Australian Qualifications Framework

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1 Australian Qualifications Framework Comments on Strengthening the AQF: A Framework for Australia s Qualifications - Consultation Paper - July 2010 August 2010 Contacts: Alan Bradley, Associate Director, Engineers Australia Tel: Leanne Hardwicke, Director, International and National Policy, Engineers Australia Tel:

2 1. Introduction Engineers Australia is the peak body for engineering in Australia, representing all disciplines and branches of engineering. Engineers Australia has around 93,000 individual members Australiawide making Engineers Australia the largest and most diverse engineering association in Australia. All Engineers Australia members are bound by a common commitment to promote engineering and to facilitate its practice for the common good. Engineers Australia has a responsibility to ensure that its members are held in high esteem across the globe and we have invested a large amount of time and energy in developing and implementing a rigorous accreditation and being involved in reviews of the higher education sector to improve educational outcomes for the engineering profession. Since 1965, Engineers Australia has undertaken an accreditation program for university programs and courses. We accredit all of the undergraduate engineering programs offered by Australian universities, at their Australian and overseas campuses, to international standards. There are 35 Universities offering over 230 Bachelor of Engineering Programs to approximately 50,000 students and every engineering school in Australia is reviewed on a five-yearly cycle. Accreditation involves an evaluation of undergraduate engineering education programs offered by universities and other educational providers and a judgment against designated criteria set down in accordance with the Engineers Australia accreditation policy. An accredited engineering education program is judged as providing satisfactory preparation for graduates to enter the profession in the appropriate career category and to gain admission to Engineers Australia in the grade of Graduate Professional Engineer, Graduate Engineering Technologist, or Graduate Engineering Associate. Engineers Australia has gained international recognition of Australian engineering academic qualifications by taking an active role in international accreditation programs. These programs promote and maintain international comparability between engineering programs and provide a basis for further bi-lateral and multilateral agreements to facilitate the global mobility of engineers in this rapidly changing world. The importance of international benchmarking cannot be overstated. There are three agreements covering mutual recognition in respect of tertiary-level qualifications in engineering. Australian engineering degrees are internationally benchmarked through the Washington Accord, and the Sydney Accord. The Washington Accord, signed in 1989 by the original participants, recognises substantial equivalence in the accreditation of university qualifications in professional engineering. Most of the accredited courses are of four years duration. The Sydney Accord commenced in It recognises substantial equivalence in the accreditation of qualifications in engineering technology, normally of three years duration. The Dublin Accord is an agreement for substantial equivalence in the accreditation of tertiary qualifications in technician engineering, normally of two years duration. It commenced in Engineers Australia is a signatory to the Washington and Sydney Accords and we expect to be ready to sign the Dublin Accord in the near future. 2. General comments Engineers Australia was pleased to have the opportunity of providing prior input to the (May 2009) Consultation Paper Strengthening the AQF A Proposal. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA August 2010 Page 1

3 It is pleasing to note that action has been taken in the qualification type descriptors to address two of the important matters raised in our earlier consultation. At this time, we raised the matter of differentiation of qualification type descriptors for Associate Degrees and Advanced Diplomas as well as for 3 year Bachelor and 4-year (Honours) Bachelor degrees amongst other matters. Engineers Australia acknowledges the rigorous and intense effort that has been made to strengthen the AQF. The following key developments have been particularly appreciated. The clear specification of educational levels in terms of learning outcomes. The detailed approach to qualification descriptors based on skills, knowledge and application abilities. The embedded approach to development of generic skills as set out in the Generic Skills Policy. The effort that has been made to establish a coherent taxonomy of learning outcome definitions applicable to both levels criteria and qualification type descriptors. We have considered this updated (July 2010) Consultation document in detail and offer the following specific comments. 3. Three and four year degrees Engineers Australia is very concerned with the treatment proposed for 3 and 4 year bachelor degrees as it relates to engineering. The apparent restriction of the level 8 bachelor degree to the honours year model used in other disciplines such as arts and science does not apply to engineering. The consequences of placing the 3 year and 4 year bachelor of engineering in level 7 could have very serious implications with regard to international recognition of Australian engineering degrees and the consequent impacts on the standing of Australia s engineering profession. Engineers Australia, in its National Generic Stage 1 Competency Standards clearly defines differentiated generic outcome expectations for 3-year and 4-year bachelor degrees in the field of engineering. The educational model is not a 3-year program with an added honours year, but rather separately defined 3-year and 4-year study programs each leading to quite differentiated occupational outcomes and career paths, namely Engineering Technologist and Professional Engineer, respectively. A 3 year bachelor of engineering technology program would not generally be sufficient to give full credit into the fourth year of a 4 year bachelor of engineering program. Honours is normally awarded on the basis of academic performance, rather than by additional study requirements. The qualification type descriptors have assumed the 3-year bachelor + 1 year honours model, and ignore the model that has long existed for engineering education. The differentiation between 3-year and 4-year bachelor outcomes identified in the Engineers Australia Competency Standards is significant and very much warrants the level demarcation that has now been identified in the new qualification type descriptors with level 7 identified for the bachelor outcome and level 8 for the bachelor-honours outcome. The criteria differentiation between levels 7 and 8 is has some correlation with the differentiation identified in the Engineers Australia Competency Standard, but there are still some critical discrepancies. It is essential that the 4 year bachelors degree programs, as accredited by Engineers Australia, be included within the level 8 AQF description as they are explicitly designed to meet the descriptors at that level. The accreditation standards for professional engineers mandate skills and learning outcomes of a 4 year degree in the same terms as those described in the criteria for AQF level 8. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA August 2010 Page 2

4 We note that the two-cycle degree (a 3 year non-professionally-accredited bachelors degree followed by a 2 year masters degree) meets the professionally accredited standard for entry to professional engineering, and that this is placed at AQF level 9. It appears incongruous that the 4 year bachelor of engineering program would be placed two levels below. The consequences of placing the 4 year engineering degree program at level 7 (effectively a downgrading of the standing of the degree) will be severe in the international sphere. Not only will this cause significant damage to the international reputation of Australia s 4 year engineering degree program, it will affect our standing with overseas accreditation bodies, and may require a reassessment of our status under the Washington Accord, It may also result in unintended negative impacts on the mobility of Australia s professional engineers (for instance under negotiated mutual recognition agreements under free trade agreements) and may impact on the future export of Australian engineering services. 4. Associate degrees and advanced diplomas Although there has been an attempt in the qualification type descriptors to identify differences in knowledge, skills and application abilities for Associate Degree and Advanced Diploma qualifications, these are still co-located at level 6 and thus share the learning outcomes criteria. In the engineering domain, we find that the learning outcomes for these qualification types are very much more widely separated. This is evident in very significant differences in the following defining parameters for these qualification types: Defined program objectives Competency/learning outcome specification statements Contact hours Educational models and educational design, Quality of student intakes Teaching staff profiles Academic credit granted to graduates for articulated entry to bachelor programs We are strongly of the view that the differentiation in knowledge, skills and application abilities evident from widespread implementation of these qualification types warrants separation of affiliated levels. 5. Graduate certificates and diplomas A similar finding relates to the observed differentiation between the practical implementation of the vocational graduate certificate/diploma and the graduate certificate/diploma in the higher education sector. The AQF co-locates these qualifications at level 8 along with the 4-year bachelor-honours outcome. In the engineering domain, there are broad differences between the vocational qualification type in this case and the graduate certificate/diploma outcomes from the university sector. For example, the vocational graduate certificate has been used in the training sector to provide an articulation route from vocational qualifications such as the Advanced Diploma to achieve the equivalent of a 4-year professional bachelor level outcome. This supports the colocation of the qualification with the 4-year bachelor qualification at level 8. On the other hand, in the higher education sector, the graduate certificate/graduate diploma learning outcomes are typically differentiated strongly from the 4-year bachelor degree, and most commonly constitute an articulation route and component part of the course work masters qualification. It is apparent that the differentiation in learning outcomes is sufficiently substantive to warrant a level separation between the 4-year bachelor outcome and the graduate certificate/diploma. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA August 2010 Page 3

5 6. Alignment of qualification type to level The identification of a single level for each qualification type implies a discrete qualification hierarchy, which is not evident in the practical implementation of associated study programs leading to each of the defined qualifications. In practice, there is more of a continuum in the placement of qualifications, evident from the objective statements and specifications of graduate outcomes accompanying each associated study program. Some programs are clearly aligned with the defined learning outcomes of a specific AQF level, whilst others clearly straddle the learning outcome definitions of two or even more levels. 7. Masters It is pleasing to note the separate qualification role descriptors for masters (research) and masters (coursework), and the differentiation embodied in the knowledge, skills and application capability statements. In the engineering domain, a third category of masters program is becoming clearly apparent. This type of masters program provides an articulation path for students with a 3 year bachelor qualification from any discipline or a 3 or 4 year bachelor qualification in engineering and is designed to deliver: Generic outcomes commensurate with the Engineers Australia Stage 1 Competencies expected for a graduate professional engineer and as required for the 4-year bachelors qualification and thus satisfying eligibility for commencement of practice. Knowledge and skills in the field of practice that are more advanced than those expected of a 4-year bachelor qualification and thus justifying the masters title. This third category of masters qualification warrants separate identification and differentiation from the standard coursework masters, particularly in the knowledge and skills definitions. It clearly straddles the level 8 bachelor (4-year) qualification and the standard level 9 masters (coursework) qualification. 8. Conclusion Engineers Australia trusts the comments provided above will be given serious consideration as the MCTEE finalises the strengthened AQF. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA August 2010 Page 4

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