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The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) provides the hierarchy of educational qualifications in Australia. It is administered nationally by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Few qualifications outside the system are accepted by employers or for entry to tertiary study. The main exceptions are information technology vendor certifications and the International Baccalaureate.


The framework divides all qualifications into three sectors, roughly correlating with the type of institution that offers coursework for the qualification. However, the divide between the sectors is blurred somewhat by the provision of Certificate I-IV level courses in schools and a vocational pathway to attaining a Graduate Certificate or a Graduate Diploma.

Australian qualifications by sector of accreditation
Schools Sector Vocational Education and Training Sector Higher Education Sector
Doctorate degree
Master's degree
Vocational Graduate Diploma Graduate Diploma
Vocational Graduate Certificate Graduate Certificate
Bachelor Degree
Advanced Diploma Associate Degree, Advanced Diploma
Diploma Diploma
Senior Secondary Certificate of Education Certificate IV
Certificate III
Certificate II
Certificate I

Schools sector

Senior Secondary Certificate of Education

The Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (SSCE) is the graduation certificate awarded to most students in Australian high schools, and is equivalent to the High School Diploma of North America and the A-Levels of the United Kingdommarker. 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 Walesmarker Higher School Certificate HSC
Victoriamarker Victorian Certificate of Education

Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning

Queenslandmarker Queensland Certificate of Education QCE
South Australiamarker South Australian Certificate of Education SACE
Western Australiamarker Western Australian Certificate of Education WACE
Tasmaniamarker Tasmanian Certificate of Education TCE
Australian Capital Territorymarker Australian Capital Territory Year 12 Certificate
Northern Territorymarker Northern Territory Certificate of Education NTCE

Universities Australia generates a nationally standardised final score for each SSCE student called the Equivalent National Tertiary Entrance Rank (ENTER). Universities and other Higher Education providers typically use this mark as the main criterion in selecting domestic students. The ENTER score is known as 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

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. 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 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.

Certificates I-IV

Certificates I-IV are the basic post-secondary qualifications and prepare candidates for both employment and further education and training. There is no firm duration for these qualifications.

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. A Certificate IV is generally accepted by universities to be the equivalent of six to twelve months of a Bachelor's degree, and credit towards studies may be granted accordingly.

These courses are usually delivered by TAFE colleges, community education centres and registered private training providers.

Diploma, Advanced Diploma, Associate degree

Courses at Diploma, Advanced Diploma and Associate degree level take between two to 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.

These courses are usually delivered by universities, TAFE colleges, community education centres and private providers.

Bachelor degree and honours

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

Honours may be awarded atop a Bachelor degree after an additional year of study or, in the case of four-year degrees, for performance at credit or distinction average level. An Honours degree is denoted by "Hons" in parentheses following the degree abbreviation, for example BA (Hons).

These courses are almost exclusively delivered by universities.

Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma

These qualifications are much like Certificates and Diplomas but must be completed by someone with a Bachelor degree or higher. Certificates typically take 6 months to complete, while Diplomas take 12 months.

Vocational certificates and diplomas tend to be more practically-oriented courses than their academic counterparts.

These courses are usually delivered by universities and private providers.

Master's degree

A Master's degree usually requires two years of full time study to complete. A completed Bachelor degree, sometimes with honours, is a prerequisite for admission. The pattern of study generally takes one the following three forms:
  • Coursework - comprising coursework, project work and research, much like a Bachelor degree.
  • Research - comprising substantial research and completion of a major, externally assessed thesis.
  • Professional - comprising a workplace-based project.

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

Doctorate degree

The highest qualification, a Doctorate degree is awarded by a university either "by research" or "by publication". Additionally, there are professional doctorates, which require less research and are partially assessed by coursework or projects. Entry into an Australian Doctorate requires an honours degree or "honours equivalent", a Masters degree is usually considered equivalent.

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