Executive Summary

This report sets out the findings of the joint project undertaken by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) to reference the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF).


The full report:
Enhancing Mobility – Referencing of the Australian and New Zealand Qualifications Frameworks  (PDF, 932KB)

Referencing is a process that results in the establishment of a relationship between the levels of national qualifications frameworks and the robustness of the quality assurance systems that underpin the education and training systems. Referencing seeks to make a statement about the broad compatibility of qualifications frameworks, without adjustments to either of the qualifications frameworks being made. This report therefore sets out the comparability of the levels of the national qualifications frameworks of Australia and New Zealand.

Policy dialogues that address strategic matters such as this referencing project reinforce bilateral and multilateral cooperation from administrative to policy levels and serve to enhance shared understanding of the education and training policies and developments in both countries. The Australian and New Zealand Governments support referencing the AQF and the NZQF. Referencing will help advance a Single Economic Market between Australia and New Zealand and support the mobility of learners and skilled labour between the two countries.

This report will build an understanding of New Zealand qualifications in Australia and Australian qualifications in New Zealand. Referencing facilitates transparency and provides reliable information on the comparability of the national frameworks in both countries, validating the credibility and robustness of each countries’ qualification systems, including knowledge and understanding of the various quality assurance processes supporting the qualifications frameworks. Referencing provides a systematic basis for improving mutual trust and understanding of recognition of qualifications, supporting the ability of employers, educational institutions and other stakeholders to make judgements about the value and comparability of particular qualifications in practice.


The report will support transparent and consistent recognition decisions informed by a strong understanding and appreciation of the learning outcomes delivered by the frameworks.

Although the outcomes of the referencing process do not entitle any holder of an Australian or New Zealand qualification to claim automatic recognition, they will supplement the existing body of knowledge acquired over the many years of student and labour mobility between Australia and New Zealand.


A Joint Working Group of Department of Education and Training and NZQA officials was formed to undertake the project, and international experts were engaged to provide insight and advice as the referencing project progressed. Consultations were undertaken to involve stakeholders in both countries to ensure a robust and transparent referencing process that would be of value to all parts of the sector.

The methodology for referencing the AQF and NZQF used the following set of defined principles, adapted from the Criteria and procedures for referencing national qualifications levels to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF):

  1. Relevant bodies involved: the legitimacy and responsibilities of all relevant New Zealand and Australian bodies involved in the referencing process are clearly determined and transparent.
  2. Quality assurance systems: the New Zealand and Australian quality assurance systems for education and training are integral to the qualifications framework and are consistent with international quality assurance principles.
  3. Qualification level linkages: there is a clear and demonstrable link between the qualifications levels of the NZQF and the AQF.
  4. Comparable principles of learning outcomes: the NZQF and the qualifications listed on it and the AQF and its qualifications are based on comparable principles and objectives of learning outcomes.
  5. Transparency regarding qualifications: the procedures for inclusion of qualifications on the NZQF and the AQF and/or describing the place of qualifications in the qualifications system are transparent.
  6. Validation of credit systems: national or regional policies for the validation of all learning, and credit systems, where these exist, are an integral component of the NZQF and the AQF.
  7. Consultation with quality assurance agencies: the referencing report has been prepared in consultation with the relevant accrediting and/or quality assurance bodies for New Zealand and Australia.
  8. International experts: the referencing process involves international experts to support and assist the development of trusted outcomes.

Referencing Summary

The Department of Education and Training and NZQA were the two agencies mandated as the competent authorities to undertake the project, and both countries benefited from consultation and involvement of the relevant accrediting/quality assurance bodies and international experts as discussed in Principles 1, 7 and 8.

Both countries operate national quality assurance systems that are similarly robust, providing public confidence in qualifications. These quality assurance systems, (discussed in Principle 2) of which qualifications frameworks are fundamental, are based on set criteria which are consistent with relevant international good practice. Both countries’ qualifications frameworks are underpinned by national registration of institutions by external monitoring bodies, and national accreditation of courses/programmes based on robust and measurable criteria. An integral aspect of both systems is the requirement for internal management of quality assurance and continuous improvement by education and training institutions, with requirements for self‑assessment and external review. The quality assurance systems cover all modes of delivery, including online, distance, domestic and transnational delivery, providing confidence in qualifications.

Both frameworks are based on comparable principles and objectives of learning outcomes, as discussed in Principle 4. They both describe learning outcomes with similar emphases on knowledge, skills and application of knowledge and skills. The learning outcomes are expressed objectively, avoiding reference to learning modes or institutional settings, are neutral in relation to specific occupational relevance and to ‘fields of learning’, and are expressed generically for qualification types/framework levels.

With transparent procedures relating to describing the placement of qualifications in the qualification systems, and policies for the validation of all learning and credit systems, both countries’ frameworks compare well for Principles 5 and 6.

One notable difference between the qualifications frameworks is that the NZQF is a unified framework with a dual purpose: to set out the architecture of the New Zealand qualifications system, and to act as the single repository for all quality assured qualifications in New Zealand. The AQF is also a unified framework with qualification types at each level, but it is not an accredited qualification repository. The Australian national education regulatory bodies maintain national registers of accredited qualifications for regulatory purposes.

A comparative process for matching the levels of the national qualifications frameworks was used to determine the comparability of the AQF and the NZQF. This involved:

  • structural comparison of the two frameworks i.e. comparing the architecture and policy of the two frameworks, the concepts of learning outcomes on which they are based and the way the levels are defined
  • technical comparison of the two frameworks i.e. expected learning outcomes – knowledge, skills and application, credit allocations and framework levels
  • contextual matching i.e. qualifications type, definition and purpose, delivery arrangements, assessment methods, volume of learning, credit
  • social effects matching i.e. how qualifications are viewed in society, what are the destinations of those graduating

For most levels, the structural and technical comparison informed an appropriate reference, but for some levels, further research was required to make a more robust and comprehensive comparison. The contextual and social effects matching process was then used to deepen comparison.

These additional concepts were also considered before final judgements of comparability were made. These included analysis of best fit and substantial difference.

Outcomes of referencing process

Following analysis of each referencing principle, the Australian and New Zealand qualifications frameworks were judged to be compatible, as set out by the principles in Chapter 6 of the Report. As detailed in the discussion around Principle 3, the levels in the AQF and NZQF were judged to be comparable as outlined in the following table.

Level 1 Level 1
Level 2 Level 2
Level 3 Level 3
Level 4 Level 4
Level 5 Level 5
Level 6 Level 6
Level 7 Level 7
Level 8 Level 8
Level 9 Level 9
Level 10 Level 10

Both Australia and New Zealand have had national qualifications frameworks in place for over 20 years, and this referencing report begins the process of linking frameworks with other national qualifications frameworks in a global setting.

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