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Course Levels

What is Meant by “Level of Qualification”?

The terminology used with courses varies around the world. The term certificate can mean very different things in different places, as can terms such as diploma, degree, masters and even apprenticeship.
It is best to not Assume

Most people incorrectly make assumptions that certificate, diploma or degree will mean similar things in different places. In reality, some certificates may involve more learning than some diplomas, and sometimes a diploma can be more valuable than a degree.

What Can You Use as an ACS Affiliate?

Our courses have been developed to be relatively flexible in how you describe their level of study.

Most (but with some exceptions), can be delivered as a more complex or less complex course; depending upon the standards you set down for your students, and the standards you require your staff to work to. You can control the quantity of work you require for a qualification by defining certificates, diplomas or other qualifications in different ways to what ACS itself does, or what other affiliates do.

Some affiliates will; seek formal accreditation for what they deliver and utilize our courses to deliver accredited qualifications that fit a government or industry system; hence are able to be promoted as accredited. Others are presented as non accredited courses. We offer our affiliates as much flexibility as is possible and will advise you on how you might configure, deliver and promote your courses to fit the target markets you wish to work with.

How can you Measure Quantity?

The time taken to study a course might be described in all sorts of different ways. Some courses are specified as taking a certain number of hours, weeks or years; but those definitions don’t really mean a lot unless qualified an quantified. Is the time stated referring to time spent in front of a teacher, time spent reading course notes and/or time spent doing research, doing assignments, swatting for exams, and /or sitting exams? The course duration might refer to all or maybe only some of these things. Sometimes time spent can be flexible too. One student may spend a lot longer to complete a course than another; so how then is time defined? Some courses may estimate maximum time for studying a course, while others may be estimating the minimum time.

Many courses will prescribe the number of class contact hours (or equivalent).

Some courses may estimate or suggest the quantity of work required beyond class contact hours, which may include such things as assignment or project work, work experience requirements and/or “swatting” in preparation for sitting exams.

How can you Measure Level of Study?

College or university education often uses terminology such as vocational, trade, undergraduate, post graduate or professional development. Old terminology like this though might not always be relevant in today’s rapidly changing world.
Many countries use mainstream systems to define “levels” of education. Level 1 and 2 courses are commonly certificates, and are intended to educate people for lower level jobs. Higher levels (perhaps 6 or 7) may be used for much higher level training, maybe at university. These systems can be an effective way of defining how complex a course should be; but different countries do use different ways to designate levels, and that leads to confusion internationally.
Level 5 for example, in one country might be used for vocational diplomas, but in a different country, level 5 may be used for university degrees.

How can you Measure Quality Factors?

The value and quantity of learning can’t be defined purely by the time spent studying and the level at which a person studies.  Here are some examples of how other factors can come into play:

  • One course might teach you to perform a particular task once, then test the student’s ability to perform that task; while another course may teach the task in one context, then revisit the task, repeating the learning experience in a different context, possibly several times. When the task is learned once, it will enter short term memory, and if tested before it is forgotten, they may pass the test.   If the task is taught several times in different contexts though; it will be more likely to lodge in their long term memory.  Repeating the task may take longer, but the level of learning will not be higher -however the quality may be stronger.
  • One course might use resources with few visual aids, while another course may be resourced with more visual aids. Even if both courses are at the same level and have the same duration; the quality of learning may be stronger in the course with more visual aids.
  • One course might require students to attend classes routinely at a particular time and for a particular duration; irrespective of whether the student is in peak physical condition or not. Another course may allow the student greater flexibility about when and how long their study sessions are (so they can choose to study when they are in optimum physical condition, and alert to what they are studying. Both courses may be the same level and duration; but the flexible one may result in stronger learning.

There are many other things that can cause variability between different courses.


What then Matters to your Career Success?

The most important value of any course eventually, will be what you learn and how well you learn. If your learning is strong you retain it for life. If what you learn is fundamental to the subject; the information continues to have a relevance for decades to come, and will provide a foundation for working within that discipline in any place or situation, for your entire career.

Whether you do a level 1, 3, 5 or 8, might not matter in the long term, as much as what you learn initially, how that kick starts your career, and the fact that you continue to develop your knowledge and ability as you progress over the decades that follow.

How Do You Compare Different Systems?

Different systems will define qualification names and levels in different ways. They vary in the way they give weight to different criteria, such as described above.  Because of these variations, and the lack of a clear cut correlation from one system to the next; it is near impossible to accurately say that a particular qualification in one system has the same career value or academic worth as a different qualification under another system.

The Good News is there is Value in Diversity

Most students and graduates will have an understandable desire to be able to say their qualification is the same as something else from a different college, and in a different qualification system.

Despite this desire; there is in fact a big advantage in not being able to do so.
If your qualification does not translate perfectly; that means you have has a learning experience which is unique. The mix of things you learned, and perhaps the strength and level of your learning may give you advantages that will enable you to out perform others in business or employment.


In mainstream UK education, there are nine levels for qualifications, under the National Vocational Qualifications framework. These are defined as follows.

Entry Level
This is the lowest level Qualifications awarded at this level might be given any one of a number of different names, including entry level certificate or entry level diploma.

Level 1
This is a low level qualification, only one step up from an entry level course. It also may be given a whole range of different titles.

 Level 1 qualifications can among other things, include:

  • Level 1 certificate or Level 1 Diploma
  • Level 1 NVQ (ie. National Vocational Qualification)
  • GCSE courses graded as D, E, F or G

Level 2
Level 2 qualifications can among other things, include:

  • Level 2 award, certificate or diploma
  • Level 2 National certificate or national diploma
  • GCSE courses graded A, B or C
  • O level courses grade A, B or C

Level 3.
Level 3 qualifications can among other things, include:

  • Level 3 award, certificate or diploma
  • Level 3 National certificate or national diploma
  • International Baccalaureate Diploma
  • Advanced apprenticeship
  • A level courses graded A, B, C, D or E

Level 4.
Level 4 qualifications can among other things, include:

  • Level 4 award, certificate or diploma
  • Certificate in Higher Education
  • Higher National Certificate
  • Level 4 NVQ

Level 5.
Level 5 qualifications can among other things, include:

  • Level 5 award, certificate or diploma
  • Higher National Diploma (HND)
  • Foundation Degree

Level 6.
Level 6 qualifications can among other things, include:

  • Level 6 award, certificate or diploma
  • Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma
  • Bachelors Degree

Level 7.
Level 7 qualifications can among other things, include:

  • Level 7 award, certificate or diploma
  • Post Graduate Diploma or Post Graduate Certificate
  • Masters Degree

Level 8.
Level 8 qualifications can among other things, include:

  • Level 8 award, certificate or diploma
  • Level 8 award, certificate or diploma


In Australia, levels begin at level 1; unlike the UK where they begin at entry level.
In Australia there has not traditionally been the same overlap between secondary schooling, vocational and university courses; as what is seen in the UK.

In many other countries, systems vary considerably.

Certificates and diplomas in Australia were through the 20th century, defined by class contact hours; but that situation changed in the early 2oth century. Consequently, mainstream diplomas and certificates in the 1970’s in Australia were often much longer courses than what they have become more recently.  


We have defined our qualifications with the main emphasis on quantity of study; but also defining level to some degree.

  • All of our courses are delivered to be at a post secondary academic education level.
  • Credit courses for certificates, diplomas or any other qualifications are treated by course developers and tutors/assessors as being at a first year (or higher) college or university academic level.

Beyond this our qualifications might be arranged as follows, from lowest to highest academic level:

Certificate of Completion - 20 hours

Foundation Certificate- over 150 hours, less than 500 hours

Certificate -600 hours

Advanced Certificate  - 900 hours

Specialist Award -500 hours but more complex study than an Advanced Certificate

Proficiency Awards - up to 2,500 or more hours

UK Foundation Diploma  – 1,000 hours

UK Associate Diploma – 1,500 hours

UK Diploma – 2,100 hours

UK Advanced Diploma – 2,500 hours



Affiliates may follow the same standards as ACS, or may choose to configure modules differently to ACS.

The support services offered by the affiliate, and the standards for assessment of students may be the same as, or different to ACS.

The quantity and quality of study required to attain a qualification therefore, may be different from one affiliate to the next. The fees charged by the affiliates may also vary; but should normally be reflective of the differences in quality and quantity of educaqtion in respective courses.

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