K M Enayet Hossain
14 November, 2022

7 min read


RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework) level for your course

International students should know the correct RQF levels for their studies in the UK as the levels determine course entry eligibility, rights to work and working hours, dependant visa, graduate visa and duration and other immigration terms and conditions.

Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) aims to help people understand regulated qualifications and how they relate to each other. The RQF provides a single, simple system for cataloguing all qualifications regulated by Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation).  Ofqual is a regulatory body that regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England.

Qualification frameworks are designed to help you make informed decisions about the qualifications you've achieved and the qualifications you may need for the future. The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) was in operation between 2008 and 2015. Since 2015, the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) replaced both the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) and National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and is in use in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The qualification levels are different in Scotland.

Four qualifications frameworks of UK

  • Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) for England and Northern Ireland
  • Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW)
  • Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF)
  • Framework for Higher Education Qualifications for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ)

In the UK, most qualifications taken through work, school, college or university, fit into 1 of 9 levels (12 in Scotland). The higher the level, the harder the qualification is. The levels are based on the standards of knowledge, skill and competence needed for each qualification. Qualifications at the same level can be very different in terms of content and the length of time they take to complete.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

RQF Entry level

Each entry level qualification is available at three sub-levels - 1, 2 and 3. Entry level 3 is the most difficult.

RQF entry level qualifications include

  • entry level award
  • entry level certificate (ELC)
  • entry level diploma
  • entry level English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)
  • entry level essential skills
  • entry level functional skills
  • Skills for Life

RQF level 1

RQF level 1 qualifications include

  • first certificate
  • GCSE - grades 3, 2, 1 or grades D, E, F, G
  • level 1 award
  • level 1 certificate
  • level 1 diploma
  • level 1 ESOL
  • level 1 essential skills
  • level 1 functional skills
  • level 1 national vocational qualification (NVQ)
  • music grades 1, 2 and 3

RQF level 2

Level 2 qualifications include

  • CSE - grade 1
  • GCSE - grades 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 or grades A*, A, B, C
  • intermediate apprenticeship
  • level 2 award
  • level 2 certificate
  • level 2 diploma
  • level 2 ESOL
  • level 2 essential skills
  • level 2 functional skills
  • level 2 national certificate
  • level 2 national diploma
  • level 2 NVQ
  • music grades 4 and 5
  • O level - grade A, B or C

RQF level 3

RQF level 3 qualifications include

  • A level
  • access to higher education diploma
  • advanced apprenticeship
  • applied general
  • AS level
  • international Baccalaureate diploma
  • level 3 award
  • level 3 certificate
  • level 3 diploma
  • level 3 ESOL
  • level 3 national certificate
  • level 3 national diploma
  • level 3 NVQ
  • music grades 6, 7 and 8
  • T Level
  • tech level

RQF level 4

RQF level 4 qualifications include

  • certificate of higher education (CertHE)
  • higher apprenticeship
  • higher national certificate (HNC)
  • level 4 award
  • level 4 certificate
  • level 4 diploma
  • level 4 NVQ

RQF level 5

RQF level 5 qualifications include 

  • diploma of higher education (DipHE)
  • foundation degree
  • higher national diploma (HND)
  • level 5 award
  • level 5 certificate
  • level 5 diploma
  • level 5 NVQ

RQF level 6

RQF level 6 qualification include

  • degree apprenticeship
  • degree with honours - for example bachelor of the arts (BA) hons, bachelor of science (BSc) hons
  • graduate certificate
  • graduate diploma
  • level 6 award
  • level 6 certificate
  • level 6 diploma
  • level 6 NVQ
  • ordinary degree without honours

RQF level 7

RQF level 7 qualifications include

  • integrated master’s degree, for example master of engineering (MEng)
  • level 7 award
  • level 7 certificate
  • level 7 diploma
  • level 7 NVQ
  • master’s degree, for example master of arts (MA), master of science (MSc)
  • postgraduate certificate
  • postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE)
  • postgraduate diploma

RQF level 8

RQF level 8 qualifications include

  • doctorate, for example doctor of philosophy (PhD or DPhil)
  • level 8 award
  • level 8 certificate
  • level 8 diploma

The qualification framework in Scotland is known as Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) and has 12 levels. 

The table shows a comparison between qualification levels on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF), the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) and Credit and Qualifications Framework (CQFW) framework in Wales.

RQF/CQFW and SCQF levels comparison table

RQF/CQFW levels SCQF levels
8 12
7 11
6 10/9
5/4 8/7
3 6
2 5
1 4
Entry Level 3 3
Entry Level 2 2
Entry Level 1 1

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)s

QWhat is Ofqual? What is Regulator?

A Ofqual is the body responsible for regulating all qualifications, examinations and assessments in England, alongside vocational qualifications in both England and Northern Ireland.

Regulator is another way of saying "regulating body". In England, it refers to Ofqual, which is a non-ministerial department responsible for accrediting and maintaining the national standards of qualifications, exams and assessments (as well as vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland).

QWhat is accreditation?

A Accreditation is the process through which an awarding body has its qualifications officially recognised by the relevant regulatory body. In England, the process is governed by Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation), which regulates all qualifications, examinations and assessments, alongside vocational qualifications in both England and Northern Ireland. Ofqual evaluates qualifications according to a set of predetermined standards and decides whether or not they meet the necessary requirements.

Accreditation effectively means that the qualifications are regulated, which is intended to preserve and testify to a certain level of quality that non-accredited qualifications may not reach.

A full list of accredited qualifications (and awarding bodies) can be found on the Ofqual website.

QHow can I know which level is right for me?

A The level of qualification that's right for you will depend on your academic background and experience. Check the awarding body’s entry requirements for your target course and match against your current qualification to find the right prospective RQF level for you.

QWhy are the RQF levels important for international students?

A It is very important for international students to know the correct RQF level for their prospective higher studies in the UK as course entry requirements, visa conditions vary according to different levels. Knowing the correct RQF level will help you to

  • choose the correct course for your prospective higher studies in the UK
  • map your current qualifications and identify if you meet the entry requirements for future course
  • identify correct level of English proficiency level you will require
  • find out work right, entitled hours, dependant visa, graduate visa eligibility and entitled duration, entitlement to other immigration benefits in the UK

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