Australian Qualifications Framework Review 2019 – A Deep Dive

Claudia Reiners
October 30, 2019

Australian Qualifications Framework Review 2019 – A Deep Dive

4bf428ed6af9ff680b7ac8b24b046f3d?s=50&d=mm&r=g Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

The Review of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) has just been released, and it’s one of the more interesting developments in the tertiary education space in Australia this year.

The way Australians are studying is changing. As the Review states:

“Technology, demographic shifts, and globalisation are changing the way we work. Changes in the way we work will affect the skills and knowledge that graduates need and the ways that providers deliver education, which in turn need to be reflected in the AQF.”

We’re strong proponents of reform and change, as they will allow industry and providers to be more reactive and better equipped to meet the needs of students.

A renewed focus on reshaping and reforming education is paramount in these ‘changing times’.

What is the AQF?

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) is our national policy for regulated qualifications.

It was first introduced in 1995, and it underpins our national system of qualifications, covering vocational education and training (VET) and higher education.

While we don’t talk about it very often, the AQF underpins the framework that the Australian education and training system works under.

The below diagram tells us just how many areas are impacted by the AQF in Australia:

AQF blog Infographic 01b

AQF Objectives

The AQF is essentially a policy that outlines learning outcomes for each level and qualification type, as well as the specifics around the accreditation and development of qualifications.

The main objectives of this policy are to ‘facilitate pathways to, and through, formal
qualifications’, including:

  • Ensuring Australian training is fit for purpose, both now and into the future
  • Contributes to the national economy by supporting relevant and national qualification outcomes
  • Allows for pathways between different education and training sectors and also the labour market
  • Supports lifelong learning

The Current AQF


Graduates at this level will have knowledge and skills for initial work, community involvement and/or further learning.


Graduates at this level will have foundational knowledge for everyday life, further learning and preparation for initial work.


Graduates at this level will have foundational cognitive, technical and communication skills to:

  • undertake defined routine activities
  • identify and report simple issues and problems
  • Application of knowledge and skillsGraduates at this level will apply knowledge and skills to demonstrate autonomy in highly structured and stable contexts and within narrow parameters.

Why Are We Talking About It?

The AQF was first introduced all the way back in 1995.

The Government announced a review of the AQF in the 2017-18 Budget, to “ensure that it continues to meet the needs of students, employers, education providers and the wider community.”

The Review, led by Professor Peter Noonan, Professor of Tertiary Education Policy at Victoria University, was released in September 2019.

134 written submissions were made in response to the AQF working paper and consultation sessions.

The AQF had not been formally reviewed for seven years, and as noted by the Discussion Paper, “Changes in the nature of work that affect the skills that graduates need and the types of qualifications that students and employers are seeking, now need to be considered for reflection in the AQF.”

As we’ve discussed in previous articles; skills shortages, microcredentials and the changing nature of work are some of the many reasons that the education system is changing both here in Australia and internationally.

A full scale review of the AQF is a much needed policy focus for the sector.

Areas of Focus

The Review identified certain areas of focus, including:

  • New and improved ways of teaching, learning and assessment
  • More coherent tertiary sector (across VET and Higher Education)

The 2008 Review of Higher Education (Bradley Review) called for a single regulator and funding source for VET and higher education, which has not really eventuated since these recommendations were released.

VET and Higher Education have since continued to develop and work in silos, with different regulatory bodies, as well as their actual qualification purposes, design and teaching methods. (Page 9 of the Review)

There are also distinct differences in their levels of funding and enrolment numbers, and the vocational sector is still regarded as the inferior sibling to higher education.

These areas of focus are key in developing a long term approach towards tertiary education in Australia.

Areas of Interest

1. The AQF should recognise new skills and learning methods

While short courses and micro-credentials are on the rise, there is little in the way of regulatory framework to address these new types of learning outcomes.

As the recent Joyce Review into ‘Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System’ has stated,

Other shorter form credentials have no mapping to the AQF, for example, the current Australian system does not allow industry, students or employers to capture micro-credentials or ascertain their value against the AQF, meaning they lack any sort of national currency.

Strengthening Skills Report
Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education
and Training System

The Honourable Steven Joyce

We’ve covered this topic recently, as there are many reasons that incorporating micro-credentials into the AQF is a good idea, particularly for issues around standardisation and quality assurance, which would:

  • Make it easier to understand how they relate to other qualifications
  • Help them to count toward a full qualification
  • Make them more portable to different contexts – both in terms of industry, and globally

According to the Australian Department of Education, “Shorter forms of learning are also suitable for incrementally acquiring skills and knowledge over a person’s career (life-long learning) These credentials could be combined to build formal qualifications.”

There are also arguments that don’t support the inclusion of micro-credentials in the AQF.

Emeritus Professor Beverly Oliver, formerly Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education at Deakin has raised concerns about the ability of shorter credentials to be innovative and responsive to industry within an official framework.

In New Zealand, micro-credentials sit outside the framework of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, but are accredited by NZQA.

They must meet any needs not already met by the tertiary system that community, industry and employers support.

Following New Zealand’s outlook, Australia could potentially “unbundle” qualifications into smaller units which could then be “rebundled” into other degrees, allowing for more flexibility and personalisation – reflecting what the booming micro-credentials market has told us students want.

Credit transfer, credit aggregation and other ways to incorporate shorter qualifications into qualifications could also help with including these new skill sets that are on the rise.

Life-learning is complex, and emerging sectors such as IT will benefit from more applicable skill sets and their recognition. The inclusion of shorter form courses in the national conversation will hopefully also facilitate a much stronger collaboration between the VET and Higher Education sectors.

The complexity of ASQA (The Australian Skills Quality Authority) is definitely a question mark when considering the compliance framework around any inclusion of micro-credentials into the AQF.

What is definitely clear is that there needs to be some acknowledgement of shorter styles of learning, as well as regulation around the content, pathways and outcomes of micro-credentials.

Recognising shorter form and micro-credentials within the AQF would be a commitment towards long-term, future proof learning.

2. Recognising the value of both VET and Higher Education

AQF Levels

There are common misconceptions about the role of VET in the Australian education sector, and a lack of prestige bestowed upon vocational education providers.

Divergent funding policies across VET and Higher Education has also had an effect on the perception of VET in Australia.

Before undertaking the AQF Review, initial consultations indicated that many actually consider the AQF levels as a ladder, with all VET qualifications at the bottom, and higher education qualifications at the top. This ‘implied hierarchy’ discounts the fact that there are vocational qualifications in both VET and higher education. There is also uncertainty around the value of different courses and qualifications in the currently AQF Levels, which don’t necessarily give VET the focus or importance it deserves.

While the AQF taxonomy is based on levels of increasing skills and knowledge (and their application), the current framework doesn’t recognise the true value of a qualification based on industry sector. The current AQF levels and their language give greater weight and importance to higher education.

Commentary around the Review has confirmed that while the design and application of the AQF and any of its changes won’t alter the perceptions of VET, better definition and simplification will definitely help.


While there is a lack of confidence around the VET sector, there is also work to be done in the design and application of qualifications.

As the Michell Institute’s Paper, ‘Rethinking and Revitalising Tertiary Education’ has stated, both Federal and State governments must “ work together to rethink the way that tertiary qualifications are designed, described and delivered.”

The AQF is meant to provide pathways and a way for students to move seamlessly between both the VET and Higher Education Sectors, but there is still significant confusion between overlapping AQF Levels. The same AQF levels that overlap across VET and Higher Education can be different in design and job outcomes, and the pathways between vocation and higher education and not easily navigated.

A revision of the AQF pathways policy would allow pathways to operate more effectively across the VET and higher education sectors.

A better framework for Pathways and initiatives such as a shared credit transfer register would help us move towards a more ‘coherent’ tertiary sector, and may help to enhance the expansion of pathways between the VET and higher education systems.

If operating effectively, a revised AQF has the potential to enable the VET and higher education sectors to address complementary skills and knowledge needs more efficiently.

Melbourne Graduate School of Education
Boundaries and connections between VET and higher education at AQF 5/6 Report

Dr Craig Fowler

Closing Comments

While we are not policy makers here at Candlefox, we work day in and day out with providers and prospective students alike, and see the need for more clarity and cohesion across the tertiary space.

As the Mitchell Institute Review notes, the AQF Review is a great step towards ‘revitalising’ the tertiary sector in Australia, but there are many other actions that will need to follow, such as the Federal/State funding question, which will hopefully “achieve the revitalisation and increased tertiary participation that is required to ensure a strong, sustainable skills base”.

The AQF forms the building blocks of the way our tertiary institutions operate, and while we haven’t addressed the Review’s findings, we look forward to the discussions around its release.

It’s unclear what recommendations the Government will take on board, but given the lengthy estimated timeframe to implementation (6 – 24+ months), we look forward to sharing more updates and contributing to the discussion further.

While we haven’t covered all the items that the Review has addressed, we look forward to sharing more updates in the space and contributing to the discussion further.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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