Australian Qualifications Framework

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Australian Qualifications Framework

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) specifies the standards for educational qualifications in Australia. It is administered nationally by the Australian Government's Department of Industry, with oversight from the States and Territories, through the Standing Council of Tertiary Education Skills and Employment. While the AQF specifies the standards, education and training organisations are authorised by accrediting authorities to issue a qualification.[1]

AQF levels[edit]

The Framework is structured around levels of descriptive criteria, with formal qualifications aligned to the appropriate levels.[2]

AQF Level Description summaries Qualifications Typical time
Level 1 Graduates at this level will have knowledge and skills for initial work, community involvement and/or further learning.
  • Certificate I
  • 0.5 to 1 year
Level 2 Graduates at this level will have knowledge and skills for work in a defined context and/or further learning.
  • Certificate II
  • 0.5 to 1 year
Level 3 Graduates at this level will have theoretical and practical knowledge and skills for work and/or further learning.
  • Certificate III
  • 1 to 2 years
Level 4 Graduates at this level will have theoretical and practical knowledge and skills for specialised and/or skilled work and/or further learning.
  • Certificate IV
  • 0.5 to 2 years
Level 5 Graduates at this level will have specialised knowledge and skills for skilled/paraprofessional work and/or further learning.
  • Diploma
  • 1 to 2 years
Level 6 Graduates at this level will have broad knowledge and skills for paraprofessional/highly skilled work and/or further learning.
  • Associate degree
  • Advanced diploma
  • 2 years
  • 1.5 to 2 years
Level 7 Graduates at this level will have broad and coherent knowledge and skills for professional work and/or further learning.
  • Bachelor degree
  • 3 to 4 years
Level 8 Graduates at this level will have advanced knowledge and skills for professional/highly skilled work and/or further learning.
  • Graduate diploma
  • Graduate certificate
  • Bachelor honours degree
  • 0.5 to 1 year
  • 0.5 to 1 year
  • 1 year
Level 9 Graduates at this level will have specialised knowledge and skills for research, and/or professional practice and/or further learning.
  • Masters degree (extended)
  • Masters degree (coursework)
  • Masters degree (research)
  • 3 to 4 years
  • 1 to 2 years
  • 1 to 2 years
Level 10 Graduates at this level will have systematic and critical understanding of a complex field of learning and specialised research skills for the advancement of learning and/or for professional practice.
  • 3 to 4 years

Schools sector[edit]

Senior Secondary Certificate of education[edit]

The Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (SSCE) is the graduation certificate awarded to most students in Australian high schools, and is equivalent to the Advance Placement of North America and the A-Levels of the United Kingdom. Students completing the SSCE are usually aged 16 to 18 and study full-time for two years (years 11 and 12 of schooling). In some states adults may gain the certificate through a Technical and Further Education college or other provider.

The curriculum, assessment and name of the SSCE is different in each state and territory. The government of each determines these themselves, although the curriculum must address mutually agreed national competencies.

State and territory SSCEs
State SSCE title Abbreviation
New South Wales Higher School Certificate HSC
Victoria Victorian Certificate of Education
Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning
Queensland Queensland Certificate of Education QCE
South Australia South Australian Certificate of Education SACE
Western Australia Western Australian Certificate of Education WACE
Tasmania Tasmanian Certificate of Education TCE
Australian Capital Territory Australian Capital Territory Year 12 Certificate ACTE
Northern Territory Northern Territory Certificate of Education NTCE

Universities Australia generates a nationally standardised final score for each SSCE student called the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. Universities and other Higher Education providers typically use this mark as the main criterion in selecting domestic students. Prior to 2010, this was called the Equivalent National Tertiary Entrance Rank (ENTER) in Victoria, and the University Admissions Index (UAI) in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, and the Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) elsewhere.

Competing qualifications outside the Australian Qualifications Framework are the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Accelerated Christian Education(ACE) Year 12 Academic Certificate. The IB is well accepted by universities. ACE has lesser support, and students may also have to additionally pass a Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

Vocational Education and Training and Higher Education sectors[edit]

There has been growing overlap between the Vocational Education and Training (VET), organised under the National Training System, and Higher Education sectors in Australia. Courses are primarily taken by those aged over 18, however in some vocational and general academic courses a minority of students enter at the minimum school-leaving age of 16, although from May 2009 Federal Government policy calls for young people to be in education, gainful employment, or training until age 17 (Year 12 qualification) with tightening of income support payments to age 20 if not undertaking further training.[3] This tends to happen particularly at Technical and Further Education colleges (TAFE), and is less likely to happen at a university or a private institution.

The two sectors form a continuum, with VET at the lower end and Higher Education at the higher. VET courses are typically short, practical in nature and delivered by a TAFE college or Registered Training Organisation at a certificate to diploma level. Higher Education courses take three years or longer to complete, are academic in nature and are delivered by universities at degree level. There is significant overlap, however; a TAFE college may offer degrees and universities may offer certificates and diplomas. A number of private institutions and community education centres cover the full range of qualifications.

There has been a strong push towards mutual recognition of qualifications, with VET or Higher Education courses recognised towards other courses (and for those under 21 towards an SSCE). A process of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) has been implemented to allow competencies gained through work and other experience to be assessed and recognised. For instance, a Diploma of Agriculture might be recognised as the equivalent of the first year of the Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree; a unit of Letter Writing in a Certificate IV of Writing might be recognised as a unit towards a Bachelor of Business degree; experience in aged care might be recognised towards a Certificate in Community Services.

All students doing nationally recognised training need to have a Unique Student Identifier (USI).[4]

Certificates I–IV[edit]

Certificates I–IV are the basic qualifications and prepare candidates for both employment and further education and training. There is no firm duration for these qualifications. Entry for Certificate III and Certificate IV courses requires the completion of Year 10 or Year 11 education, respectively.

Certificates I–II provide basic vocational skills and knowledge, while Certificates III–IV replace the previous system of trade certificates and provide training in more advanced skills and knowledge. These courses are usually delivered by TAFE colleges, community education centres and registered private training providers.

Diploma, Advanced diploma, Associate degree[edit]

Courses at Diploma, Advanced Diploma and Associate degree level take between one and three years to complete, and are generally considered to be equivalent to one to two years of study at degree level. Diploma and Advanced Diploma are titles given more practical courses, while Associate degree is given to more academic courses. Entry into Diploma and Advance Diploma courses requires the completion of Year 12 education.

These courses are usually delivered by universities, TAFE colleges, community education centres and private RTO's (Registered Training Organisations).

Bachelor degree and honours[edit]

The Bachelor degree is the standard university qualification and is recognised worldwide. Most courses take three to four years to complete and are Level 7 qualifications.

Honours may be awarded on top of a bachelor's degree after an additional year of study for three-year degrees or, in the case of four-year degrees, for performance at credit or distinction average level. An Honours degree is a Level 8 qualification and is denoted by "Hons" in parentheses following the degree abbreviation, for example BA (Hons). Honours degrees requiring an additional year of study generally involve a research project and require the completion of a thesis during the optional fourth year of study.

Traditionally these courses have almost exclusively been delivered by universities, however there is now a growing number of TAFE institutions and private colleges who have higher education status to deliver degree programs.

Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma[edit]

Graduate Certificate and Graduate diplomas are Level 8 qualifications alongside the Bachelor (Honours) degree. Entry to a Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma typically requires completion of a bachelor's degree or higher. In some cases, admission may be on the basis of significant work experience. Graduate Certificates typically take six months of full-time study to complete, while Graduate Diplomas take twelve months.

These courses are usually delivered by universities and private providers.

Masters degree[edit]

A Master's degree usually requires two years of full-time study to complete. A completed bachelor's degree, sometimes with honours, is a prerequisite for admission. The pattern of study generally takes one of the following three forms:

  • Coursework – comprising postgraduate level rigorous academic coursework and project work. In some fields also consists of a research component and requires the completion of a thesis. In such fields, completion of only the coursework component without submitting a thesis usually results in a graduate diploma being awarded instead.
  • Research – comprising substantial research and completion of a major, externally assessed thesis.
  • Extended – for preparation for professional practice in fields such as law, medicine, physiotherapy, speech pathology, social work or other professional fields.

Master's degree (extended) are permitted to deviate from the 'Master of ...' naming convention. Those in legal practice may use the name Juris Doctor but the qualification does not allow a graduate use of the honorific title 'doctor'. Master's degree (extended) in medical practice, physiotherapy, dentistry, optometry and veterinary practice are allowed to be named 'Doctor of ...' or 'Master of ...', such as Doctor/Master of Dentistry, Doctor/Master of Optometry and Doctor/Master of Medicine, and graduates are permitted to use 'Doctor' (Dr.) as a courtesy title where it is existing practice for that profession. Universities are not permitted to refer to these degrees as doctorates and must note on documentation such as transcripts that the qualification is a master's degree (extended).

Master's level courses are delivered by universities and a limited number of registered private providers.

Doctoral degree[edit]

The highest qualification, a doctoral degree is awarded by a university. This generally requires the completion of a major thesis, which has to be assessed externally by experts in the field of study. Additionally, there are professional doctorates, which require less research and are partially assessed by coursework or projects. Entry into an Australian doctorate program requires an honours degree with at least class 2A honours or a master's degree by research.[5][6][7] Holders of doctoral degrees are permitted to use the title 'Doctor'.

Qualification issuing agencies[edit]

Whilst the AQF specifies the standards for qualifications, it is the education and training organisations that issue a qualification. Education and training organisations are authorised to issue qualifications by one of the following authorities.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Australian Qualifications Framework. Second Edition 2013. Archived 22 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Australian Qualifications Framework Council (January 2013). "Australian Qualification Framework" (PDF). Australian Qualification Framework.
  3. ^ Franklin, Matthew (1 May 2009). "Kevin Rudd to get jobless teens training". The Australian. News Limited. Archived from the original on 15 December 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2009.
  4. ^ Cook, Chris (12 October 2015). "About".
  5. ^ Admission to doctoral and MPhil candidature, Monash Research Graduate School, Monash University
  6. ^ Our research degrees – UQ Graduate School – The University of Queensland, Australia Archived 22 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine, University of Queensland
  7. ^ "Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) - University of Southern Queensland". University of Southern Queensland. Retrieved 19 August 2022.
  8. ^ Australian Qualifications Framework. Second Edition 2013. P22 Archived 22 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]