FAQ on the new AQF

FAQ on the new AQF

photo by Colin_K on Flickr

Post by Meredith Seaman

You may have heard of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and have questions. The framework is already influencing program/course development work and University planning, but what might it mean for you as a teacher? This is my informal account of the some of the whats and whys.

1) What is the AQF?

The AQF is a framework that underpins Australian education qualifications, and sets the national standards. It sets out the ‘Knowledge’, ‘Skills’ and ‘Application of Knowledge and Skills’ for a range of qualifications across 10 levels (Level 1 being Certificate I qualifications, Level 10 being Doctoral Degrees). It specifies in general terms what each type of qualification should cover in terms of what they provide to graduates, and to what level or standard.

Institutions will be required to refer to the framework when developing new and renewing/amending accredited qualifications. It is the resource to help institutions ‘pitch’ the level/standard of different qualifications, such as the difference between a Graduate Diploma and a Masters degree, or a TAFE Graduate Diploma and Bachelor Degree and so on.

2) Why the AQF?

As well as providing standards and benchmarks for qualifications accredited by institutions. It provides guidelines to help us to ensure that a degree at RMIT is comparable with a comparable degree at other institutions, and that the levels of our qualifications (and what graduates at that level can do) can be easily communicated overseas. It is designed to help ensure equivalence between graduates of different programs as they apply to go on to further study or employment.

3) What’s new? 

 While the AQF has been around since 1995, the current version came into effect July 1 2011. It includes more detail around the ‘Qualification Type Descriptors’ and generic learning outcomes that students will have to demonstrate in their studies. It now provides a taxonomy of what graduates are expected to do, expressed in terms of knowledge, skills, and the application of knowledge and skills for each qualification and level.

It also specifies typical durations of learning that may or may not be entirely consistent with what is offered now by institutions. There will also be greater emphasis on the pathways we provide for our students, the opportunities we provide to further study.

4) Why pay attention?

 Programs and Institutions must be compliant with the AQF by 2015. Universities are already including reference to the AQF in the development of new programs and designing processes to ensure alignment with the AQF by 2015. This is one aspect of a broader agenda of consistency and transparency within the education environment, including the introduction of TEQSA [http://www.teqsa.gov.au/].

5) What does it mean for you?

We will need to develop our programs and courses at the ‘right’ AQF level, express our course and program outcomes in ways that are consistent with the AQF, AND most importantly, teach and assess in ways that ensure our graduates achieve these learning outcomes.

Our graduates will need to have the generic and discipline knowledge and skills (and be able to apply them) in ways consistent with the AQF level and qualification descriptor. We will need strategies – and good assessment tasks – to ensure that graduates meet the specified requirements. We may be doing this already, but chances are in the next few years it will have to be made more explicit, and we will need more evidence that we are doing so.

The processes that will evolve out of meeting AQF requirements may well include greater emphasis on constructive alignment, and more explicit focus on aligning learning and teaching activities and assessments with program level learning outcomes. It may even lead to requirements for peer or external review of our curriculum design and associated documentation, or even some form of external validation/moderation of assessment tasks and students’ work.

6) What does it mean for our programs in practice?

Programs will need to express learning outcomes using language that is consistent with the AQF taxonomy of knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills appropriate to the qualification and level.

EXAMPLE 1. An Associate Degree (a 2 year Level 6 qualification), compared with a Bachelor Degree (a 3-4 year Level 7 qualification) have differences including paraprofessional versus professional, and autonomy, judgment and defined responsibility versus autonomy, well-developed judgment and responsibility. ‘Judgment’ as compared to ‘well-developed judgment’ may look minor at first glance, but are significant in practice – programs and institutions will need to work through the detail of what that means in an industry and/or discipline context.

EXAMPLE 2. Whereas an Advanced Diploma and Associate Degree are both at Level 6 in the AQF criteria, there are differences in the detail of the knowledge and skills graduates are expected to have and apply, such as in their problem solving skills. The Advanced Diploma taxonomy refers to ‘cognitive and communication skills to formulate responses to complex problems’ as opposed to ‘cognitive and communication and analytical skills to interpret and transmit responses to sometimes complex problems’ outlined in the Associate Degree descriptor. Qualifications will need to be designed and renewed with such differences in mind.

EXAMPLE 3. The typical ‘volume of learning’ for Masters Coursework programs is specified in the AQF as 1-2 years depending on whether the student has qualified in the same discipline or not in their pre-requisite degree. The different permutations are:

  • 1.5 years following a level 7 (Bachelor Degree) qualification in the same discipline
  • 1 year following a level 8 (Honours, Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma) qualification in the same discipline
  • 2 years following a level 7 qualification in a different discipline
  • 1.5 years following a level 8 qualification in a different discipline

As currently some Masters programs are 1 to 1.5 years and take students from a range of disciplines, this will potentially extend the maximum duration for some programs and in addition there is a requirement that this include a substantial research-based project, capstone experience and/or piece of scholarship.


The authoritative source for all things AQF is: http://www.aqf.edu.au/

This is where the current version of the framework is available, the Australian Qualifications Framework – First Edition July 2011.

For more on current changes in the Higher Education sector and the agenda of consistency and transparency in Higher Education you might want to have a look at the TEQSA website http://www.teqsa.gov.au/