DQR quo vadis?

Johanna Mölls

Ten years ago, the Federal Government, the federal states and the social partners reached agreement on a joint position for the implementation of a German Qualifications Framework (DQR) that would establish equivalence between academic and vocational training for the first time. This article sheds light on this agreement and describes the momentum and impacts which the DQR has unfurled at a national level to date. It concludes by exploring the benefits which would accrue if a firm legal framework were established.

Development of the DQR – the 2012 agreement

In 2008, the European Parliament and the Council passed their Recommendation on the Establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF). This created a reference instrument that fosters the comparability of qualifications in Europe and renders them visible. The EQF is a building block to strengthen mobility and social integration and is the starting point for the development of the German Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (DQR), which maps the particular characteristics of the German education and training system.

On 31 January 2012, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, the Conference of the Ministers of Economic Affairs, the umbrella organisations of trade and industry, the German Confederation of Trade Unions and the German Rectors’ Conference all manifested their interest in making the German qualifications system more transparent and in supporting quality assurance by concluding a joint agreement relating to the DQR.1

The equivalence of vocational and higher education is clearly spelt out. The respective independent profiles of the education areas included also become visible at the same time. The DQR has its basis in the notion of competence, and this facilitates the comparison between vocational and higher education qualifications (cf. Spillner 2019).

Impact of the DQR at a national level

The DQR has now evolved to a point where it is able to assert a certain relevance on the labour market. The number of job advertisements containing a reference to the DQR has increased in recent times. Bodies such as government authorities are using the qualifications framework to demonstrate the requirements profiles of their vacancies.2 Other employers remain hesitant. They fear, for example, that the DQR may lead to pay scale categorisation claims or to compensation actions. This reticence presumably has its roots in a misunderstanding (cf. Coelln 2021). The function of the DQR is to act as a transparency instrument, and it does not give rise to salary group or compensation claims as long as the stakeholders responsible do not make any stipulation to the contrary for their particular sphere of influence. The DQR is also exhibiting relevance with regard to state funding for advancement in vocational education and training. One case in point is the continuing training provided via a preparatory training course for those wishing to pursue a master craftsman qualification (reference is made to the DQR in the application form). Last but not least, providers of non-formal training programmes are using the DQR as a mark of quality. In some instances, they seek to add value by prominently indicating the DQR level of the respective course.3 Using the DQR to advertise in this way is perfectly permissible as long as alignment to a DQR reference level by the competent bodies has taken place before such information is stated. In fact, such an approach is very much encouraged. The non-formal sector is thus given the opportunity to allude to the equivalence of its provision, the equivalence in this case being with the formal sector. In practice, however, training providers also promote their programmes using DQR alignments which have not been carried out by the organisations responsible. What they actually do is to align their programmes to a DQR level themselves. The quality checks conducted by the competent bodies are thus circumvented. This procedure is essentially inadmissible, but there are currently no bans or sanctions which can officially be imposed. According to the law as it stands, the only option in the event of conflict would be a cease-and-desist action brought by another institution which saw itself as being disadvantaged. The basis of such a lawsuit would be unfair competition (cf. Esser/Mölls 2014).

These remarks show that the significance of the DQR has risen in some individual areas over the past ten years, but that awareness of the framework is still much too low in terms of permitting it to unfurl the desired effect in the education and employment system. Very little success has been achieved in respect of the alignment of qualifications in the non-formal sector, despite discussions and endeavours which have been ongoing for years. One reason for this may be the DQR’s lack of any firm legal anchoring. Unlike other sets of rules, it is not documented and is also virtually unlocatable. The only exceptions are the DQR homepage provided by the BMBF and the KMK4 and some individual documents (such as the 2012 agreement referred to above). Even citations and references are therefore not straightforward.

Opportunities to put the DQR on a solid legal footing

The attractiveness of vocational education and training has suffered in the recent past. Contract numbers have been falling for years (cf. Oeynhausen et al. 2021), and the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating this development. As far as education and training behaviour is concerned, the DQR can help to enhance the appeal of the dual system once more by placing a clear emphasis on equivalence. But familiarity with the DQR is very slight amongst the companies, the country’s young people and those who advise them (e.g. parents and teachers). The DQR needs to be made more binding if its existence is to be propagated broadly across trade and industry, administration, society as a whole and education and training participants in particular (cf. Esser 2020). This is the only way in which it will be able to

  • act as a badge of equivalence;
  • strengthen the attractiveness of VET per se and vis-à-vis academic education especially;
  • (re)illustrate the opportunities for advancement which are available within the scope of the concept of a structured career.

Because the previous efforts of all stakeholders have borne too little fruit, the debate is now centring on proposals to raise the authoritativeness of the DQR and to establish it on a solid legal foundation. A normative statement on the part of policy makers will be understood as an expression of state commitment to the contents of the regulations, and creating a formal peg for the DQR will generate a degree of effectiveness. This is a known phenomenon in the history of vocational education and training. In the 1960s, the government parties of the day also decided to formulate a legal basis for a system which had already been established. The Vocational Training Act (BBiG) of 1969 came into being. The BBiG gave VET a crucial uplift and put quality assurance procedures in place to be instigated by the relevant stakeholders with state involvement. All of this added an international edge to the outstanding reputation which German vocational education and training continues to enjoy down to the present day.

A firm legal foundation would initiate a binding bedrock for the activities of the participating partners which would go beyond the self-commitment which has applied hitherto. It would require and legitimise state intervention in their activities and would localise the DQR as a source for reference and citation. Greater use could be made of the DQR as a transparency instrument on the labour market, and the non-formal sector would gain connectivity with the formal education system. The route to a state treaty between the Federal Government and the federal states could be opened up in order to integrate all state stakeholders, particularly in academic and vocational education. A functioning process based on a state treaty between the Federal Government and the federal states has already been in place in VET for decades – the use of quality-assured procedures for the appraisal and approval of distance learning programmes.5 This could serve as a reference point in the case of certification of formal and non-formal training qualifications.

Legal localisation of the DQR was a topic of discussion from the outset. An assessment of the legal impacts of the DQR, which were considered as slight at the time, was drawn up in 2009 (cf. Herdegen 2009). This position has persisted juristically in individual areas over the course of time, and the inference derived has been to characterise the DQR as legally non-existent and ineffective. Such an approach may have been correct to begin with, but major developments are certainly needed today! Political will is required.

The latest expert report from 2021 arrives at the conclusion that the decision to create a firm legal basis for the DQR was “merely” political in nature. The view expressed was that the legal possibilities were in place, and that no legal obstacles existed with regard to creating a legal foundation (cf. Coelln 2021, p. 149).

Possible contents of a state treaty between the Federal Government and the federal states

As well as clarifying terms such as “competence”, “descriptors”, “learning outcomes” etc., a state treaty between the Federal Government and the federal states should also provide protection against misuse and should govern the alignment procedures. Quality assurance ought to play an important part here. Another issue directly linked with the procedure is the question of whether the stakeholders involved thus far should possibly act as assessors. The role of the DQR could be codified in accordance with the Austrian example if indicated.6 Depending on the status of consensus, the DQR could be stipulated as being a transparency instrument – nothing more and nothing less. Collective labour agreement parties would then be free to create references, or indeed not to do so in justified cases.

The regulatory contents of the BBiG would also require adjustment to the developments of the DQR and to the competence orientation it forces. The notion of competence has been leaving its mark on educational research for many years. Initial and advanced training regulations have long since been formulated in a competence-oriented way as per the Recommendation of the BIBB Board (cf. BIBB Board 2014 and 2015). There is also a requirement for training and examinations to be conducted in a competence-oriented fashion. However, unlike in other laws7,  the term “competence” has yet to make an appearance in the BBiG.

In addition to this, the contents of training regulations should prescribe the DQR reference level to which the training is to be aligned.

It should also be a statutory norm for the DQR level to be displayed on certificates. Indicating the DQR level in this way is currently governed by a non-legislative agreement (cf. BIBB Board 2013).

It would be desirable for the provisions included in a state treaty between the Federal Government and the federal states on the National Qualifications Framework to be accompanied within this context by better harmonisation of European recognition and transparency instruments such as EQR, ESCO, ECVET, ECTS and the Europass so that their efficiency can be reciprocally increased. The focus in future needs to be on discussing and clarifying these and other important thematic areas within the context of the DQR.


Coelln, C. v.: Gutachten zur Klärung juristischer Fragen im Kontext der weiteren Umsetzung des Deutschen Qualifikationsrahmens für lebenslanges Lernen (DQR). Köln 2021

Hauptausschuss des BIBB [BIBB Board]: Formulierung des  Hinweises zur Ausweisung des DQR-Niveaus auf Zeugnissen. Empfehlung 157 vom 8. Dezember 2013 – URL: www.bibb.de/dokumente/pdf/HA157.pdf

Hauptausschuss des BIBB [BIBB Board]: Struktur und Gestaltung von Ausbildungsordnungen – Ausbildungsberufsbild, Ausbildungsrahmenplan. Empfehlung 160 vom 26. Juni 2014 –  URL: www.bibb.de/dokumente/pdf/HA160.pdf

Hauptausschuss des BIBB [BIBB Board]: Zuordnung von anerkannten Fortbildungsabschlüssen zum Deutschen Qualifikationsrahmen (DQR). Empfehlung 161 vom 25. Juni 2015 –  URL: www.bibb.de/dokumente/pdf/HA161.pdf

Esser, F. H.: Wir sollten den Deutschen Qualifikationsrahmen verbindlicher machen. Thesenpapier vom 15.6.2020 – URL: www.bibb.de/de/124013.php

Esser, F. H.; Mölls J.: DQR-Niveau auf Qualifikationsnachweisen: Missbrauchsschutz durch Norm und Markenstärke. In: BWP 43 (2014) 6 – URL: www.bwp-zeitschrift.de/de/bwp.php/de/bwp/show/7498

Herdegen, M.: Der Europäische Qualifikationsrahmen für lebenslanges Lernen - Rechtswirkungen der Empfehlung und Umsetzung im deutschen Recht – Rechtsgutachten im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums für Bildung und Forschung. Bonn 2009

Oeynhausen, S.; Milde, B.; Ulrich, J. G.; Flemming, S.; Granath, R.-O.: Die Entwicklung des Ausbildungsmarktes im Jahr 2020 (Fachbeiträge im Internet). Bonn 2021 – URL: www.bibb.de/dienst/veroeffentlichungen/de/publication/show/17253

Spillner, G.: Empfehlung für eine nachhaltige Ausgestaltung des Deutschen Qualifikationsrahmens. (unveröffentl. Manuskript) 2019

(All links: status 28/2/2022)

Johanna Mölls
Head of Section at BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2022): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin