Scotland's experience of qualifications systems reform has been the most successful of any around the world, a groundbreaking study of similar changes in 16 countries has concluded.
The research found little evidence that national qualifications frameworks had improved communication between education and training systems and labour markets; that employers had found qualifications easier to use as a result; or that they had helped address a mismatch between supply and demand of learners with particular skills.
"The only exception where we did find successes was in Scotland, and that was a refrain throughout the entire report," said Stephanie Allais of Edinburgh University.
Scotland had achieved an "almost moral authority" among national developers of qualifications structures, partly by building support among stakeholders for reforms including the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).
By contrast, the academics who led the study said other countries - including the rest of the United Kingdom, Australia and Russia - have struggled to produce evidence that similar reforms have improved access to higher education, training and employment. The preliminary findings from the study of national qualifications frameworks, carried out for the International Labour Office based in Geneva, were presented at a conference promoting links between education and employment.
Many qualifications developed under these frameworks, such as England's National Vocational Qualifications, had struggled to attract learners, said Dr Allais, speaking in a personal capacity at the Education and Employers Taskforce conference at Warwick University.
Scotland, by contrast, could point to examples of success for its Credit and Qualifications Framework, introduced in 2001, such as its use by the national careers guidance service.
A case study on Scotland, conducted as part of the research by David Raffe of Edinburgh University, also found that the SCQF was used by education institutions to support curriculum development; that employers and professional bodies used it for recruitment and to plan their own training provision; and that it had been used in youth work and adult education.
Scotland's reforms have not been unequivocally successful, the study suggests. Previous research in 2005 had found that there was limited awareness of the framework.
However, in general the framework was "becoming established as the national language of education and training", and was "widely seen as an achievement of the Scottish system and a strength to build upon".
The researchers found that the strengths of Scotland's reforms lay in the fact that the framework had built on previous qualifications reforms, rather than trying to introduce radical change all at once and was not overly specific in what each element within the framework should contain.
It had also benefited from the close involvement of universities, and from the support of a relatively small and consensual policy-making community.
The study presents detailed case studies on the development of different national qualifications frameworks in the 16 countries, and then analyses these to draw conclusions on what has worked.
Qualifications frameworks - which try to establish a common currency accrediting learning across a wide variety of school or university courses to on-the-job training - are now increasingly used by governments across the globe.
More than 100 countries are now implementing, developing or considering national qualifications frameworks, or involved in regional qualifications frameworks, the researchers say.
The 16 nations studied were: Australia; Bangladesh; Botswana; Chile; England, Northern Ireland and Wales; Lithuania; Malaysia; Mauritius; Mexico; New Zealand; Russia; Scotland; Sri Lanka; South Africa; Tunisia; and Turkey.
The "case study" on Scotland can be viewed at http:bit.lyaw8yOI. The final report will be published later this year at www.ilo.orgskills.