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Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED)
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Australian Standard Classification of Education

The Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED) is a statistical classification for use in the collection and analysis of data on educational activity and attainment. ASCED has been developed as part of a national framework for the storage, exchange and dissemination of statistical and administrative data on educational activity in Australia. It replaces a number of education classifications used prior to 2001 for data from the various sectors of the Australian education system.

ASCED comprises two classifications: Level of Education and Field of Education. Both the level and field of education components can be used to report statistics on various aspects of educational activity, such as student enrolments by level of course or by field of study; teaching resources by level of course; financial resources by field; or educational attainment by level and field.

In designing ASCED, the need for a classification which catered for the requirements of all sectors of the Australian education system was the primary consideration. An additional consideration was the desirability for ASCED to be broadly comparable with the relevant international standard, the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED).

These introductory chapters provide an overview of the conceptual basis and structure of ASCED, describe the ASCED code structure, and outline the format of the ASCED Level of Education and Field of Education definitions.

Development of ASCED

ASCED resulted from a planned review of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Classification of Qualifications (ABSCQ). The ABSCQ was created for use in the 1991 Census of Population and Housing and was progressively implemented in other ABS collections. It is a statistical classification designed primarily for the collection, presentation and analysis of data on post-school qualifications.

One of the main reasons for the review of the ABSCQ was that developments in education and training, particularly in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, together with the introduction of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) had greatly reduced the usefulness of the ABSCQ as a tool to assist in analysing education and training related data. Therefore in late 1997 the ABS consulted with a range of key users of education and training statistics to establish the requirements for reviewing the ABSCQ.

This consultation revealed problems arising from a lack of comparability between data collected and used by the different education and training sectors and by the ABS.  Difficulties with comparability were due mainly to the number of classifications in use within administrative and statistical systems. A clear outcome was that there was a need for a single national classification for the collection of statistics on educational activities by level of education and field of study. Developments in the provision of Australian education had sharpened the focus on these difficulties. These developments included:

  • the blurring of traditional boundaries between secondary education, VET and higher education;
  • the increasing range of levels at which any particular field of education can be studied;
  • the possibility of articulation from qualifications in the VET sector to qualifications in higher education, through acceptance of attainment in the VET sector as credit towards higher qualifications; and
  • an expanded range of education and training, and multi-sectoral educational institutions.

To satisfy the need for a single classification and in line with its national statistical coordination role and its responsibilities in setting statistical standards, the ABS undertook to develop a new national standard classification, which would be significantly broader in scope than the ABSCQ, and would replace the range of classifications used in administrative and statistical systems. The resultant classification, ASCED, will be an important element of the Framework for Australian Education and Training Statistics currently being developed by the ABS.

The Level of Education component of ASCED was developed using the ABSCQ and the AQF as starting points, and then incorporated additional specific categories to cater for the needs of all users. An important issue in the development of ASCED was the need to include all sectors of the formal Australian education system; that is, schools, VET, and higher education. This enables the provision of consistent data on all aspects of education within the Australian context. The expanded scope is consistent with the approach taken in ISCED 1997 and facilitates international comparisons with Australian data on level of education.

The Field of Education component of ASCED uses a similar conceptual framework to the one used for the ABSCQ. It incorporates the results of extensive user consultation to better reflect the changing nature of education in Australia. It also aims to maintain comparability with data classified according to the various classifications used prior to the introduction of ASCED. Expert advice was sought to ensure that areas of activity which have become more prominent since the inception of the ABSCQ are adequately covered in ASCED.

Application of ASCED

From 2001, ASCED replaces the ABSCQ in all relevant ABS statistical collections, including the 2001 Survey of Education, Training and Information Technology, the Transition from Education to Work Survey, and the 2001 Census of Population and Housing, which all collect information on educational activity and/or attainment by level and field of education.

To facilitate the consistent use of ASCED in these collections and those conducted by other agencies, the ABS is developing a set of standard variables which will be released on the ABS Website as part of Standards for Statistics on Education and Training. These variables specify standard definitions of concepts, sets of questions, coding procedures and output classifications.

ASCED will also be used from 2001 onwards in data collections conducted by the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs and the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.

International Comparability

International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED)

ISCED was developed by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to facilitate comparisons of education statistics and indicators within and between countries. It was originally endorsed at the General Conference of UNESCO in 1978. The current version (ISCED 1997) was officially adopted in November 1997.

The ABS has designed ASCED to be as consistent with ISCED as possible. However, the needs of users and producers of statistics on education in Australia, and other factors unique to the Australian education system, have meant that total consistency has not been possible. Like ASCED, ISCED has separate dimensions of Level of Education and Field of Education.

In both ISCED and ASCED, Level of Education includes education from the earliest years of pre-school and school, through to advanced levels of higher education. ASCED was designed specifically to align closely with the AQF, which is used within the Australian education system. This framework incorporates qualification levels, titles and guidelines. These guidelines contain the main criteria for defining Australian qualifications and are not the same as the criteria for determining level of education in ISCED. The Level of Education component of ASCED has nevertheless been designed to allow for the provision of data classified to ISCED in line with international practice.

The criteria used to group fields of education in ISCED 1997 are the same as those used in ASCED. Despite the similarities between ISCED 1997 and ASCED in the conceptual approach to field of education, the classification criteria have not been applied in exactly the same way. The broad and narrow fields in ASCED have been designed to accurately reflect the reality of educational provision in Australia and thus differ from the groups at similar levels in ISCED 1997. Australian data classified to detailed fields in ASCED can, however, be converted to ISCED 1997 for international reporting purposes.

Correspondence tables providing comprehensive information on the relationship between ASCED and ISCED 1997 will be available on the ABS Website following the release of this publication.

Comparability with New Zealand

As part of the Closer Economic Relations agreement between Australia and New Zealand, it is the policy of the ABS and Statistics New Zealand (SNZ) to harmonise their approaches to collecting statistics whenever possible. Statistical harmonisation includes using joint or closely related classifications. In line with this policy, the ABS and SNZ worked together to ensure that a consistent approach was taken in developing ASCED and the New Zealand Standard Classification of Education (NZSCED). However, differences between the education systems and the differing needs of users in the two countries have meant that full harmonisation between ASCED and NZSCED has not been possible at this stage.

The differences between the Australian and New Zealand Qualifications frameworks have led to differences between the level of education components of ASCED and NZSCED.

Although the ASCED and NZSCED Field of Education classifications use identical names for the broad and narrow fields, there are differences in the content of these categories at the detailed field level. While this may allow for meaningful comparison between Australian and New Zealand data for many purposes, this should be done with care, as the contents of the broad and narrow fields are not the same in all instances. It is anticipated that future revisions of ASCED and NZSCED will examine closely the possibility of a joint classification.

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