active participation of the invitees representing diverse institutions, a fruitful discussion was conducted. The inputs of this awareness session will be taken for discussion at the forthcoming regional technical team meetings.