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«January 2013 As approved by the Minister of Higher Education and Training (Notice 1040 of 2012; Government Gazette No. 36003 of 14 December 2012) in ...»

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The Higher Education

Qualifications Sub-Framework

As revised

January 2013

As approved by the Minister of Higher Education and

Training (Notice 1040 of 2012; Government Gazette No.

36003 of 14 December 2012) in terms of the National

Qualifications Act, 2008 (Act No. 67 0f 2008) and as

contemplated in the Higher Education Act, 1997 (Act No.

101 of 1997).



A single qualifications framework for a diverse system

The revised HEQSF:

Structure of the revised HEQSF

The framework and the NQF

Roles and Responsibilities

Qualification standards in higher education

Qualifications, volumes of learning and credits

Accumulation of credits towards qualifications

Work integrated Learning



Number of levels and level descriptors

Qualification types



Qualification descriptors

Naming of qualifications

Qualifications and academic transcripts

Award of qualifications

Issue of transcripts

Transcript supplement

Language of qualification certificates and academic transcripts

Admission to higher education

Progression within the framework


Implementation date

Programmes and qualifications

New programmes and qualifications

Existing programmes and qualifications

Admission to higher education

New programmes

Existing programmes

Full compliance

Higher Education Management Information System

Public Higher Education Institutions

Private Higher Education Institutions


Higher Certificate

Advanced Certificate


Advanced Diploma

Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor Honours Degree

Postgraduate Diploma

Master’s Degree

Master’s Degree (professional)

Doctoral Degree

Doctoral Degree (professional)



A single qualifications framework for a diverse system The Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF), which was promulgated in October 2007 (Government Gazette No 30353 of 5 October 2007), provided for the establishment a single qualifications framework for higher education to facilitate the development of a single national co-ordinated higher education system, as envisaged in Education White Paper 3, A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education (1997). Its key objective was to enable the articulation of programmes and the transfer of students between programmes and higher education institutions, which the then separate and parallel qualifications structures for universities and the erstwhile technikons (now Universities of Technology) were perceived to preclude.

The implementation of the HEQF – since 1 January 2009 all new programmes submitted to the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) for accreditation have had to be compliant with the HEQF – confirmed that despite the robust nature of the design of the HEQF, there remained, as the CHE advised the then Minister of Education in April 2007, “unresolved concerns about the number, nature and purposes of the qualification types” set out in the HEQF. In addition, the accreditation process also revealed a number of inconsistencies and gaps in the HEQF, which had an adverse impact on meeting national policy goals and objectives.

The concerns and inconsistencies included the following:

The appropriateness of the nine qualification types, including the designated variants, in the light of different institutional missions and labour market expectations, in particular, the lack of a degree variant unique to the Universities of Technology.

The coherence and consistency in the designation, credit value and pegging of some qualifications in the context of the needs of different professions, in particular, the lack of 240-credit diplomas which may be required, for example, in a range of auxiliary health professions.

The articulation pathways between undergraduate diploma and postgraduate programmes in terms of the time required to complete a Master’s degree; for example, a student with an undergraduate Diploma would require two additional years of study prior to being considered for entry into a Master’s programme.

The appropriateness of a number of postgraduate qualifications in different professional fields and their international comparability such as the MMed, The extent to which the range of qualifications available, in particular, at levels 5 and 6 are appropriate to support the goal of expanded access.

In the light of this and given the CHE’s expanded mandate as the Quality Council for Higher Education in terms of the National Qualifications Framework Act of 2008 (Act No 67 of 2008), the CHE initiated a review of the HEQF in October 2010 Communiqué 1, 12 October 2010). In terms of section 27 of the NQF Act, the CHE’s

expanded mandate includes, amongst others:

The development and management of its sub-framework, i.e. the then Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF) and advising the Minister of Higher Education and Training on matters relating to the HEQF.

The development and implementation of policy and criteria for the development, registration and publication of qualifications, i.e. standards setting, including the development of naming conventions for qualifications.

Ensuring the development of qualifications as are required for the higher education system.

The purpose of the review, as Communiqué 1 emphasised, was not to revise the HEQF fundamentally, but to consider the need for new qualification types to facilitate access, including ensuring the responsiveness of the HEQF to address to emerging skills and knowledge needs, and to enhance the coherence of the higher education system.

The submissions received from a range of higher education stakeholders, including public and private institutions, higher education associations and professional bodies, affirmed the intent and design of the HEQF and did not seek a fundamental revision but rather greater flexibility, in particular, in relation to the pathways for vocational and professional qualifications, including the introduction of additional qualification types and variants of existing types. A detailed analysis of the issues raised in the submissions and the CHE’s response, which informs the proposals for the revision of the HEQF, is contained in the CHE’s Discussion Document on the HEQF Review, which is available on the CHE’s website.

The revised Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework(HEQSF):

Recognises three broad qualification progression routes with permeable boundaries, namely, vocational, professional and general routes and provides greater clarity on the articulation possibilities between these qualification routes.

Introduces two additional qualification types to the existing nine, and includes additional variants of particular qualification types.

Clarifies the interpretation of some existing qualification types, namely, the Bachelor’s degree, as having two potential orientations – professional and general academic.

Provides for greater flexibility and options with respect to professionallyoriented qualifications.

Facilitates the potential convergence of diploma and degree study routes at the Honours level instead of at the Master’s level as was previously the case.

Simplifies some of the parameters of qualification types such as credit specification within a qualification.

The revised HEQSF, in line with the previous framework, provides the basis for integrating all higher education qualifications into the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). It provides a basis for standards development and quality assurance. It provides a mechanism for improving the coherence of the higher education system and indicates the articulation routes between qualifications, thereby enhancing the flexibility of the system and enabling students to move more efficiently over time from one programme to another as they pursue their academic or professional careers.

Public confidence in academic standards requires public understanding of the achievements represented by higher education qualifications. The HEQSF is thus designed to ensure a consistent use of qualification titles and their designators and qualifiers.

The HEQSF establishes common parameters and criteria for qualifications design and facilitates the comparability of qualifications across the system. Within such common parameters programme diversity and innovation are encouraged. Higher education institutions have a broad scope within which to design educational offerings to realise their different visions, missions and plans and to meet the varying needs of the stakeholders and communities they serve.

The HEQSF thus operates within the context of a single but diverse and differentiated higher education system. It applies to all higher education programmes and qualifications offered in South Africa by public and private institutions.

Structure of the revised HEQSF In the light of the limited changes proposed, the structure of the revised HEQSF is based on and maintains the structure of the previous framework. The proposed changes are incorporated into the structure of the previous framework and are not specifically highlighted. The underlying rationale for the proposed changes are, as indicated above, contained in the CHE’s Discussion Document on the HEQF Review, which should be read in conjunction with this revised framework.

The framework and the NQF The HEQSF is an integral part of the NQF. The terms used in this framework are therefore consistent with NQF practice.

A qualification is the formal recognition and certification of learning achievement awarded by an accredited institution. The HEQSF sets out the range of qualification types in higher education that may be awarded to mark the achievement of learning outcomes that have been appropriately assessed. The qualification type descriptors include the specifications in terms of total minimum credits required, naming conventions related to designators, qualifiers and abbreviations, the purpose and characteristics of a qualification type, minimum admissions requirements, and the rules of progression to other qualification types. A higher education qualification must conform to one of the qualification types or its variants described in the HEQSF. The HEQSF is concerned with the integrity of whole qualifications, understood to comprise at least 120 credits, and does not specify parameters for part-qualifications i.e. the modules or courses that make up an accredited qualification, as these are determined according to the logic of specific curricula and internal institutional academic structures. The purpose of the HEQSF is to define the relationships between qualification types; the movement of individuals within and between non-completed qualifications is guided by Recognition of Prior Learning processes (RPL) and Credit Accumulation and Transfer processes (CAT).

A programme is a purposeful and structured set of learning experiences that leads to a qualification. Programmes may be discipline-based, professional, career-focused, trans-, inter- or multi-disciplinary in nature. A programme has recognised entry and exit points. All higher education programmes and qualifications must have a core component and may have a fundamental and or elective component depending on the purpose of the programme or the qualification. The credit allocation for core, fundamental and elective learning will depend on the purpose of the programme or qualification. The internal organisation of programmes is otherwise not prescribed by this document.

Roles and Responsibilities The NQF Act, which was promulgated in 2008, has introduced changes in the roles and responsibilities of the different bodies that are responsible for ensuring the achievement of the objectives of the NQF. In this regard, the following is


The Minister of Higher Education and Training has overall responsibility for the NQF and for determining the qualifications structure for the higher education system.

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