The AQF was established in 1995, and last reviewed between 2009 and 2011. This year the Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, has appointed an expert panel of six, chaired by Professor Peter Noonan to review it again. The review’s website can be found here.

The review will involve broad public and sectoral consultations. A discussion paper will be released in the second half of 2018, with the final report due by June 2019. In the meantime, consultants PhillipsKPA have produced a research paper which presents international qualifications frameworks and describes the domestic use of the AQF.

An overview of the research paper

The research compares the AQF with a selection of national qualifications frameworks from a wide range of other countries and regions. In addition, they conducted consultations and a desktop review “to research the breadth of the use of the AQF in both educational and non-educational settings in Australia.” Their paper looks at the purpose, intent, scope, structure and benefits of the AQF before commenting on its content. Here is a snapshot of what they found.

What the research found

Australia was an early developer and adopter of a national qualifications framework.

The AQF is very widely used across Australian tertiary education and deeply embedded in:

“a broad range of legislation, policies, regulations and processes at government level, in statistical and data collections, in some industrial agreements, in the processes of quality assurance and accreditation by registration agencies and professional bodies as well as in the policies and processes of educational institutions that provide vocational and higher education.”

Nevertheless, it is showing its age and there are a range of persistent concerns about it. The first is that, while the review in the late 2000s addressed some of these concerns, it did “not appear to have dealt with the major issues that continue to create problems in interpretation and implementation of the AQF.” In addition, changes since the last review and “the widespread trend towards micro-credentials, flexible delivery options and mechanisms to assist learners to construct their own programs, sometimes across sectors, to meet individual learning needs” challenge the present AQF. Today, flexible and multi-directional pathways rather than simple hierarchical ones are seen as more suited to lifelong learning and rapid retraining to meet new technological challenges. Some qualification frameworks overseas are addressing these issues better.

Another issue is that while both RPL and workplace learning are encouraged by the AQF “there are no mechanisms … to assign levels to ‘non-standard’ learning options, or to regulate or quality assure credit towards formal qualifications for in-service or informal learning or micro-credentials in a way that ensures national or international consistency.”

Finally, PhillipsKPA suggest that:

“The AQF relies heavily on notional volumes of learning expressed in years of study which is out of step with modern international practice.  Movement towards a system based on credit point values related to notional average hours required to achieve learning outcomes would be in keeping with international practice and would have the added advantage of facilitating a common currency for a national credit transfer system to support pathways and recognition of non-formal learning.”

In its present form the AQF is “not easily understood by the average reader or by international audiences or the wider community.” This is in contrast to those in Europe, which are seen as more easily understood and ‘user friendly’. So let’s stay in touch with this review through this newsletter, and see what unfolds.