Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) system can be a funny thing to  understand, especially when it comes to the different certificates and diplomas on offer.

What is the difference between a Certificate III and a Certificate IV or a diploma? Here’s our quick guide to understanding the qualifications on offer in Australia.

Our education system is national, but delivered by states

The key reasons we have Certificates I through to IV and then Diplomas and so on are to ensure national recognition and consistency around Australia of what defines each qualification. This is better than the bad old days when a Certificate III in one state like NSW may only be equivalent to a Certificate II in another.

The Australian Qualifications Framework has helped standardise qualifications into 10 different levels, starting from level 1, which is what Certificate I level equates to, going right up to level 10, which is a doctoral degree from a university.

When comparing Certificate III to Certificate IV, you’ll actually find a lot of similarities – particularly in how you are taught. But we’ve tried to outline the differences between a Certificate II, III, IV and Diploma below:

Certificate II – a level 2 qualification: the main purpose of this level of qualification is to qualify people to undertake “mainly routine work” but also lay the groundwork for further learning. h&h doesn’t offer any Certificate II level courses at our Granville campus.

Certificate III – a level 3 qualification: the main purpose of this level of qualification is to qualify people to “undertake skilled work” and apply a broad range of knowledge and skills. This level also lays the groundwork for further learning to advance to a Certificate IV or Diploma.

Certificate IV – a level 4 qualification: the main purpose of this level of qualification is to qualify people in skilled work to apply a “broad range of specialised knowledge and skills in carried contexts”, so the wording from the AQF implies this level of qualification may be slightly more specialised than a Certificate III.

Diploma – a level 5 qualification: The main purpose of this level of qualification is qualify people to undertake advanced skilled or paraprofessional work which applies “integrated technical and theoretical concepts in a broad range of contexts”. Like all qualifications – except for postdoctoral degrees at level 10 – a diploma can lay the groundwork to apply for an advanced diploma or bachelors degree and other higher level qualifications.

The levels after these qualifications include:

  • Level 6 qualification – Advanced diploma or associate degree
  • Level 7 qualification – Bachelor degree, for example a bachelor of arts
  • Level 8 qualification – Bachelor honours degree, graduate certificate or graduate diploma
  • Level 9 qualification – Masters degree, for example a master of business administration
  • Level 10 qualification – Doctoral degree, for example a professional or research doctoral degree

So which qualification is right for you?

There are lots of factors to consider when you decide which qualification you want to complete – the main one being whether it will let you embark on a career that you want to work in.

For example, in childcare and early childhood education, the Certificate III has become the standard to work in the industry with many people completing the Certificate III going on to then complete a Diploma to work at a higher level.

Other factors to help you decide which certificate or diploma is right for you might include:

How many hours you can commit to study

If you can commit to 15 hours or more a week, then fulltime classroom study might work for you. If you only have room for 2-5 hours a week, then distance or online learning might work. You might also prefer to look at a traineeship, where you can work while you also complete your qualification.

How long will my certificate or diploma take to finish

Do you only want to study for a year? Or can you even accelerate the learning by doing a short six-month course? Weight up your career goals and desired future job. Generally, the more hours you can study each week is the faster you will finish a course. Online study options can help you accelerate how fast you can complete qualifications.

What type of study modes are on offer

You can usually choose to study on campus, by distance or online. Some RTOs teach accelerated or short courses which may promise to complete earlier than others, but remember how many hours you can commit to before deciding if a fast-track course is really for you. Many diploma or bachelor degrees require on-campus learning and can take years to finish. Some RTOs support you with flexible online or distance options – sometimes called blended learning – to best let you choose what works for you.