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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to review three international frameworks, including the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), in relation to one country’s higher professional and vocational education system. Design/methodology/approach: The frameworks were examined in the context of English higher work-related education, and areas of mismatch identified. These were investigated to identify the extent to which they were due to weaknesses in the national system or to limiting assumptions contained in the frameworks. Findings: Assumptions based on stages of education are problematic in the context of lifelong higher and professional education, while more open, lifelong-learning oriented assumptions can be too skeletal to aid comparisons between systems of initial vocational education and training. Particular problems are identified with assumptions contained in the ISCED that do not reflect the reality of professional education., Practical implications: International frameworks need to take account of patterns of learning that take place outside of formal institutions and throughout life, but which lead to equivalent outcomes. Nevertheless, it is not adequate to substitute assumptions based only on the level of achievement. Social implications: The assumptions underpinning the ISCED in particular mean that equivalent achievements in different systems can be classified differently, leading to under-reporting of individual achievements, a lack of comparability in international statistics, and potential for policy distortion. Originality/value: The paper builds on the work of Hippach-Schneider et al. by providing additional evidence, from a different national context, for issues relating to the ISCED in the context of higher professional and vocational education, and extends this analysis to the two major European frameworks.