Ultimate Guide to NQF Levels | 2024

by Staff Reporter

A proper understanding of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF)—otherwise known as NQF Levels— will help you make informed choices about your future. Now, you may be wondering: NQF Levels? What’s that all about? Don’t worry, we’re here to help with our ultimate guide to NQF Levels in 2024.

Table of Contents

nqf levels

What Is the National Qualifications Framework (NQF)?

The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) is a tool used to measure the skills and knowledge of learners in South Africa on a national level. The purpose of assessing learners’ skills is to provide them with the credentials needed to enter their next academic phase and schooling.

Basically, the NQF levels are what give you the authority and recognition you need to meet entry requirements into college or university.

The NQF consists of 10 levels divided into three bands:

  • NQF Levels 1 to 4 equate to high school grades 9 to 12 or vocational training.
  • NQF Levels 5 to 7 are college diplomas and technical qualifications.
  • NQF Levels 7 to 10 are university degrees.

NQF Level 1 is the most basic, and Level 10 is the most advanced. In order to progress to the next level, learners must first demonstrate that they have mastered the skills and knowledge required at their current level.

If you passed matric, then you have an NQF Level 4.

If you didn’t pass matric, don’t worry. There are matric rewrite centres that will allow you to rewrite your matric, which you can view on FundiConnect.

student reading about nqf levels

A Breakdown of the NQF Levels in South Africa

NQF stands for the National Qualifications Framework, which is the South African framework used to arrange levels of learning achievements.

The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) has been using this framework since the NFQ Act of 2008.

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.

How it works is that there are 10 NQF 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.


Level 1 is a General Education Certificate (GEC). This means that the student has completed Grade 9 and is in the position to complete high school through TVET colleges if they wish. 


Level 2 is an Elementary Certificate. This is a result of completing Grade 10.


Level 3 is an Intermediate Certificate that is rewarded to students after Grade 11. 


Level 4 is the National Senior Certificate (NSC), this is the result of a complete Matric/Grade 12. This is the same as a Senior Certificate that is awarded after successfully completing the Matric exam.


Level 5 is a Higher Certificate. Students receive a Higher Certificate once they have completed a Higher Certificate programme at a higher education institution.


Level 6 is a National Diploma or an Advanced Certificate. The National Diploma is awarded to students who have completed a National Diploma programme.


Level 7 is a Bachelors Degree or Advanced Diploma. To receive this you would have to have completed a degree programme at a university or other higher learning institution.


Level 8 is an Honours Degree, received after completing an honours programme at a higher education institution.


Level 9 is a Masters Degree. This is awarded to students after they successfully complete a Masters programme in their chosen faculty

NQF 10

Level 10 is the highest NQF Level and consists of students who are qualified to obtain their Doctorate Degree. Once you complete your doctorate programme, you will receive your doctorate degree and have reached the highest NQF level.

students checking nqf levels

What Are the Requirements to Get NQF Levels?

To be able to study at a higher education institution, you need to meet certain NQF Level requirements.

For example, to study towards a Bachelor’s degree at a South African college or university, you need to have finished school or an 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 South African institution, visit SAQA’s search database

What Are Credits And How Are They Earned?

Credits are the marks you earn once you complete your school subjects or college course. Every subject you do counts for a certain amount of credits. Your credits then determine if you can enrol in a certain program or move to the next level of a course.

The credit system is used to determine the number of hours required for achieving a learning outcome. A single credit is equivalent to 10 notional hours. Furthermore, notional hours include assignments, study time, and exams.

Certain qualifications require a set number of credits. For instance, a Higher certificate has 120 credits, while a bachelor’s degree has 360 credits.

Each subject will contribute to their credit score. In addition, credits can also determine if you can enrol in certain programs.

What is the Purpose of NQF Levels and Credits?

The purpose of the NQF Levels and credits is to measure the qualification level of individuals. Furthermore, NQF Levels and credits represent the academic achievements obtained by students. This strategy was put into place to bring education and training together.

In addition, NQF Levels are a set of principles and guidelines used to record learners’ achievements. This system is nationally recognized. Furthermore, NQF levels and credits help determine one’s skills and knowledge.

How to Get Higher NQF Levels

You will need to meet certain requirements in order to get higher NQF Levels. For example, someone with an NQF Level 4 cannot get an NQF Level 7. They will first need to get an NQF Level 5 and Level 6 before getting a Level 7.

graduate with nqf level 7

Can You Go to University With an NQF Level 4?

NQF Level 4 is attained by students who have passed matric. Students can go to university with an NQF level 4; however, it’s important to note that there are other factors that should be considered.

Universities always look at your matric pass level. Therefore, you must pass with a bachelor’s degree matric pass level.

Furthermore, you will need a minimum APS score of at least 23 to 30 points.

We always suggest checking out the requirements for each course beforehand as this will give you a better insight into the prerequisites.

How Long Does It Take to Reach the Highest NQF Level?

It’s important to understand that all good things take time. With that said, getting the highest NQF Level, or a doctorate, can take a solid few years so be sure to manage your expectations in order to avoid disappointment.

How to Improve My 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.

After you’ve improved your matric marks and started applying to your chosen tertiary institution, you may be asked to take a National Benchmark Test (NBT). You can find out everything there is to know about the NBTs in our article, 7 FAQs About the National Benchmark Tests (NBTs).

students with nqf level 5 applying for funding at fundi

Get Funding for Your Studies with Fundi

Having the right NQF Level will give you entry into the higher education institution of your choice! If you’ve passed matric, then you may be eager to start the next phase of your academic journey: Attending college or university.

This can be a very exciting time, but also stressful—especially if you lack the funds needed in order to study. If you’re worried about funding, then allow Fundi to help! 

Fundi study loans cover all your educational needs—from accommodation and tuition fees to textbooks and devices.

Keen to get a Fundi study loan? Then be sure to try out the Fundi Loan Calculator to see if you qualify today!

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