What is the AQF?

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) is the national policy for regulated qualifications in the Australian education and training system. It underpins the national system of qualifications in Australia encompassing higher education, vocational education and training (VET) and schools. The AQF is the agreed policy of Commonwealth, state and territory ministers.

The AQF comprises:

  • the learning outcomes for each AQF level and qualification type
  • the specifications for the application of the AQF in the accreditation and development of qualifications
  • the policy requirements for issuing AQF qualifications
  • the policy requirements for qualification linkages and student pathways
  • AQF qualifications and qualification pathways
  • the policy requirements for the addition or removal of qualification types in the AQF, and the definitions of the terminology used in the policy.

One of the key objectives of the Australian Qualifications Framework is to facilitate pathways to, and through, formal qualifications.

The Australian Qualifications Framework, second edition, 2013 is the current edition of the AQF, effective from 1 January 2013. It includes amended Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma qualification types, updated information on the regulatory arrangements for the AQF, and minor editorial changes. A new qualification type, the Undergraduate Certificate, was added to the AQF in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Details of previous versions of the AQF are provided below.

Objectives of the AQF

The objectives of the AQF are to provide a contemporary and flexible framework that:

  • accommodates the diversity of purposes of Australian education and training now and into the future
  • contributes to national economic performance by supporting contemporary, relevant and nationally consistent qualification outcomes which build confidence in qualifications
  • supports the development and maintenance of pathways which provide access to qualifications and assist people to move easily and readily between different education and training sectors and between those sectors and the labour market
  • supports individuals' lifelong learning goals by providing the basis for individuals to progress through education and training and gain recognition for their prior learning and experiences
  • complements national regulatory and quality assurance arrangements for education and training
  • enables the alignment of the AQF with international qualifications frameworks.

AQF qualifications

AQF qualifications ensure national recognition and consistency as well as common understanding across Australia of what defines each qualification.

Qualification type refers to the broad discipline-free nomenclature used in the AQF to describe each category of AQF qualification:

  • Senior Secondary Certificate of Education
  • Level 1 - Certificate I 
  • Level 2 - Certificate II
  • Level 3 - Certificate III
  • Level 4 - Certificate IV
  • Level 5 - Diploma
  • Level 6 - Advanced Diploma, Associate Degree
  • Level 7 - Bachelor Degree
  • Level 8 - Bachelor Honours Degree, Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma
  • Level 9 - Masters Degree
  • Level 10 - Doctoral Degree.

The Undergraduate Certificate introduced in response to COVID-19 is a higher education qualification of six months duration that is not located at a particular AQF level but is covered by AQF levels 5, 6 or 7.

Each AQF qualification type includes the requirements for AQF qualifications such as:

  • the levels criteria
  • the qualification type descriptor 
  • information about the responsibilities of qualification developers, accrediting authorities and issuing organisations.

Diploma and advanced diploma qualifications are available for accreditation and issuance in both higher education and vocational education and training.

History and governance

The AQF, which replaced the Register of Australian Tertiary Education (RATE), was introduced on 1 January 1995 and was phased in over five years, with full implementation by 2000. It was developed in response to a decision by the then Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) that the overall system of qualifications needed to support the reforms in VET. The Australian Qualifications Framework Advisory Board (AQFAB) was established to protect the AQF qualifications guidelines, promote and monitor national implementation of the Framework, and advice MCEETYA on any required changes to the guidelines.

In May 2008, the Australian Qualifications Framework Council (AQFC) replaced AQFAB to provide education and training Ministers with strategic and authoritative advice on the AQF.

In September 2014, the AQFC was disbanded and the governance functions of the council were transferred to the Commonwealth Government Department of Education.

The current management of the AQF is delivered through the Australian Government Department of Education and Training in consultation with the states and territories. The department monitors and maintains the AQF, supports its users and promotes the AQF and its role in Australia's education system. Expert consultative bodies are convened as required to advise ministers on any AQF policy matters which arise.

In the 2017-18 budget, the Australian Government announced a review of the AQF to ensure it continues to meet the needs of students, employers, education providers and the wider community. The final report from the review was released in October 2019.

Previous versions of the AQF

The Australian Qualifications Framework, first edition, 2011 was a revised version of the original AQF implemented in 1995. The revisions were implemented following a project to strengthen the AQF and were designed to ensure the AQF remained contemporary and flexible and that it underpinned future quality assurance arrangements for education and training. The AQF Council provided advice on strengthening the AQF to the then Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education and Employment (MCTEE) in November 2010 for approval. This fully revised edition of the AQF commenced on 1 July 2011.

The Australian Qualifications Framework implementation handbook, fourth edition, 2007 incorporates

  • revised AQF guidelines for the Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (2004)
  • revised AQF guidelines for the Graduate Certificate and the Graduate Diploma (2005)
  • AQF guidelines for three new qualifications: the Associate Degree (2004), the Vocational Graduate Certificate and the Vocational Graduate Diploma (2005)
  • expanded national guidelines on cross-sector linkages to include the schools sector (2004)
  • national principles and operational guidelines for recognition of prior learning (RPL) (2004)
  • a new definition of a Statement of Attainment and protocols for certification (2007)
  • updated references to the AQTF 2007.

The Australian Qualifications Framework implementation handbook, third edition, 2002 contains updates implemented in 2002, including revised guidelines for the Bachelor, Masters and Doctoral degrees and new national policy guidelines on cross sector linkages.

The Australian Qualifications Framework implementation handbook, second edition, 1998  is an updated implementation guide to the AQF and includes an Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) supplement on training packages, a list of VET reference documents, and national accreditation principles for the VET sector.

The Australian Qualifications Framework implementation handbook, first edition, 1995 provides a detailed guide to the implementation of the AQF.

The Register of Australian Tertiary Education (RATE) major tertiary course award levels in Australia is a booklet describing the levels of awards and their associated titles under the former Register of Australian Tertiary Education (RATE), a single national register of authorities set up in January 1990 and empowered by state/territory or Commonwealth governments to accredit tertiary education award courses.

Where to go for more information

How to cite this overview

NCVER (National Centre for Vocational Education Research) 2020, Getting to know VET overview: Australian Qualifications Framework, VET Knowledge Bank, NCVER, Adelaide, <http://www.voced.edu.au/vet-knowledge-bank-getting-know-vet-overviews-aqf>.

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