It can be difficult understanding what different qualifications mean and which one is right for you
For those new to the world of post-school education there seems to be an ever-expanding number of qualifications, but they can be divided into three basic categories: certificate, diploma and Bachelor degree.
The qualifications hierarchy
The Federal Government, through its Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, maintains the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). Employers and educational institutions usually only recognise qualifications that fall within the AQF, and that framework, broadly speaking, has three levels.
Certificates I to IV take six months to two years to complete and are the entry-level post-school qualifications. Certificates I to II provide basic vocational skills and knowledge. Certificates III to IV provide more advanced skills and knowledge. A Certificate IV is the equivalent of six to 12 months of studying for a degree at university. (Oh, and it’s not always necessary to complete a lower level certificate to gain entry to a higher one.)
Courses at Diploma (or Advanced Diploma) level generally take two to three years to complete and prepare students for careers that require a broad range of complex technical skills and in-depth knowledge. They’re considered equivalent to one or two years studying for a degree at university.
The undergraduate bachelor degree is the base university qualification. It takes three to four years to complete and signifies broad, coherent knowledge and the ability to undertake work in one of the professions.
Which one is right for me?
Historically, TAFE offered certificate and diploma courses and universities offered undergraduate bachelor degree courses. TAFE now offers some degree courses while unis offer some diploma courses, but it remains the case that the further up the qualifications hierarchy you go, the more work is involved in gaining the credentials and the more prestige they have.
But there’s no need to be overqualified for a position. For example, if you wish to work as child care worker, a Certificate III or IV in Children’s Services will be sufficient. But if you want to work as an early childhood teacher, you’ll have to do a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education and Care. Increasingly, qualifications from TAFE are recognised by universities, meaning that if you ever decide to do a degree (either at TAFE or uni) you will be able to transfer credit for certificate or diploma qualifications you’ve already gained.