What is the difference between Vocational Education and Higher Education?

What is Higher Education?

In Australia, higher education is called tertiary education. Higher education is generally provided by university’s and other higher education institutions such as Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and Register Training Organisations (RTOs)


What institutions can provide Higher Education in Australia?

A higher education provider is either a university, a self-accredited provider, or a non-self-accrediting provider. Higher education is delivered by universities, academies, colleges, and institutions. Higher Education is also offered through college level institutions such as vocation schools, trade schools and other career collages.

Use the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to search for available higher education institutions.


What are Higher Education qualifications?

According to the Australian Qualifications Framework, Australian Government  (AQF), a higher education qualification  includes any qualification above a Bachelor’s Degree level. This includes Graduate Certificates and Graduate Diplomas.

What is Vocational Education and Training (VET)?

VET qualifications are outcome-based and focused on the occupational skills and competencies gained. These qualifications have been developed with the specific goal of preparing students with skills for work. They designed to help people to join or re-join the workforce, move into a new career, or gain additional skills in their existing career. VET courses will broaden your skills in a specialised area that will teach you the practical experience to make you work ready. It will train you to design, plan, and execute the practical and theoretical aspects of your field in an industry-based context.

Listed below are the qualifications and possible career outcomes of Australian VET courses:

Certificate I

  • Duration– 4 to 6 months
  • Career outcome– Competent operator

Certificate II

  • Duration – About 1 year
  • Career outcome – Advanced operator

Certificate III

  • Duration – About 1 year
  • Career outcome – Qualified tradesperson or technician

Certificate IV

  • Duration – 12 to 18 months
  • Career outcome – Supervisor


  • Duration – 18 to 24 months
  • Career outcome – Para-professional

Advanced Diploma

  • Duration – 24 to 36 months
  • Career outcome – Junior manager

Bachelor’s degree

  • Duration – approximately 3 years


What are the differences between VET qualifications and Higher Education qualifications?

Both universities and VET providers offer qualifications that are nationally and internationally recognised. There is some overlap between qualification levels, generally VET qualifications aim to provide a practical, work oriented skill base. There is also a difference in the grading of assessment process, VET use a competency based assessment, and higher education used a grading system approach.


What is Competency Based Training?

Competency Based Training is designed as an opportunity for the learner to demonstrate their ability in a certain task. The framework of VET, this is often a workplace task (work placement), often referred to as Unit of Competency.

This type of training works by deeming the learner either competent, or not yet competent at the end of the learning pathway. Its not a graded certificate but simply required the learner to demonstrate the ability to complete a task, activity, or project. A learner will need to be deemed competent for all unites to successfully achieve the full qualification.


What is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO)?

RTO are training providers registered by ASQA to deliver VET services. Many RTO’s provide a flexible approach to learning. Where you can choose a study that best fits you and your lifestyle, for example face to face or via distance.

Sureway Skills Training is an RTO. You can find the full list of at RTO’s providers at training.gov.au.


Vocational Education and Training provides a way for student to learn in many different areas. Every course you choose to study will have a range of units of competency, outlining what the course covers. Career outcome are also listed, which provides examples of the type of jobs and career path that can be gained with each qualification.