NQF levels

South Africa as a nation is committed to life-long learning. This is why it needed a national education and training system that provides quality learning and is responsive to changing influences of the world. The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) was developed to meet these demands by providing a framework for the South African qualifications system that fully integrates education and training. This is why every educational qualification in South Africa is assigned one of the NQF levels to ensure that the nation’s educational standards are upheld.

Despite this being universal across the nation not many people know what the NQF levels are or their purpose. That is why we decided to write this article to take a closer look at NQF levels and how they work. To give you a better understanding of how the South African education system works. After all, education is one of the most important aspects of a society as it helps to build a better future for all.

What is the NQF?

The NQF is a comprehensive system for the classification, registration, and publication of quality-assured national qualifications. It is organised as a series of NQF levels each of which has a descriptor that provides a broad indication of learning achievements and outcomes appropriate for a qualification at each level. This helps employers know if candidates are suitable for a job by looking at what NQF level qualification they have in the relevant field. As an example to become a Grade R teacher applicants will need a qualification at NQF level 6 in teaching, no other level qualification would be sufficient.

Purpose of the NQF

The NQF was designed with four objectives in mind. These four objectives are as follows:

  • To create a single integrated framework for learning achievements
  • To facilitate access to, and mobility and progression within, education, training and career paths
  • To enhance the quality of education and training in South Africa
  • To accelerate the redress of past unfair discrimination in education, training and employment opportunities

Function of SAQA

The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) is the organisation that was established to provide oversight of the NQF and its implementation. It is tasked with advancing the objectives of the NQF, overseeing further developments and co-ordinate the Sub-Frameworks. The full functions of SAQA as set out in the NQF act are as follows:

  • To oversee the implementation of the NQF and collaborate with the Quality Council
  • Develop and implement the NQF policies and criteria
  • To register qualifications and part qualifications on the NQF
  • To recognise professional bodies and register professional designations
  • To undertake research and collaborate with its international counterparts
  • To maintain the National Learners’ Records Database
  • To develop the descriptors for each of the NQF levels
  • To evaluate and advise with respect to foreign qualifications
  • To inform the public about the NQF
  • To advise the Minister of Higher Education and Training

NQF levels

Now that we have a better understanding of the NQF we can look at the different levels. There are a total of 10 NQF levels described in the NQF. Each level has specific qualifications that fall into them. We will explore each of these levels and what qualifications they cover below:

  • NQF Level 1: Is achieved once students complete Grade 9
  • NQF Level 2: Is achieved once students complete Grade 10 or N1 in a National Qualification Course, or NATED course
  • NQF Level 3: Is achieved once students complete Grade 11 or N2
  • NQF Level 4: Is achieved once students complete Grade 12 or N3
  • NQF Level 5: Is achieved once students complete a Higher Certificate, Advanced National Vocational Certificate or an N4-6 National Qualifications
  • NQF Level 6: Is achieved once students complete a National Diploma or an Advanced Certificate
  • NQF Level 7: Is achieved once students complete a Bachelor’s Degree, Advanced Diploma, Post Graduate Certificate, or a Bachelor’s of Technology
  • NQF Level 8: Is achieved once students complete an Honours Degree, Post Graduate Diploma, or Professional Qualification
  • NQF Level 9: Is achieved once students complete a Master’s Degree
  • NQF Level 10: Is achieved once students complete a Doctor’s Degree

As you can see NQF levels 1 is the completion of basic Education and up to 4 fall under a students high school education (Further Education and Training) culminating in matric at NQF level 4 and must be achieved sequentially. While NQF levels 5 to 10 fall under higher education or tertiary education, with some levels being possible to skip such as from matric to a bachelor’s degree.

SAQA descriptors

In order to achieve each of these NQF levels there are certain competencies students must demonstrate. These are set out in the descriptors of each of the NQF levels as set out by SAQA. These descriptors fall under 10 categories which are as follows:

  • Scope of knowledge
  • Knowledge literacy
  • Method and procedure
  • Problem-solving
  • Ethics and professional practice
  • Accessing, processing and managing information
  • Producing and communicating information
  • Context and systems
  • Management of learning
  • Accountability

For the full descriptors of each NQF level and the required competencies in each category visit SAQA’s website here.

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