What do the RQF levels mean?

The question what do the RQF levels mean is a very common one. The UK’s Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) categorises qualifications in England based on their size, and their level of challenge or difficulty. Think of qualifications in a mathematical table or graph with size on one axis and level on the other.


The size goes up from the smallest an Award, to a Certificate to the largest, a Diploma. All units on the RQF are awarded a credit number. One credit equals very roughly around ten learning hours.


The level goes from the lowest, least challenging Entry Level, up through the levels to the most challenging or difficult, which is a Doctorate at Level 8. Thus for UK qualifications:

Levels Details
Level 1 GCSE (grades D-G or 3-1)
Level 2 GCSE (grades A*-C or 9-4)
Level 3 A level
Level 4 Year 1 of a 3 year Bachelor’s degree, Higher National Certificate (HNC)
Level 5 Year 2 of a 3 year Bachelor’s degree, Higher National Diploma (HND), Foundation degree
Level 6 Bachelor’s degree
Level 7 Postgraduate, Master’s degree
Level 8 Doctorate

This means you can have various permutations of size and level. For example, while a Level 3 Award would be more challenging or difficult than a Level 2 Certificate, it would also be smaller, and so potentially take less time to complete as a result.

Total Qualification Time (TQT)

The Total Qualification Time is assigned by the Awarding Organisation and is an estimate of the number of hours a student will reasonably be likely to spend under guided learning under the supervision of a tutor, plus the time spent in preparation, study or any other activity, including assessment, which takes place but isn’t under the immediate guidance or supervision of a tutor.

Qualifications and Credit Framework

The RQF replaced the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) in October 2015. The levels were the same and qualifications were described as an Award, Certificate or Diploma, but the  qualifications on the QCF were also allocated a Total Qualification Time when they were transfered on to the RQF (which was completed by December 2017).

The QCF itself previously replaced the National Qualifications Framework.(NQF).

Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) applies to qualifications awarded by Scottish Awarding Organisations. It has more levels than the RQF. SCQF Level 7 is equivalent to RQF Level 4, SCQF Level 10 is equivalent to RQF Level 6 and SCQF Level 11 is equivalent to RQF Level 7.