• The Australian Qualification Framework defines the different education levels in Australia using a taxonomy of learning outcomes.
  • ACU’s Education Strategy highlights the importance of focusing on the student’s experience of learning and their learning journey.
  • The learning journey is not just a student journey. Teachers are also on a learning journey.

On this page

Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) ACU’s Education Strategy ACU student learning cycle

Australian Qualifications Framework

The AQF is the national framework that underpins qualifications in Australia, encompassing schools, vocational education and training and higher education. The AQF is an integrated policy that provides the standards for Australian Qualifications across ten levels: Level 1 (Certificate 1) lowest complexity through Level 10 (Doctoral Degree) the highest complexity (AQF Council, 2013, p.9).

The AQF applies a taxonomic approach, the levels and qualification types are defined by a taxonomy of learning outcomes. The learning outcomes for each level are expressed in relation to what graduates are expected to know, understand and be able to do as a result of learning: Knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills (AQF Council, 2013, p.11). The levels are overviewed in the diagram and table below.

 Australian Qualifications Framework

Source: AQF Council, 2013

The different expectations at each level taught at ACU are overviewed in the table below. ACU has students across these levels and stages of their learning journey. Each stage presents unique challenges and understanding the learning at each stage will enable you to support students learning and their transition between levels.

AQF Level Summary Statement
AQF5 (Diploma level courses) Graduates at this level will have specialised knowledge and skills for skilled/paraprofessional work and/or further learning
AQF6 (Advanced Diploma/Associate degree courses) Graduates at this level will have broad knowledge and skills for paraprofessional/highly skilled work and/or further learning
AQF7 (undergraduate degree courses) Graduates at this level will have broad and coherent knowledge and skills for professional work and/or further learning
AQF8 (Graduate Certificate/Graduate Diploma courses) At this level the AQF states that graduates will have advanced knowledge and skills for professional or highly skilled work and/or further learning
AQF9 (Master’s level courses) Graduates at this level will have specialised knowledge and skills for research, and/or professional practice and/or further learning
AQF10 (Doctoral level courses) Graduates at this level will have systematic and critical understanding of a complex field of learning and specialised research skills for the advancement of learning and/or for professional practice

Source: AQF Council, 2013

ACU's Education Strategy

ACU’s Education Strategy conceptualises learning as a journey. The aim of the ACU's Education Strategy is:

The strategy will guide students on their pathways to University, optimise their opportunities for engagement and success during their time at University, and prepare them for future careers with an ability to demonstrate empathy towards others and contribute to the common good.

This learning journey is a shared journey between staff and students. The learning journey is experienced differently by each learner. Learners do not necessarily follow a standard pathway. This diversity is embedded in ACU’s Education Strategy by placing the students' needs at the centre of learning and teaching. The four pillars of the Education Strategy are the foundation of teaching and learning at ACU.

Student experience is central to everything we do. We are inclusive and provide appropriate structures and opportunities that allow students to engage fully with our education offerings in order to achieve their ambitions.

Curriculum forms the primary mechanism through which students experience the University and the mechanism for assuring learning and achievement. Curriculum is the externally observable component of our education offering and must be visible and relevant to our industry and community partners, as well as our regulator and accrediting bodies.

Excellent curricula are informed by disciplinary research, scholarship of learning and teaching and utilise evidence-based teaching and assessment practices. We use external standards and frameworks (e.g. Higher Education Standards Framework, Advance HE Professional Standards Framework) to benchmark and evaluate our practice and to guide further enhancements.

A scholarly approach to learning and teaching supports the first, second and third pillars. This pillar recognises the importance of the expertise of our staff and their commitment to maintaining currency in their field/discipline.

ACU student learning cycle

Each student’s learning journey is unique and can be influenced by numerous factors. ACU welcomes students through a range of entry pathways from diploma courses through to postgraduate degrees. Some students begin their learning journey by studying a pathway certificate or diploma, others join ACU as undergraduate degree students, postgraduate coursework students or higher degree research (HDR) students. ACU is committed to widening participation and making higher education accessible to all. At the heart of this commitment is focusing on the student experience and understanding the student learning journey.

Understanding the dynamism of learning and the requirements of the AQF enables you to support your students on their learning journeys.

English Language, Foundation Studies and Diploma Program Students

ACU offers English Language, Foundation Studies and Diploma programs as another path into university. Students who are studying at ACU in a pathway program have not achieved direct entry into an ACU undergraduate bachelor course. These students come from diverse backgrounds and have a variety of different learning experiences. Foundation Studies and Diploma Programs provide these students with the opportunity to develop their skills and confidence, as well as the opportunity to become familiar with ACU and academic expectations.

Students who undertake pathway programs may not have the necessary qualification or subject knowledge required to commence undergraduate courses (Austin, Pickering, & Judge 2021). Pathway programs are provided as a way to widen participation in higher education of underrepresented groups (Austin, Pickering, & Judge 2021).

Students enter ACU pathway programs for a range of reasons:

  • The student did not achieve the entry score required
  • The student has not completed Year 12
  • The student did not meet other entry requirements, for example they did not meet the English language proficiency requirements

After completing a recognised pathway option, such as an associate degree, diploma or certificate, students are able to gain credit towards a bachelor’s degree.

Undergraduate Bachelors Degree Students

ACU offers undergraduate courses across a range of disciplines to a diverse cohort of students. Students entering their first year at university come from a variety of backgrounds and bring with them a range of learning experiences and understandings. The number of students attending Australian universities has been increasing, including a widening of access and participation to previously underrepresented students (Kift 2015). Many students are still first in family to attend university (Kift 2015), and the transition to higher education can be challenging.

Undergraduate students’ success is influenced by numerous factors.

  • Career goals and sense of purpose - Students with a clear reason for studying at university are more likely to be committed and engaged in their studies (Baik, Naylor, & Arkoudis 2014).
  • Financial pressure and work commitments – Financial stress and paid work commitments are factors that influences student success and progress (Yorke, & Longden 2008; Baik, Naylor, & Arkoudis 2014).
  • Teacher support – Teacher support is a factor influencing student success. The student – teacher relationship contributes to a sense of belonging (Hagenauer, & Volet 2014; Birbeck, McKellar, & Kenyon 2021).

Student success requires “a ‘whole-of-student’ approach that proactively takes account of the reality of diverse commencing cohorts’ varying contextual life factors” (Nelson, Duncan & Clarke, 2009 cited in Kift 2009). Awareness of the different factors influencing student success and the importance of the teacher-student relationship can enable better understanding and support.

Postgraduate Coursework Students

Research into the postgraduate student cohort has found that they are particularly diverse, and that their resulting mix of needs is not sufficiently supported by universities (Crane et al, 2016). ACU's postgraduate coursework students are often professionally focused, that is, studying in order to change careers, or to become more knowledgeable in their discipline (Cluetts & Skene, 2006). They often have other commitments, such as full-time/part-time work, families and other responsibilities.

ACU marketing undertook a study that looked for commonalities in the reasons, values and motivations that postgraduate coursework students are seeking to have met by entering into higher education. By understanding our student’s motivations and values, we can connect with them at a deeper more intrinsic level, understand the unique type of university experience they are looking for, and are better placed as an institution to meet those needs.

The following are two personas based on the ACU priority segments found in the study, the Connected Altruists and Motivated Achievers. The information here is intended to remind you what motivates our students, what they want to hear from us and how we can best engage with them, which is relevant when designing new courses, student communications and student experiences.


David - 48 - Connected Altruist

Now that my kids are older I have the chance to broaden my skills and meet different types of people. I’m hoping that this experience will take me into a new career where I can really help others.

David is seeking:

  • Support in creating industry connections
  • Supportive learning environment


Anna - 26 - Motivated Achiever

My drive to keep pushing myself has sent me back to university to be challenged. I’m doing this as much for my own development as for my career.

Anna is seeking:

  • Flexible ways to study

Note: the ACU Marketing Insights team postgraduate segmentation research focused on domestic postgraduate coursework students and did not include higher degree research students or international students. See the Segmentation Tool.

Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students

ACU offers masters by research programs and doctoral degrees, the highest qualification a university can offer. These postgraduate research degrees are offered in a range of delivery modes, to allow for the intensive nature of the research and writing requirements of these programs.


High Degree by Research students


The number of students completing an HDR qualification in Australia has more than doubled over the last two decades (Universities Australia 2020).

  • Domestic students increased from 4,207 in 1998 to 6,414 in 2018.
  • International students increased from 875 to 3,817 in 2018.

ACU HDR resources

Other resources

Austen, L., Pickering, N. & Judge, M. (2021). Student reflections on the pedagogy of transitions into higher education, through digital storytelling. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(3). 337-348.

Australian Qualifications Framework [AQF] Council (2013). Australian Qualifications Framework, 2nd Edn. www.aqf.edu.au

Baik, C., Naylor, R. & Arkoudis, S. (2015) The First Year Experience in Australian Universities: Findings from two decades 1994-2014. Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, The University of Melbourne.

Birbeck, D., McKellar, L. & Kenyon, K. (2021). Moving Beyond First Year: An Exploration of Staff and Student Experience. Student Success Journal, 12(1). 82-92.

Cluett, L., & Skene, J. (2006). Improving the Postgraduate Coursework Student Experience: Barriers and the Role of the Institution. In A. O. P. S. Editior (Ed.), AUQA Occassional Publications Number 7 (Perth ed., Vol. 7, pp. 62-67). Melbourne: Australian Universities Quality Agency.

Crane, L., Kinash, S., Bannatyne, A., Judd, M-M., Eckersley, B., Hamlin, G., Partridge, H., Richardson, S., Rolf, H., Udas, K., & Stark, A. (2016). Engaging postgraduate students and supporting higher education to enhance the 21st century student experience. Final report prepared for the Learning and Teaching Support Unit, Australian Department of Education and Training.

Hagenauer, G., & Volet, S. (2014). Teacher–student relationship at university: An important yet under-researched field. Oxford Review of Education, 40(3), 370–388. https://doi.org/10.1080/03054985.2014.921613

Kift, S. (2009). Articulating a transition pedagogy to scaffold and to enhance the first year student learning experience in Australian higher education Final Report for ALTC Senior Fellowship Program. Queensland University of Technology

Kift, S. (2015). A decade of transition pedagogy: A quantum leap in conceptualising the first year experience. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 2(1), 51-86.

Universities Australia (2020). 2020 Higher Education Facts and Figures, https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/200917-HE-Facts-and-Figures-2020.pdf

Yorke, M., & Longden, B. (2008). The first-year experience of higher education in the UK. [Final report of a project funded by the Higher Education Academy]. York, UK: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/first-year-experience-higher-education-uk-report-phase-1-project-higher-education
Page last updated on 22/12/2021

Service Central

Visit Service Central to access Corporate Services.

Other service contacts

Learning and Teaching
Request Something

Make a request for services provided by Corporate Services.

Request something
Knowledge base

Find answers to frequently asked questions 24/7.

See Knowledge Base