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  • What is the difference between Vocational Education and Higher Education?


Even when you’ve already decided on your subject area of study, understanding the differences between vocational and higher education and how these relate to you can be complex. We have answered some of your most frequently asked questions about vocational education, higher education and university study below.

What is Higher Education (HE)?

In Australia, higher education is also called tertiary education (‘tertiary’ means ‘third’ and follows on from ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’). Higher education is generally provided by universities and by other higher education institutions such as Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes and Registered Training Organisations (RTOs).

What institutions can provide Higher Education in Australia?

A higher education provider is either a university, a self-accrediting provider, or a non-self-accrediting provider. Higher Education is often delivered at universities, academies, colleges, and institutes of technology; higher education is also available through certain college-level institutions, including vocational schools, trade schools, and other career colleges that award academic degrees or professional certifications.

Higher Education providers are required to be registered with TEQSA (The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency); the national governing body for Higher Education in Australia.

What are Higher Education qualifications?

According to the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), higher education qualifications can include any course above Bachelor Degree level. Graduate Certificates and Graduate Diplomas are examples of higher education qualifications. There are many occupations that require Higher Education qualifications.

What is Vocational Education and Training (VET)?

Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualifications have been developed with the specific goal of preparing students with skills for work. VET is designed to help people to join or re-join the workforce, move into a new career or gain additional skills in their existing career. VET qualifications have a very practical focus. As well as specific skills for your chosen occupation, a VET course will often include generic work-based topics such as workplace health and safety.  

What are VET sector qualifications?

Vocational Education and Training sector qualifications include study between Level 1 (Certificate I) and Level 10 (Ph.D. which is a university qualification). The VET qualifications available for each industry are defined in the relevant national Training Packages listed on the National Training Information Service (NTIS).

What are the differences between VET qualifications and Higher Education qualifications?

Universities and VET providers both offer qualifications that are nationally (and often internationally) recognised. Although there is some overlap between the qualification levels, in general, VET qualifications aim to provide a practical, work-oriented skills base. There are also differences in the grading and assessment process, with VET qualifications using competency-based assessment, and Higher Education qualifications generally using a grading approach to assessment.

What is Competency Based Training?

Competency Based Training is designed as an opportunity for the learner to demonstrate their ability in a certain task. In the framework of Vocational Education and Training, this is often a workplace task, referred to as a Unit of Competency. Your qualification is made up of these workplace tasks.

Competency Based Training works by deeming a learner either competent, or not yet competent at the end of the learning pathway. It is not a graded qualification; learners are simply required to demonstrate the ability to complete a task, activity or project. A learner will need to be deemed competent in all units to achieve their full qualification. You can find out more by watching this video.

What is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO)?

Registered Training Organisations are training providers registered by ASQA to deliver VET services. Upskilled is an RTO. You can find a full list of RTOs maintained at,  the authoritative national register of the VET sector in Australia. Many RTOs provide a flexible approach to learning. Where you choose to study for your qualification is entirely up to you, but be sure to select an option that fits best with your personal and professional goals.

What qualifications can RTOs deliver?

RTOs can offer the following qualifications: Certificates I, II, III and IV, Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas, Vocational Graduate Certificates and Vocational Graduate Diplomas. Many Upskilled Diploma qualifications are Nationally Recognised and have been accredited by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA).

Vocational Education and Training suit a variety of people, depending on their goals. Even those with a history of existing study might choose to undertake VET.
Some people with a university qualification might require an additional qualification to achieve a particular career outcome. For example, you might have a Bachelor Degree in Communications but choose to study a 10118NAT - Diploma of Social Media Marketing to enhance your skillset. Or, you might study a Bachelor of Counselling but want to supplement this with a CHC43315 - Certificate IV in Mental Health to pursue a certain job role, or to enhance your career prospects over other candidates.

VET can provide niche learning to students in many areas, supplementing or complementing existing learning, or providing outcomes on their own. Every course you choose to study will have a range of Units of Competency, outlining what the course covers. Career Outcomes are often listed, to provide examples of the types of job roles that learning might prepare you for. 

How long does study take to complete?

In general, a Certificate or a Diploma (12 – 24 months on average) will be faster to complete than a Bachelor Degree (approximately 3 years), and may suit many people who are looking for specific career outcomes, or who already hold a Bachelor Degree of some kind. Many people choose to do both a Bachelor Degree and an undergraduate Certificate or Diploma at the same time. Graduate Certificates and Graduate Diplomas can be completed as postgraduate qualifications, after completion of a Bachelor Degree, to provide specific learning and knowledge.

What are factors that affect the length of a course? 

Each type of qualification has a required ‘volume of learning’. The AQF volume of learning describes how long a student (not holding any previous competencies identified in the qualification) would normally take to develop all the required skills and knowledge at that qualification level. Time scales can also be dependent on Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and whether you choose to study part time or full time. Find out more about RPL.

Which type of study is best for the Australian jobs market?

VET sector training often focuses on the skills required within the Australian job market. As some traditional industries go into decline and new professions emerge, we are seeing a myriad of changes taking place in the country’s job market.

Australia’s VET system is well developed, engages positively with employers, and has the flexibility to deal with local employment circumstances. This means that RTOs such as Upskilled are well placed to reflect workforce requirements and train people for industries with high employment requirements. VET courses usually take a practical approach to learning and tend to focus on preparing people for the workplace.

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