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  • What's the difference between certificates, diplomas and degrees?


There are a wide variety of paths of study available to prospective students, but it’s often unclear what the difference between certificates, diplomas and degrees are. The basis for the definitions below are founded on the Australian Qualifications Framework, and are recognised country-wide. There are 10 levels of qualifications as defined by the AQF. The duration of a course varies depending on the volume of knowledge being taught, the subject matter and whether it is undertaken online or on campus, full-time or part-time.

Doctoral Degree: Level 10 

Doctoral Degree qualifications are situated at level 10 of the Australian Qualifications Framework. The central purpose of the Doctoral Degree is to qualify individuals who apply a substantial body of knowledge to research, investigate and develop new knowledge, in one or more fields of investigation, scholarship or professional practice. 

According to the AQF: There are two forms of Doctoral Degree with the same descriptor within the Doctoral Degree qualification type: the Doctoral Degree (Research) and the Doctoral Degree (Professional). Doctoral Degrees can take more than 5 years to complete. 

Masters Degree: Level 9

There are three main forms of Masters Degrees within the Masters Degree qualification type: the Masters Degree (Research), the Masters Degree (Coursework) and the Masters Degree (Extended). The purpose of the Masters Degree (Research) is to qualify individuals who apply an advanced body of knowledge in a range of contexts for research and scholarship and as a pathway for further learning. A master’s degree usually takes one to two years to obtain.

Graduate Certificate or Diploma: Level 8

Once you have a bachelor degree, or can provide evidence of sufficient prior learning, you can get a graduate certificate or graduate diploma. Undertaking a graduate certificate or diploma will give you further, specialised knowledge in usually one area of study.

Depending on the course you undertake, you may extend on the knowledge you gained during your undergraduate degree or equip yourself with a different vocational skill. Individuals holding this level of qualification are regarded as critical thinkers, good communicators and problem solvers, able to process and transmit information very well. A graduate certificate usually requires 6 months, and a graduate diploma usually requires 1 year to obtain.

Bachelor Degree: Level 7

Obtaining a bachelor degree will qualify you as someone with a wide range of technical and theoretical knowledge of a subject, and the ability to apply that knowledge in a variety of contexts. It is recognised as a qualification useful for the workplace, as well as a foundation for further learning.  Studying a full-time bachelor degree typically takes 3-4 years to complete.

Advanced Diploma: Level 6

An advanced diploma qualifies you as a highly skilled worker with specialised knowledge. It enables you to undertake skilled work, or function as a paraprofessional. A paraprofessional is someone who can complete specific tasks in a profession but who isn’t licensed as fully qualified.

Diploma: Level 5

The skills you obtain from a diploma qualify you to work in a variety of contexts framed by established parameters. A diploma provides you with a deeper understanding of a particular area of knowledge. Diplomas teach you to communicate well with your colleagues, analyse problems that may be complex, and use your best judgement to make decision.  The duration of a diploma is 1-2 years.

Certificate IV: Level 4

The content delivered in a Certificate IV is mostly factual and technical, with less emphasis placed on theoretical knowledge. It is designed to produce skilled workers with a broader range of specialised knowledge. For example, a BSB42518 - Certificate IV in Small Business Management is specifically designed for those wanting to manage or found small businesses. Depending on the course, it may take 6 months or 2 years to complete. This is because some courses are delivered for students with prior knowledge looking to upskill, and others are delivered for students with limited experience in the field, looking to obtain entry-level employment in an industry.

Certificate III: Level 3

The information taught in a Certificate III is not as in-depth as a Certificate IV. Graduates will possess some theoretical, practical knowledge and skills. They will have the ability to complete routine tasks, procedures and the occasional unpredictable issue. For instance, an employer receiving an application from an individual with a BSB30215 - Certificate III in Customer Engagement knows that person possesses specialised skills to communicate with customers appropriately, and handle complaints. Certificate III typically requires 1-2 years of study, sometimes up to 4 if training is on-the-job.

Certificate II: Level 2

A Certificate II provides the knowledge and skills to complete mostly routine work. Graduates will possess defined knowledge of a particular topic, like a Certificate II In Information, ICT20115 - Certificate II in Information, Digital Media and Technology, which certifies recipients with digital literacy. This may be used in any industry. A Certificate II usually requires 6 months - 1 year of study.

Certificate I: Level 1

The Certificate I qualification type is to give individuals formal qualifications with basic functional knowledge (and skills) to do work, go in to further learning and or for community involvement. Certificate I qualifications should ideally be designed and accredited to allow graduates to show the learning outcomes expressed as knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills specified in the level 1 criteria and the Certificate I descriptor on the AQF framework. The ICT10115 - Certificate I in Information, Digital Media, and Technology is offered by Upskilled. 

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