Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework: Structure and Key Features (1)

Aims of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF)

The general aims of the SCQF are to:

  • help people of all ages and circumstances to access appropriate education and training over their lifetime to fulfil their personal, social and economic potential;
  • enable employers, learners and the public in general to understand the full range of Scottish qualifications, how the qualifications relate to each other, and how different types of qualifications can contribute to improving the skills of the workforce.

The SCQF provides a national vocabulary for describing learning opportunities and thereby makes the relationships between qualifications clearer. It clarifies entry and exit points, and routes for progression within and across education and training sectors and increase the opportunities for credit transfer. In these ways it will assist learners to plan their progress and minimise duplication of learning.

Levels and Credit Points

Two measures are used to place qualifications and learning programmes in the Framework. These are the levels of the outcomes of learning and the volume of these outcomes, described in terms of SCQF credit points.


The SCQF has 12 levels. Undergraduate programmes at the University commence at level 7, and doctoral programmes are at level 12. Increases in level of demand relate to changes in factors such as:

  • complexity and depth of knowledge and understanding
  • links to associated academic, vocational or professional practice
  • the degree of integration, independence and creativity required
  • the range and sophistication of application/practice
  • the role(s) taken in relation to other learners/workers in carrying out tasks

Levels are not directly related to years of study. Over a lifetime of learning individuals will move from higher to lower levels or across levels of qualifications as they take on new learning and acquire new skills.

Generic level descriptors have been designed to provide a general understanding of each level, and their development has drawn extensively on the subject benchmarks statements developed by the QAA. They are not intended to give precise or comprehensive statements of required learning at each level. Each level is described under five broad areas:

  • knowledge and understanding - mainly subject-based
  • practice (applied knowledge and understanding)
  • generic cognitive skills, eg evaluation, critical analysis
  • communication, numeracy and IT skills
  • autonomy, accountability and working with others

The descriptors are designed to allow broad comparisons to be made between outcomes of learning. It is not envisaged that every qualification will or should have all of the characteristics set out in the level descriptors.

The descriptors can be used in a number of ways:

  • to allocate levels to learning programmes and qualifications
  • in course approval
  • as a basis for communication with learners and other users of
  • qualifications
  • as a guide for mapping progression routes within and across the education and training sectors
  • by programme designers when making entry requirements and recommendations for programmes

Where two or more qualifications or programmes of learning are placed at the same level they will be comparable in certain respects, particularly their overall level of outcome, but they will each have their own purpose, content or structure. The SCQF does not, however, demonstrate equivalence or interchangeability of qualifications.

Credit Points

SCQF credit points are used to quantify the outcomes of learning and give them a value or currency. The allocation of credits is based on the amount of time that an 'average' learner at a specified level might expect to take to achieve the outcomes. In common with other credit systems, the SCQF works on the basis that one credit represents the outcomes of learning achieved through a notional 10 hours of learning time.

Most mainstream qualifications in Scotland have been developed on a credit basis with design principles related to the amount and level of credit required. For example, the achievement of an Honours Degree requires the accumulation of 480 credits, at least 90 of which must be at Level 10.

Credits can be used to assist learners to transfer between programmes. It is the responsibility of awarding bodies within the SCQF to determine how much credit can be transferred into their programmes. This decision will depend upon the nature/content of the learning for which the credit has been given and the requirements of the programme into which transfer is being sought.


The diagram at Appendix 1 details how the current qualifications fit within the framework with fuller details of the qualification at each level and associated credit rating in Appendix 2. Included in Appendix 3 are the details of SCQF level descriptors. Please note that only those levels that relate to Higher Education have been included in Appendices 2 and 3.

Further information

Further information on the SCQF is available in the SCQF Handbook Volume 1 2007 [PDF] 

1. The Senate Office has prepared this short paper by extracting and editing text from An Introduction to the SCQF 2003 - 2nd Edition.