Schools, Vocational Learning, Universities: How do they all fit in?

In previous articles, we have only glanced upon the Australian education system as a whole by introducing just a small section of our education system at a time. However, we realised that you also need to know the entire structure of our education system and the levels of it in order to be fully aware of what your study represents on a bigger scale.  


Some questions you may have are:

  • What is a Bachelor degree? How is it ranked relative to a diploma?

  • What is the difference between a Graduate Diploma and an Advanced Diploma?


Why is it important to know the Australian Qualifications Framework and how the education system is structured?

The main reason behind why you should know the AQF is that there may be differences between the Australian system and the one you have at home but they may have the similar name or reflect students of similar ages. These would influence your expectations and how you experience student life here.

For example, secondary schooling in Colombia and Australia appear similar (occur in around the same age groups and year levels) but the structures of their courses are quite different. While Australians have more general courses during secondary school (years 7-12) where you can choose particular subjects that interest you, especially in the later year levels (years 9-12), Colombian students at mid-secondary level (year 10-11) can enrol into technical tracks that prepares them specifically for their chosen interests or careers and enrolment into technical schools and technical professional institutions in the service or production industries after 2 years.   Furthermore, Australian schooling is designed to prepare students for the state’s tertiary entrance exam in years 11 and 12 whereas the education system in Columbia does not. Prospective students must find appropriate preparatory courses themselves if they want to attend university.


Also, there is some crossover between vocational learning and higher education in Australia. Some universities offer vocational courses, secondary schooling in vocational providers or in universities so you need to know what you are actually enrolled in! You may be attending classes at a university but are you really studying a university course?


Australian Qualification Framework

The Australian Qualification Framework is the national policy that details the entire education structure in Australia. It incorporates the structures and designs of school, vocational learning and higher education! There are 10 levels in total, representing the progress through education on can take. 

It is a system of 17 national qualifications in 3 sectors:


  • Focuses on developing every individual student’s learning needs. It attempts to nurture students into self-reliant, life-long and self-motivated learners.

  • Some characteristics include: school uniforms, schools operate between 9am to 3pm, university trained teachers, small classes to improve communication between teachers and their students, and students commonly undertake projects, group work and self-directed learning.

  • You can leave after Year 10 after which you will receive a Certificate of Completion of Year 10 or you can finish year 12 and receive your Senior Secondary Certificate of Education.

Vocational Education and Training

  • Certificate Programs

       ➡  Certificate Programs seek to provide students with basic to technical knowledge of their area of study. Students can then apply knowledge and skills and complete their work with a degree of autonomy and judgment.

  • Diploma and Advanced Program

       ➡  Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas have slightly higher entry requirements than enrolling in Certificate courses.
       ➡  Graduates will develop a broad range of cognitive, technical and communication skills and the ability to demonstrate knowledge and application of acquired skills to analyse information, problem solve and communicate information and skills to other.
       ➡  Similarly, graduates can apply knowledge and skills to demonstrate autonomy and judgment and responsibility, but to a greater extent that Certificate graduates.

  • Advanced Diploma and Associate Degree

       ➡  Develop broad and specialised knowledge about an area of work and learning
       ➡  Students at this level will develop cognitive, technical and communication skills that enables them to apply learned knowledge to cases, problem solve and communicate this information and skills to others.
       ➡  Graduates will demonstrate autonomy, judgement and responsibility.

Higher Education

  • Undergraduate
       ➡  Bachelor Degree

            ⭐ ​A Bachelor Degree seeks to provide students with a systematic and coherent knowledge about their course of study and develop associated research and problem-solving techniques.
            ⭐ This is the most basic qualification at university-level and required if you wish to enter a profession.
      ➡  Bachelor Degree (Honours)
            ⭐  A Bachelor Degree with Honours is an extension of the Bachelor Degree by one year. It focuses on research.

  • Postgraduate
      ➡  Graduate Certificate
            ⭐  Involves extending the knowledge gained in an undergraduate program or building your vocational skills in a new area of study
      ➡  Graduate Diploma
            ⭐  The Graduate Diploma either broadens individual skills obtained in an undergraduate program or develops vocational knowledge and skills in a new professional area.
      ➡  Masters Degree (Coursework)
            ⭐  Focuses on attaining knowledge of a specific area of study through coursework but may involve some research.
            ⭐  The Masters Degree enhances specific professional or vocational skills.
     ➡   Masters Degree (Research) (MPhil)
            ⭐  It is possible to transfer to a PhD program after 1 year full-time if the work in the MPhil course is considered to be a suitable standard.
            ⭐  You may enter this degree directly from Bachelor degree with Honours or by completing a Graduate Diploma and having significant work experience.
            ⭐  The Master of Philosophy program aims to help students develop their independent research skills by requiring them to formulate a problem in their relevant fields, master an appropriate methodological process to address or measure that issue, and to articulate and critically analyse the problem and the results.

      ➡  Doctoral Degree (Doctor of Philosophy) PhD
            ⭐  There are three components to this degree:
                        ➡  A thesis demonstrating the relationship between the research to the broader framework of the disciplin
                        ➡  an original research project resulting in a significant contribution to knowledge and understanding and/or the application of knowledge within a discipline.
                        ➡  Literature review, experimentation, or other systemic approaches to a body of knowledge.
            ⭐  The Doctoral Degree is the highest award offered by Australian universities. It is predominantly research-based, however, some courses may include a coursework component.


Below is a table of the Australian Qualifications Framework with all its levels and the sectors that offer them.

AQF Level


Vocational and Technical Education




Doctoral Degree (around 3 years)



Masters Degree (Coursework) (min. 1-2 years)

Masters Degree (Research) (min. 1-2 years)



Graduate Diploma (12 months)


Graduate Certificate (6 months)


Bachelor Honours Degree (min. 4 years)



Bachelor Degree (min. 3 years)



Associate Degree


Advanced Diploma



Diploma (1-2 years)



Certificate IV




Certificate III



Certificate II



Certificate I


Senior Secondary Certificate of Education


A Certificate of Completion of Year 10



Our Spiible page offers great search tools that can help you find the perfect course for you! Simply go to, type in the keywords of what you are looking for and search, compare and study!


For any questions about anything you learned today or just want some help with your study plans in Australia, contact us via We are happy to help!


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