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ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (AQRF)

13 March 2016

What is ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework?

The ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (AQRF) is a common reference framework that enables comparisons of education qualifications across participating ASEAN Member States (AMS).

The objectives of AQRF include:

  • Support recognition of qualifications
  • Encourage the development of qualifications frameworks that can facilitate lifelong learning
  • Encourage the development of national approaches to validating learning gained outside formal education
  • Promote and encourage education and learner mobility
  • Support worker mobility
  • Improve understanding of qualifications systems
  • Promote higher quality qualifications systems

The AQRF developed is based on agreed understanding between AMS. By design, it aims to have a neutral influence on national qualifications frameworks (NQF) of participating AMS. AMS are invited to participate in AQRF on voluntary engagement and implementation. More important, engagement in AQRF does not require changes to national qualifications systems (NQS). AQRF respects the specific structures and processes of participating AMS to maintain their responsiveness to national priorities.

The AQRF was endorsed by the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) in August 2014; the ASEAN Education Ministers (ASED) in September 2014; and the ASEAN Labour Ministers (ALMM) through ad-referendum from November 2014 to May 2015.

Subsequently, the AQRF Governance and Structure document was endorsed by ALMM and ASED in May 2016, and AEM in August 2016, and provided the basis for the establishment of the AQRF Committee to implement the AQRF.

Referencing to AQRF

Referencing is a process that establishes the relationship between the eight-level AQRF and NQF or qualifications system of participating AMS; and the number of levels an NQF may differ, and typically between 8 and 9 levels. AQRF would therefore improve the understanding of the qualification of each level of a NQF or qualifications system of the participating AMS. AQRF also works as an information tool to facilitate the recognition of qualifications and does not replace the decision-making process of the competent authorities in each AMS.

In the long-term, AQRF could potentially serve as a meta-framework to support the recognition of its levels against other Regional Qualifications Framework (RQF) and inter-regional recognition. Interested AMS can choose to begin referencing according to their readiness.

How does AQRF support NQF?

Recognising the difference in development stages – with some AMS having established comprehensive NQF, others with sectoral frameworks, and some do not yet have any – AQRF aimed to support and enhance AMS NQF or NQS by offering a mechanism to facilitate comparison, transparency and higher quality qualifications systems. AQRF is underpinned by a set of agreed quality assurance principles and standards, and requires participating AMS to describe their education and training quality assurance systems.

Complementing MRAs

ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangements (MRA) aim to facilitate the mobility of professionals within ASEAN through the recognition of qualifications, experience obtained, requirements met, or licenses or certifications granted by the relevant authorities in an AMS for mutual recognition by other AMS. The AQRF complements and supports this process by enabling a broad comparison of qualifications across AMS.

Role of AQRF in ASEAN Community Building – An ASEAN Cross-sectoral Initiative

The AQRF aimed to support ASEAN Community building and specifically through the process to achieve the following goals:

  • free flow of skilled labour (through harmonisation and standardisation) within the region, as indicated in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) 2015 Blueprint; and
  • ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) 2015 Blueprint which seeks “to establish national skills frameworks as an incremental approach towards an ASEAN skills recognition framework”.

With the launch of the AEC and ASCC Blueprints 2025, AQRF will continue to play an important role in facilitating the seamless movement of skilled labour within ASEAN towards a highly integrated and cohesive economy, and human capacity development respectively.

Above all, AQRF is an initiative in line with the ASEAN Charter’s objective to develop human resources through closer cooperation in education and life-long learning to empower the peoples of ASEAN and to strengthen the ASEAN Community.

In short, AQRF is a unique ASEAN’s cross-sectoral and cross-pillar initiatives and plays an important role in supporting ASEAN Community building.

Latest Developments

The establishment of the AQRF Committee and the inauguration of its first Meeting on 9-10 February 2017 marked a milestone for ASEAN. The AQRF Committee is responsible for considering referencing reports submitted by participating AMS. All interested AMS are invited to express their intent to reference their NQF to AQRF.

Background and Acknowledgement

Recognising the coverage of a RQF and its impact on various sectors, a Task Force on AQRF (TF-AQRF) was created in 2013 under the auspice of ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) Economic Cooperation and Work Programme (ECWP) to take on the task to develop the AQRF. The TF-AQRF comprised representatives from ASEAN ministries of trade, education, and labour or manpower, qualification, accreditation and relevant agencies. As AANZFTA Parties, representatives from Australia and New Zealand formed part of the TF-AQRF as non-voting members.

The TF-AQRF played an important coordinating role between and across the relevant ASEAN sectoral bodies, international organisations, as well as related regional initiatives. This enhances synergy and ensures consistency and alignment with internationally agreed frameworks, principles or standards in the development of the AQRF.

Since 2011, the AANZFTA Economic Cooperation Support Programme (AECSP) has rendered continuous support to the AQRF initiative from Education and Training Governance: Capacity Building for National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Phase I to IV. NQF Phase IV will run until June 2018 and aims to support the referencing process of at least two AMS. For more information on AANZFTA AECSP activities, please visit

More questions?

For any questions on AQRF, please contact Services and Investment Division (SID) of the ASEAN Secretariat at

Please click here to download the Factsheet on AQRF.

Latest News on AQRF:

  1. Press Release of the 3rd NQF Phase IV Workshop, 14-15 November 2017, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  2. Press Release of the 2nd AQRF Committee Meeting, 12-13 July 2017, Manila, the Philippines
  3. Press Release of the 1st AQRF Committee Meeting, 9-10 February 2017, Jakarta, Indonesia
  4. Chairman’s Statement of the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits, 6-7 September 2016, Vientiane, Lao PDR
  5. Joint Media Statement of the 48th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting, 3 August 2016, Vientiane, Lao PDR
  6. Joint Statement of the 9th ASEAN Education Ministers Meeting, 27 May 2016, Selangor, Malaysia
  7. Joint Communiqué of the 24th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting, 15 May 2016, Vientiane, Lao PDR

Endorsed AQRF Documents:

  1. AQRF Governance and Structure
  2. ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework

Documents developed by TF-AQRF and AQRF Committee:

  1. AQRF Referencing Guidelines (September 2016)
  2. Concept Note 1 on AQRF Non formal and informal learning
  3. Concept Note 2 on AQRF learning outcomes
  4. Briefing Paper No. 1 on Qualifications Frameworks and Quality Assurance Systems

Other related endorsed ASEAN Documents:

  1. ASEAN Guiding Principles for Quality Assurance and Recognition of Competency Certification Systems

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