NQF Levels – What’s all That Stuff About?

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Everyone keeps talking about NQF levels this and NQF levels that, but what does it stand for and what is the whole point of these levels anyway?
There you are, a brave warrior battling your way through high school. You endure wounds, exertion, thirst and hunger… but you are determined to make it through the gateways of glory. You envision yourself emerging from the battle with open arms. The future freedom can’t touch you, and you march smiling, feeling invincible – but wait. To where are you marching again?

How it works is that there are 10 levels of learning achievement, and every registered South African qualification needs to specify its NQF level – basically, what it will teach the student and enable him or her to do in terms of acquired skills.
The NQF focuses on a list of ‘applied competencies,’ so each NQF level signifies a specific standard of intellectual and academic skills, including problem-solving abilities and learner autonomy. So, the higher the NQF level of your qualification, the more intellectually skilled you are (at least within this specific academic measure).

Which qualifications represent which NQF levels?


NQF Level

General Certificate

Elementary Certificate

Intermediate Certificate

National Certificate (Matric)

Higher Certificate

Diploma & Advanced Certificate

Bachelor’s Degree & Advanced Diploma

Honours Degree & Postgraduate Diploma

Master’s Degree

Doctoral Degree

For a more visual glance at SAQA’s 2015 NQF Level Descriptors, click here.
So, for what does it qualify me?
SAQA looks at 10 main academic skill areas, and depending on your level of NQF qualification, it suggests that you are more skilled in these areas the higher your NQF level is.
Here are the ten skill areas the NQF focuses on, with a rough description of what they imply:

Scope of knowledge – do you understand what you’re studying?

Knowledge literacy – can you apply that understanding?

Method & procedure – can you apply specific theories, technique and methods of what you are studying?

Problem-solving – can you think for yourself, critically, and find solutions to problems?

Ethics & professional practice – can you stick to codes of conduct and do you understand the values of your society?

Accessing, processing & managing information – can you interpret and analyse information relating to what you are studying?

Producing & communicating information – are you able to accurately communicate what you have learnt, in words and writing?

Context & systems – do you understand the systems and environment of your field of study?

Management of learning – are you able to evaluate and take responsibility for your own learning, as well as the learning of others?

Accountability – are you able to properly use resources, to be accountable and responsible for your actions, as well as work effectively?

If you want to read in detail what level of these skills is expected from you if you graduate with a qualification on a respective NQF level, then have a read through this SAQA document (2012). It lists everything for you in bullet points.
But what about requirements?
Yes, in order to be able to study towards a certain NQF qualification, you need to meet certain requirements. For example, in order to study towards a Bachelor’s degree, you need to have finished school, or have completed a NQF 4 qualification (like having a National or FET Certificate equivalent to Grade 12).

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