Home After School Complete Guide to NQF Levels (2020)

Complete Guide to NQF Levels (2020)

by Annique Bolliger

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?

If you passed matric then you definitely have an NQF 4. If you didn’t pass matric, don’t worry. It’s easy to remedy that and get one without interrupting your life too much.

The decision of what to do directly after Matric is big. Huge, in fact. If we split post-high school directions into two very broad paths, these are either the path of tertiary education, or the path of – anything else (work, gap years, volunteering, etc.). Many high-school leavers do choose to march on the former path and directly pursue a tertiary education and study towards higher NQF qualifications.

But what does it all mean? What does it mean to obtain a Diploma, or a Degree? For what does it qualify you?

NQF Levels Explained

NQF stands for the National Qualifications Framework, which is the South African framework used to arrange levels of learning achievements. SAQA (the South African Qualifications Authority) has been using this framework since the NFQ Act of 2008.

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 Certificate1
Elementary Certificate2
Intermediate Certificate3
National Certificate (Matric)4
Higher Certificate5
Diploma & Advanced Certificate6
Bachelor’s Degree & Advanced Diploma7
Honours Degree & Postgraduate Diploma8
Master’s Degree9
Doctoral Degree10

For a more visual glance at SAQA’s 2015 NQF Level Descriptors, click here.

So, what does it qualify me for?

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 analyze information relating to what you are studying?
  • Producing & communicating information – are you able to accurately communicate what you have learned, 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).

If you want to know the specific requirements for a qualification (at a certain South African institution), then go to this website. It’s an awesome database that has all the info you’ll need. Just type the qualification you want into the blank search bar where it says “Qualification Title,” followed by the percentage sign (e.g. “Diploma%”). You can then specify further with key terms.

Finished High School? Now What?

Luckily for you, there are many options available to you. If you are looking to up your NQF level, Damelin College offers accredited degree and diploma programmes through part-time as well as distance learning programmes. Both options provide students with various payment options, such as paying per module, per semester, or managing payment over monthly payment plans.

Damelin College also offers short courses in almost 30 different categories, including Management, IT, Education, and Business Administration.

EduConnect 2Cents

Even though the NQF levels are representative of certain intellectual and academic competencies, don’t forget that these levels by no means define you as a person, or what you’re capable of. You are not a number in a framework – you’re an incredible human being, and though academic qualifications can be very important for your future, they don’t always determine what you make of your one precious life.

How to improve your matric marks

Have you finished matric but your results aren’t good enough to apply for the course you want to pursue? Find out how you can improve your matric subjects and get the marks you need to pursue further education.

Also see info about NBT’s here and how to figure out your APS score here.

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