Postgraduate Qualifications & Awards Explained

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With multiple levels and multiple awarding bodies, it can be confusing to understand where exactly your qualification sits in terms of national and international recognition. Let’s take a brief look at how it all works.

Postgraduate qualifications are awarded at either level 9 or 10 on the National Framework of Qualifications, which is administered by Quality & Qualifications Ireland (QQI). Level 9 on the framework applies to Postgraduate diplomas and Masters Degrees. Postgraduate diplomas are generally one year in duration and, most commonly, are open to students who have obtained an honours undergraduate degree. In terms of international equivalency, a Postgraduate Diploma is within the second cycle of the Bologna framework of qualifications.

Postgraduate Qualifications & Awards Types

The Bologna Framework, or Process, for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area is based on an intergovernmental agreement. The Framework’s aim is to organise national higher education qualifications into an overarching European-wide qualifications framework. Within this Framework, qualifications are defined according to levels of complexity and difficulty. These are broadly applicable in all European national contexts.

Masters Level Programmes

A Masters Degree is also a Level 9 qualification and is also part of the the second cycle of the Bologna framework. A Doctoral degree is a Level 10 qualification on the NFQ framework and is normally a three or four year programme. In terms of international recognition, it is part of the third cycle of the Bologna framework. A Higher Doctorate is individually assessed by the awarding institution, and candidates will have been holding a doctoral degree for some time before being considered for a higher doctorate. It is also part of the third cycle of the Bologna framework.

In terms of recognition outside the European Union, the Irish and UK system is very similar (almost identical) to the systems operated in countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A useful guide as to what your qualification is equivalent to when compared to countries around the world can be found via the QQI here. Of course, if your further study is taking you abroad, make sure you check directly with your careers service and your chosen institution about any changes or possible changes to qualification recognition etc.

Awarding bodies

Bodies or organisations which are allowed make ‘awards’ or award qualifications have changed much in recent years. In terms of statutory awards, the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) and Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) carry out awarding function for further education awards and higher education awards respectively. FETAC makes awards for all programmes in level 5 and 6, such as Advanced Certificates, primarily carried out in training centres, further education centres, community based education and workplace based education. HTEAC is the qualifications awarding body for higher education and training awards outside the university sector and makes awards through a wide range of private colleges and institutions. Universities and Institutes of Technology make awards for their own programmes.

Professional bodies

These are bodies which have the statutory powers to make awards in Ireland relating to Irish legislation, and are normally accepted as being in line with European directives for the particular sector. This list is not exhaustive and of course, the regulations and stipulations relating to each individual organisation can change.

In particular reference to the UK, there are professional bodies within other jurisdictions which make awards for those learning programmes in Ireland. An example of this would be the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries which administers its award through the Society of Actuaries in Ireland.


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