1291.0 - A Guide to Major ABS Classifications, 1998  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/09/1998   
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Contents >> QUALIFICATIONS: ABS Classification of Qualifications (ABSCQ)


The ABS Classification of Qualifications (ABSCQ) is a statistical classification used in the production and analysis of data on recognised post-school qualifications obtained from tertiary institutions. The classification was developed in order to classify data on qualifications collected in the 1991 Census of Population and Housing. The ABSCQ is based on qualifications currently awarded in Australia and allows previously awarded and overseas qualifications to be classified to the nearest equivalent contemporary Australian qualification. In the ABSCQ, a post-school qualification is classified according to level of attainment and field of study.

Since the release of the ABSCQ, a new national qualifications framework has been developed and released. The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) was developed to support recent reforms in the vocational education and training sector and was released by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) in January 1995.

To incorporate the changes resulting from the introduction of the AQF, the ABSCQ is currently being reviewed. The ABS has had discussions with other national agencies to canvass views on the scope of the ABSCQ review. The ABS has decided that a detailed review of the ABSCQ is required and that an Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED) should be developed and implemented in all relevant ABS collections from late 1999.

Purpose of the classification

ABSCQ was designed for use in the collection and presentation of data on qualifications currently awarded in Australia. Although designed primarily as a classification of qualifications already completed, the ABSCQ may also be used in the production of statistics on educational courses which lead to these qualifications. The classification was designed to classify an educational qualification according to two main dimensions: level of attainment and field of study. Statistics on qualifications can be provided by Level of Attainment alone, by Field of Study alone (in varying degrees of detail), or by Level of Attainment and Field of Study together.

Developed specifically for the 1991 Census of Population and Housing, the ABSCQ was also used in the 1996 Census of Population and Housing and has been incorporated into all ABS surveys where qualifications or level of attainment are collected, for example, the annual survey of Transition from Education to Work (TEW) and the 1997 Survey of Education and Training (SET).

Units of the classification

A Post-School Educational Qualification is defined as an award for attainment as a result of formal learning from an accredited post-school institution. This measure consists of two elements: Level of Attainment and Field of Study.

Level of Attainment is a function of the quality and quantity of learning involved in the course of study leading to the award of a particular qualification. Level of Attainment, measured by:

      • the minimum entry requirements for the course;
      • the duration of the course; and
      • the theoretical orientation of the course where necessary.

Field of Study is a function of the main subjects studied in the course of study leading to the award of the qualification. Fields of Study are classified into groups according to the following criteria:
      • the theoretical content of the course;
      • the purpose of learning;
      • the objects of interest;
      • the methods and techniques; and
      • the tools and equipment of a course of study.

Structure of the classification

To classify a qualification according to the ABSCQ, two separate attributes of a qualification are considered: Level of Attainment and Field of Study.

The Level of Attainment Classification has a flat structure with seven categories:


Higher Degree
2Postgraduate Diploma
3Bachelor Degree
4Undergraduate Diploma
5Associate Diploma
6Skilled Vocational Qualifications
7Basic Vocational Qualifications

The Field of Study Classification has a hierarchy consisting of three levels:
      • the first and most general level contains 9 Broad Fields of Study;
      • the second level contains 46 Narrow Fields of Study; and
      • the third and most detailed level contains 187 Detailed Fields of Study.

The nine Broad Fields of the Field of Study Classification are:


Business and Administration
4Society and Culture
5Natural and Physical Sciences
7Architecture and Building
8Agriculture and Related Fields

Each educational qualification can be assigned a four digit code which incorporates both the Level of Attainment and Field of Study.

For example, the code for a Bachelor Degree in Sociology and Anthropology is 3412 :

Level of Attainment


Bachelor Degree
Broad Field of Study4Society and Culture
Narrow Field of Study41Behavioural Studies
Detailed Field of Study412Sociology and Anthropology

Further information

Further information may be obtained through the following products:

  • ABSCQ: ABS Classification of Qualifications (Cat. no. 1262.0)
  • ABS Classification of Qualifications (ABSCQ) Manual Coding System (Cat. no. 1265.0)


      Assistant Director
      Classifications and Data Standards

      Phone: (02) 6252 7073
      Fax: (02) 6252 5281

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