Visual and Performing Arts Level Descriptors

EQF Level Descriptors Visual and Performing Arts

Background and Outcomes of the work on level 6, 7 and 8

The HUMART project aims and the activities to establish an SQF for the disciplines of Art & Design and Dance & Theatre constituted a new phase in a process of change that started already in 2001. Around that time, it became clear for many art schools, academies and universities that the Bologna Process would have a considerable impact on the structures within Higher Arts Education.

From 2003 onwards, the arts disciplines liaised with the TUNING Educational Structures project, through the Erasmus Thematic network for Higher Arts education inter}artes (2004 -2007), followed by the Thematic network artesnet.europe (2007 - 2010) as an EU-funded project covering all EU member states. These networks worked in close collaboration with the European League of Institutes of the Arts as the primary international network organization of major arts education institutions & universities.  The project brought together discipline specific groups of art teachers and professors from different European countries started to undertake initial development activities on learning outcomes for the purpose of valid and reliable assessments of students from diverse arts educational institutions and countries.  Four of these development groups (Design, Fine Art, Dance and Theatre) reached consensus on definitions of expected learning outcomes in particular for the first and second level of higher arts education, taking into account different degree profiles and relevant occupations. Specific European working conferences in the four disciplines discussed and consulted a larger group of European colleagues on the defined learning outcomes and validated the work done by the development groups, obviously with a number of comments and sometimes some reservations. The documents have been the result of hard work and a long-term consultation process within the arts disciplines and constituted for the first time shared visions and terminology on the learning outcomes arts graduates should acquire at each of the two/three cycles. A ‘Validation’ conference in 2007, facilitated by the Tuning Project with stakeholders from different professional fields, showed that the expectations of the professional representatives attending were in line with the 2007 Tuning Documents; describing the required knowledge, skills and competences for each cycle in four arts disciplines. However, compared with more clearly defined professions such as engineering professions it remained to be difficult to define typical professions associated with the different cycles of higher arts education.

Even though final versions of the four documents exist since the end of 2007, arts institutions (and national/institutional versions) are still extensively using the Tuning documents across Europe. The documents are also used by national quality assurance agencies and educational authorities. 

For the arts educational sector across the EU, but also in Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, Russia and Georgia the Tuning documents helped to make the range of skills transparent and clarified where one’s own institute is different at programme or at an institutional level.

The Tuning follow-up SQF HUMART project asked ELIA to compose two working groups, one for performing arts (dance, theatre) and one for visual arts (design, fine art). It was a natural choice for ELIA to involve experts that had built up experience drafting the Tuning documents. They had also developed an attitude towards finding common ground that can be characterized with terms such as mutual trust, ability to listen and adapt, creative use of language and dialogue mediation. Further to this experience, the composition of the two groups had to represent the north, south, east and the west of Europe as well as gender balance.

Coming from Higher Education the group had a weakness: only some of the members had expertise in the field of secondary education.  Since the Sectoral Qualifications Framework had to embrace also the entrance level to Higher Education, level 4, this seemed problematic.

A slight shift of perspective encouraged the groups to realise the assignment: the level descriptors at the levels 6, 7 and 8 have been written from the perspective of what a student achieved in terms of knowledge, skills and competences at the end of his or her studies at the concerned level. Looking at Level 4 and partly 5 became feasible from the perspective of what a student would need to have acquired in terms of knowledge, skills and competences to enter HE at level 6. The entry requirements for HE would be the exit achievements at level 4. With that perspective in mind, the representatives of the two groups could think from the perspective of an ´ideal world´ for HE. The EURIDICE survey and investigations about secondary education curricula in the EU- countries offered reference points for a reality check. The initial findings for level 4 and 5 have been later complemented by the results from the collected country information about level 4 and 5.

Outcomes of the work on Levels 3/ 4 and 5

The experts from higher education in Art & Design and Dance & Theatre have been confident in working on (re)defining the levels 6, 7 and 8 of the EQF, either based on their work in their institutions and/or on earlier work on Tuning documents on the European level. However, defining the levels 3/4 and 5 presented some more problems. Most experts felt they did not have sufficient expertise in this field.  Luckily, the group could profit from the in-depth expertise from the Bulgarian and Finnish experts to develop and decide level descriptors for those levels.

Other than in subjects that form a structural part of the curriculum such as language, mathematics and other subjects at primary and secondary level, provisions for arts education are much more diverse and diffuse across Europe.  From an overview of information, gathered through the involved networks (country reports), the following picture can be painted

Concerning level 3 / 4

In most EU countries, some formalized system at primary/secondary level exists with some exceptions such as in Denmark. This normally is a compulsory part of the curriculum for everybody and/or a formalized route for talented pupils, mostly in Dance or Music and sometimes Theatre. In some countries these routes lead to a specific diploma, for instance in Italy the ‘Liceo Artistico”or in Ireland to a specifc ‘Leaving Certificate’.   Art schools/academies combine secondary and pre-college education, possibly equal to level 4, sometimes at level 5 leading to a professional qualification.

In most national systems, artistic education is not linked to a level in their NQF and not credit rated. Some countries (Finland, Italy, Sweden, Scotland, and UK) mention that they have decided or are in the process of deciding to which NQF levels the different degrees are to be connected.

Within the arts, informal education and non-formal education is widely spread in public and private schools, clubs, youth art schools etc.  These activities frequently inspire young people to pursue creative education and can provide a bridge between informal education and higher architectural, arts and music education. As far as we know nowhere in Europe a formal procedure exists for assessment and recognition of artistic skills obtained during non-formal education;

 Concerning level 5:

From the point of view of higher art & design and dance & theatre, level five is far from obvious. For the purpose of the SQF HUMART project, we have considered level five as constituting the preparatory phase within higher architectural, arts and music education (pre-college education), which is nowhere compulsory.

Looking back from level six, the formal assessment criteria and formalized recognition procedures for entering higher education also concern level 5. The following observations are being made, using the information gathered within the frame of the Country Reports.

Professional education at level 5

In some countries, professional educational routes (2/3/4 years) covering level 5 and possibly partly level 6 still exist, in particular in Craft, Photography, Media Technology, Fashion, Entertainment etc. leading to a qualification.  Especially in Dance and Theatre a large variety of private schools exist, offering professional training and instruction, normally not leading to a formal qualification.  Sometimes well-known artists or companies started these schools. The quality of this education can vary from a very high professional to a quite mediocre level.  In some countries, this type of professional education gradually becomes integrated into the higher education system.

Foundation Courses

In most countries, private and public institutions are organizing some sort of preparatory courses. These foundation courses can take from several months to one year and even longer. In some countries, especially in the UK higher education institutes organize these courses their selves.  In Ireland, further education colleges offer ‘Portfolio preparation programmes’ and similar options exist in a number of countries.   Completing such a course does normally not formally lead to any formal recognition for the purpose of admission to a higher education institution in the artistic sector, although this situation seems to be slightly changing.

Admission Criteria

Most countries know some form of national admission system, in some countries higher education has more flexibility than in other countries. For instance, in Spain a general Selectivity Evaluation exists, with common criteria for the whole of Spain, including set percentages for the yearly admission into higher arts education programmes. Similar rules exist for instance in Lithuania. Some national systems put emphasis on transversal competences such as reading, writing and interpreting. 

In general the higher arts education institutes in Art & Design and Dance & Theatre assess the potential for artistic growth’ and not only their present level of skills.  Admission criteria for Architectural, Art and Music Education are quite complex and normally exist of a combination of:

-          Written exams, tests or essays

-          Auditions or practical projects and assignments

Interview with an examination panel

In Sweden, a formalized requirement exists that higher education should take prior learning and merits into account from outside the higher educational system in admission procedures or when a student asks to have prior experiences validated.  This seems to be the exception, rather than the rule. In most countries, the category of “exceptional abilities” exists for those who do not meet  formal acquirements but proved to have exceptional artistic potential. This can also be mature students.

 Process/methodology of the two ELIA groups within SQF HUMART

Since 1999, the attitude of the higher arts education sector towards the Bologna Process changed from defensive towards pro-active. ´We rather do it ourselves before others do it to us´,- was an often heard motivation to start working on defining higher arts education in terms of descriptors. Part of that struggle was the adoption of the Dublin Descriptors in 2004 as reference points for all discussions related to competence based learning and the descriptors of levels/cycles and programmes. After thorough discussion, overcoming this initial reserve, the sector had taken ownership of the Descriptors and they were used e.g. for drafting the Tuning Documents. In 2009, the European Parliament endorsed the European Qualifications Framework with a set of competences, differing from the Dublin Descriptors. They were not compatible at first sight. Representatives of the Tuning groups started a ´translation´ exercise drafting a reading grid in which the EQF ‘competences’ were spread across the levels 6, 7 and 8 (BA, MA, PhD), with a vertical division in knowledge, skills and competences. Based on the Tuning Documents, which used the language of the Dublin descriptors, level descriptors for ‘the arts’ were extracted using the EQF language. In the discussions of the two SQF working groups the reading grid formed a suitable basis for drafting a qualifications framework for visual arts and for performing arts.

Some examples of problems the group had to overcome:

-          The definition of competences has developed through the years and the working groups in the Thematic Networks had established a notion of learning outcomes, described by a set of knowledge, skills and competences. In reality, the terms ‘learning outcomes’ and ´competences´ have always been used in parallel, which turns out to be problematic when using the terms ‘competence’ as complementary to knowledge and skills.

-          Looking at the general EQF ´competences´ of level 4, secondary education, the use of the term advanced (knowledge, etc.) seemed not appropriate, as generally students on BA and/or MA level would be expected to have advanced knowledge of skills related to their subject. Either the use of term ‘advanced’ was problematic for level 4 or the definition of ‘advanced’ that allowed for the use of the adjective for level 6 & 7 statements.

-          The formulation within the SQF model to conduct research expected to be undertaken by students as from level 6 in the EQF was subject to intensive discussion. Even though the notion of research in and through the arts is divers throughout Europe, within higher arts education research is considered ‘an original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding’ leading to new or substantially improved insights, invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, and artifacts.  This would normally be achieved at the end of level 8. In the view of the experts from higher arts education, defining research activities at level 6 of higher arts education can only be described as an introduction to research and/or as ‘developing a research attitude’. The experts feared that this would lead to a reduced value of the important research component in higher arts education and in the artistic domain.

Please direct any comments you might care to make in relation to this document to Ingrid van der Meer ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

Art and Design
Truus Ophuysen (coordinator) - European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA), The Netherlands
Hanna Karkku - University of Art and Design Helsinki, Suomi
Paolo Pieri Nerli - Palazzo Spinelli for Art and Restoration, Italy
Kieran Corcoran - Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland
Isidro López-Aparicio - University of Granada, Spain

Dance and Theatre
Lars Ebert (coordinator) - European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA), The Netherlands
Iskra Nikolova Kostadinova Shtoukova - National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts, Bulgaria
Chrissie Tiller - Goldsmiths College, Londen,  United Kingdom
Francisco Beja - ESMAE, Porto, Portugal
Magnus Kirchoff - Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts, Sweden