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Qualifications exports: a significant market

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@Ofqual has today (11 February 2021) published its annual qualifications market report which includes data showing the extent of the export market for qualifications we regulate. The international market is substantial: the majority of awarding organisations we regulate are active overseas and between them issue around 4.89 million certificates a year. These qualifications, offered internationally, are protected by Ofqual regulation so long as they are also taken by learners in England.

Knowing that a qualification is regulated is a valuable indicator to overseas purchasers of the quality standards it must meet, which can help awarding organisations compete in global markets. We are supportive of the export of regulated qualifications, which play a role in the International Education Strategy from the Department for Education and Department for International Trade.

Last year we introduced a new requirement for awarding organisations to provide data for the number of qualifications they certified outside the UK. With a full year of this information, we can now share key information about certifications outside the UK. We can count the popularity of a qualification when students are awarded their certificates – we call this certification. For more detail, see our annual qualifications market report. From this data we have learnt that, between October 2019 and September 2020:

  • English for Speakers of Other Languages was the most popular qualification type, accounting for almost two thirds (3.2 million ) of the total international certifications
  • performing arts graded examinations were also popular, with almost 280,000 certificates – around 6% of the non-UK total
  • other general qualifications, such baccalaureate diplomas, accounted for around a quarter (1.2 million certificates)
  • over 100 awarding organisations have qualifications certified outside the UK, with more than 70 certifying over 100 learners
  • in total, there were 4.89 million non-UK certifications awarded during the 12-month period
  • over 2,600 different regulated qualifications were certified in the international market
  • Level 1 qualifications were most popular (1.7 million), followed by Level 3 (1.2 million) and Level 2 (944 thousand)

Learners and users of qualifications can be confident that wherever Ofqual regulated qualifications are taken around the world, be that Madagascar or Malaysia, awarding organisations are still required to meet the same set of requirements set by Ofqual. These set the bar for quality across all aspects of qualification design, delivery, awarding and protection for users of qualifications.

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Some awarding organisations may offer qualifications that are specific for a particular country’s market, perhaps where the content is based on country-specific laws such as electical standards. Where these qualifications are not awarded in England, we cannot regulate them and awarding organisations must not claim that these qualifications are regulated by Ofqual. Awarding organisations also offer unregulated qualifications, such as international GCSEs or IGCSEs which, despite the name, we don’t regulate. Our Register of Regulated Qualifications lists all the qualifications available including those available internationally.

With almost two-thirds of the qualifications we regulate being available to teach worldwide, international delivery is already a reality for most awarding organisations. Some types of qualification are particularly popular, and most awarding organisations already have learners based outside the UK, a market that may offer many more opportunities in the future.

Tom Barcham, Associate Director, Risks and Markets

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