What Is An RQF Qualification?

What Is An RQF Qualification?

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Choosing the right course to do at university can be tricky. But the RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework) is in place to make the process simple and easy for you.

RQF qualification courses are widely recognised for their meaning and weight, primarily as OFQUAL regulates them. OFQUAL is the government office that handles all qualifications and exams in England and vocational qualifications across Northern Ireland. With a simple system that indexes qualifications based on their size and level, the RQF offers a simpler alternative to QCF, the previous framework that regulated such qualifications. Interested? Well, here’s everything you need to know about an RQF qualification, from the levels it offers to how it measures up against other frameworks around the world.

What Is The RQF?

The RQF, or Regulated Qualifications Framework, replaced the QCF, or the Qualifications and Credit Framework, in 2015 as the framework of qualifications students can take across the United Kingdom. Under the RQF framework, organisations can build their qualifications around the needs of learners and the working world regulated by OFQUAL. This government department regulates and recognises qualifications and exams. As such, an RQF course and award is fully recognised across the UK, including in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Each unit and full qualification monitored under the RQF framework has a credit value based on the average length of time it takes learners to complete the course. Also, every unit and qualification has its own level, from Entry level to level 8, which shows how challenging the course is. Finally, you can transfer RQF credits to different relevant courses, so if you choose to enrol on a different course or pursue a higher level of education, you can easily transfer the units you have acquired onto your new class.

You can learn more about the Regulated Qualifications Framework here.

The Benefits of The Regulated Qualification Framework

The RQF is now the major framework by which OFQUAL measure and regulate all qualifications and exams. So naturally, this highly trusted framework brings many benefits to you and your future career. Here are some benefits of an RQF qualification and taking one to boost your career:

  • The Regulated Qualifications Framework is not as strictly structured as the Qualifications and Credit Framework, meaning the legislation focuses more on outcomes and results.
  • The RQF provides students with more flexibility and freedom while building their qualifications. This means that students can easily mould the courses they take to prepare themselves for more specific professions.
  • The RQF is simpler to understand for everyone, so students can better acknowledge the value of the qualifications that the framework regulates and understand how they all relate to one another.
  • Each qualification regulated under the RQF has been arranged suitably into understandable levels. This makes it easier for students to measure their success against other types of qualifications and choose the appropriate next steps for their future.
  • The RQF allows students to study towards their award, certificate or diploma on one level depending on their available time and how much of it they plan to dedicate to their work.

In short, the government put together the RQF to focus more on helping students achieve their learning goals. As such, RQF qualifications are incredibly beneficial to the student and their future, no matter the subject.

What Levels Are In This Framework?

woman studying for an RQF qualification

The RQF has nine levels, starting at Entry Level and going up to Level 8. The level of a qualification determines how difficult the learning of it will be, with 8 being the hardest and Entry Level the easiest. So, for UK qualifications, the levels look something like the following:

Qualification LevelQualification Levels
Entry Levels
  • Essential skills at a beginner level
  • Entry level diplomas, certificates and awards
Level One
  • GCSE grades 3-1 (or D-G)
  • Level one Key Skills
  • NVQs
  • Music grades 1 -3
  • Level one diplomas, certificates and awards

Level Two

  • GCSE grades 4-9 (or A*-C)
  • O Level grades A-C
  • Intermediate apprenticeships
  • OCR Nationals
  • NVQs
  • Music grades 4-5
  • Level two diplomas, certificates and awards
Level Three
  • A and AS levels
  • Access to Higher Education diplomas
  • International Baccalaureate
  • BTEC nationals, diplomas, certificates and awards
  • OCR Nationals
  • Advanced apprenticeships
  • Music grades 6-8NVQs
Level Four
  • BTEC Professional diplomas, certificates and awards
  • HNMCs
  • Certificates of Higher Education
  • Higher apprenticeships
  • NVQs
Level Five
  • Foundation degrees
  • Diploma of Higher Education
  • HNDs
  • BTEC Professional diplomas, certificates and awards
  • NVQs
Level Six
  • Bachelor’s degrees
  • Graduate diplomas
  • Professional Graduate Certificate in Education
  • BTEC Advanced Professional diplomas, certificates and awards
  • Degree apprenticeships
Level Seven
  • Master’s degrees
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Education
  • BTEC Advanced Professional diplomas, certificates and awards
Level Eight
  • Doctoral degrees
  • Specialist diplomas, certificates and awards

Shared Levels Under The RQF

However, some qualifications may share the same level under this framework. In this case, these qualifications are both broadly similar in terms of learning and demand but can be rather different when it comes to the qualification’s content, duration and method of assessment. For example, GCE A Levels are classed as Level 3 under the RQF, and so are Level 3 Extended Project Qualification and the BTEC Level 3 National qualification. As you can see, the level of the qualification is stated clearly in the title to ensure it is clear for those considering taking the course.

How Do RQF Levels Compare To Other Qualification Frameworks?

Although the UK predominantly uses the RQF, other frameworks still exist that parts of the UK and other areas around the world use to measure their qualifications. Here is a rough comparison of the levels of the Regulated Qualifications Framework against other commonly used qualification frameworks. These are the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

Level 88812
Level 77711
Level 66610/9
Level 5/455/48/7
Level 3436
Level 2325
Level 1214
Entry Level 31Entry Level 33
Entry Level 2 Entry Level 22
Entry Level 1 Entry Level 11

How Is The Size of A Qualification Determined Under This Framework?

The size of qualifications on the Regulated Qualifications Framework is expressed in terms of their Total Qualification Time (TQT) and, if appropriate, credit and Guided Learning (GL).

The TQT is the total number of hours OFQUAL expects an average learner to take to complete the qualification to the necessary standard. It also includes:

  • An estimate of the number of hours a student will be likely to spend studying or preparing for training and assessments that are not under the guidance of a tutor
  • Guided Learning, when a learner is being taught by a tutor or participating in training under the direct guidance of a tutor. This includes assessments and examinations completed under the supervision of a tutor or assessor.

Each RQF qualification should state the TQT and GL, if applicable, in the qualification specification information.

What Are The Differences Between An RQF Qualification and A QCF Qualification?

woman on laptop working towards university qualification

The main issue with the Qualifications and Credit Framework was that it didn’t always meet and prioritise the needs of employers and learners. This resulted in a system that created generic qualifications with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality behind them. Hence, the flexibility and ease of use of RQF qualifications. The RQF does not set design rules for qualifications, instead allows the awarding organisations to build qualifications that meet the needs of students and the current labour market.

Another key difference between the RQF and QCF frameworks is the qualification size. With RQF, the qualification size must be explained in terms of the Total Qualification Time, which we explained earlier. With QCF, the size of a qualification, or the volume of learning, was determined by the number of credits a student had acquired. For example, you would have had:

  • Award – 1 to 12 credits
  • Certificate – 13 to 36 credits
  • Diploma – 37 credits or more

With the Regulated Qualifications Framework, the size of a qualification is measured by the amount of time it should take to complete it.

In short, the RQF and QCF frameworks differ in their set-up. Where the QCF sought to impose a particular view of what qualifications should look like, the RQF has a simple system for cataloguing all qualifications regulated. It’s like a bookcase in a library, with qualifications indexed by their ‘level’ and ‘size’. 

Understanding The RQF

Understanding the Regulated Qualifications Framework is vital when looking at courses and qualifications to complete. However, you can certainly take comfort in the fact that this framework is much simpler than the ones that came before it. So, use your newfound knowledge of the RQF to find the perfect course for you! Whether you choose an online course or an in-person qualification, you can rest assured that the RQF is there to support you and your future.

Are you wondering what you can do once you’ve completed your RQF qualification? Find out the best next steps after finishing university.


What does RQF stand for?

RQF stands for the Regulated Qualifications Framework.

What is the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF)?

The RQF is a framework in the United Kingdom that provides a way to understand and compare different qualifications based on their level of difficulty and complexity.

What is the purpose of the RQF?

The RQF aims to provide a clear and consistent structure for qualifications, allowing learners, employers, and education providers to understand and compare different qualifications within a unified framework.

How does the RQF work?

The RQF assigns a level to each qualification, ranging from Entry Level to Level 8. These levels indicate the relative difficulty and complexity of the qualification. Additionally, qualifications are further divided into units and credits, allowing learners to accumulate credits towards higher qualifications.

What are the benefits of the RQF?

The RQF offers several benefits, including enhanced transparency and comparability of qualifications, clearer progression pathways for learners, improved recognition of prior learning and experience, and increased flexibility in designing and delivering qualifications.


  1. Welsh Government. (n.d.). Credit and Qualifications Framework (CQFW) overview. Available at: https://www.gov.wales/credit-and-qualifications-framework-cqfw-overview (Accessed: 26 May 2023).
  2. Ofqual. (n.d.). GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofqual (Accessed: 26 May 2023).
  3. Ofqual. (2015, October 1). Explaining the RQF. Ofqual Blog. Available at: https://ofqual.blog.gov.uk/2015/10/01/explaining-the-rqf/ (Accessed: 26 May 2023).
  4. European Commission. (n.d.). Europass Tools: European Qualifications Framework. Europass. Available at: https://europa.eu/europass/en/europass-tools/european-qualifications-framework (Accessed: 26 May 2023).
  5. Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership (SCQFP). (n.d.). SCQF: Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework. Available at: https://scqf.org.uk/ (Accessed: 26 May 2023).
Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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