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Skills mapping scoping study: comparability of qualifications in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Published: February 2003

Executive Summary

I.1 In 2002 InterTradeIreland commissioned a study of the mapping of qualifications between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This report presents the key findings from the study, which can be summarised as follows:

  • There is clear support at European level for the recognition of academic and vocational qualifications between jurisdictions;
  • (In order to understand any potential qualifications mapping). It is essential to understand the administrative / organisational framework;
  • The ability to conduct a formal North-South qualifications mapping exercise depends on there being clear qualifications frameworks within each jurisdiction;
  • In Northern Ireland, the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) [1], which is currently under review, is based on the UK framework, and is maintained by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) [2];
  • The formal qualifications framework is currently being developed in the Republic of Ireland, and is expected to be completed in February 2003; and
  • A number of informal or proxy mapping exercises do exist. These include the exercises undertaken by the UK National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) and the European Employment Services (EURES) Cross-border Partnership. While the EURES exercise only provides the broad mapping of qualification types (e.g. A levels and Leaving Certificates), NARIC does provide more detailed mapping on an individual qualification basis. 

I.2 Given that the NFQ for the Republic of Ireland has yet to be finalised, and the UK NQF is currently under review, it would, be unwise to attempt to construct a formal North-South mapping exercise at this stage. However, once the both frameworks have been established and become ‘embedded’, such an exercise should be conducted as a matter of urgency, and the results disseminated widely.

I.3 When conducting a mapping exercise, there are a number of key considerations which, in our view, should be borne in mind going forward:

  • clearly defined purpose;
  • clear and transparent criteria;
  • unambiguous reporting; and
  • dissemination of results.

I.4 Research by the Priority Skills Unit (Northern Ireland) and The Expert Group on Future Skill Needs (Republic of Ireland) has indicated that there is evidence of skills shortages in a number of key sectors in both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. As part of the current study, the study team conducted a consultation exercise with a number of industrial bodies North and South to investigate whether a lack of recognition of qualifications represented a barrier to cross-border mobility. Amongst the key findings from this exercise are the following:

Engineering and IT were identified as two sectors in which there was a relatively free flow of labour between jurisdictions, and also as sectors in which, particularly at higher education level, there was generally a strong mutual recognition of qualifications;

Tourism was identified as a sector in which, generally speaking, mutual understanding and recognition of qualifications on a NorthSouth basis was relatively poor. This was in a context of the demand for labour and skills in the tourism sector remaining relatively buoyant; and

Construction was identified as a sector in which the flow of labour between jurisdictions, particularly from North to South, had increased in recent years. Mutual recognition of qualifications was described as 'mixed'.


[1] The NQF provides a three-category, five-level framework for all classes of qualification.. 
[2] The QCA is the organisation responsible for the quality assurance of standards in education and training in the UK. 


Front cover of Mutual Recognition of Qualifications report

Click here to download the full Skills Mapping Scoping Study report.

You can find out more about A Guide to Recognition of Qualifications on the InterTradeIreland Cross-Border Trade Hub.