Whilst Australia might not be the first place you associate with education and study, in reality it attracts the third highest number of international students, behind the USA and the UK, of any country in the world.
Whilst a few of these will choose Australia because of its sun-kissed beaches, warm weather, and outdoor lifestyle, most of them choose to study in the country because of the quality of education on offer.
The Australian Education System
Australia has a highly regarded educational system, which is modelled on the British system with suitable local variations. It begins with pre-school education, which can start as young as three years old, although this is not compulsory.
Formal compulsory education starts at age five or six – the requirement differs between individual States – and continues, through primary and secondary school, until at least the age of 16. Those wanting to study further, and apply for university or vocational training, will go to senior secondary school for an additional two years.
Australia has a large number of public and private schools (the split across the country is 60/40), but all education providers must be licenced by the government, and are obliged to follow a national curriculum, which is intended to give all pupils a solid grounding in literacy, numeracy, communication and information technology.
In senior secondary school (Years 11 to 12) students study for their Senior Secondary Certificate of Education – this is a prerequisite for entry to most Australian universities, as well as vocational training and educational colleges. Many international universities also recognise the Certificate as an entry qualification.
The Top Australian Universities
There are 43 universities in Australia, 15 of which are ranked in the global top 250 according to the latest edition of the QS World University Rankings. Seven of these, in turn are in the world’s top 100. In descending order these are:
Founded in 1946, ANU (Australian National University) is regarded as one of the finest research universities in the world, and numbers amongst its alumni and current faculty members two Nobel laureates and 49 Rhodes scholars.
Founded in 1853, it is Australia’s second oldest university. Four Australian prime ministers and five governors-general have graduated from the University of Melbourne. Nine Nobel laureates have been students or faculty members, the most of any Australian university.
The oldest university in Australia, having been founded in 1850, US (University of Sydney) has been affiliated with 5 Nobel laureates amongst its graduates and faculty and 110 Rhodes scholars, and has seen seven future Prime Ministers, two Governor-Generals of Australia, and nine state governors pass through its doors.
A founding member of the Group of Eight, a coalition of leading research-intensive Australian Universities, UNSW (University of New South Wales) counts amongst its alumni former Australian prime ministers, state and federal ministers, Australian international cricketers, past and present, and two kings.
Founded in 1909, UQ’s (University of Queensland’s notable alumni and staff include two Nobel laureates, actor and Triple Crown of Acting winner Geoffrey Rush, and former Chief Justices of Australia.
Monash is home to even 100 research centres and 17 co-operative research centres; amongst its list of research achievements, it lists the world’s first IVF pregnancy, the development of the anti-influenza drug, Relenza, and the first seatbelt legislation. 10% of the top 50 CEO’s in Australia completed their undergraduate education at Monash.
Alumni of UWA include one Australian Prime Minister, five Justices of the High Court of Australia, various federal cabinet ministers, and seven of Western Australia’s eight most recent premiers. Two members of the UWA faculty, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, won Nobel Prizes as a result of research at the university.
Australian Education Vs Other Countries
Australia’s education system is similar to both that of New Zealand and the UK, with students able to study for their Bachelors and Masters degrees, and Doctorates. In terms of the US, there are greater similarities than differences. However, one area where Australian schools trump their US counterpart is when it comes to student results, which are higher in all categories – a distinction attributed to a higher standard of teaching and subject matter.
Another difference is the academic year which, in the Northern Hemisphere starts in September but in Australia and New Zealand, begins in February.
Australian Universities offer a full gamut of courses, with thousands on offer, ranging from the humanities to science, law to management, engineering to medicine.
Types of Degree
There are three main types of degree programme which can be followed:
It typically takes three years to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Australia – or four if studying for an honour’s degree. Unlike the UK though, the year is usually split into two terms, not three.
The minimum entry requirement for admission on a degree course is a high school leaving certificate or equivalent; evidence of English language proficiency might also be required. Some practical or vocational course might also require a portfolio, audition, or successful completion of work placement.
A Master’s Degree normally takes one or two years to complete. Requirements vary between universities, but most require a successful completion of a Bachelor’s Degree first, with a 2.2 grade or higher.
A PhD usually takes three years to complete, and is only normally undertaken when somebody has acquired a Master’s Degree first. As in most other countries, a written thesis is required but, unlike other jurisdictions, there is no stipulation that work then needs to be orally defended.
All undergraduate and post-graduate courses in Australia are taught in English. In some cases, those whose first language is not English may need to prove their proficiency in the language, before they are accepted on a course, by taking a recognised language test.
Any international student who wants to study in Australia must first obtain a Student Visa. These can be obtained online (https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-finder/study) and last up to five years. They currently cost AUS $575 (US $405).
To obtain a visa, applicants need to prove:
- Evidence that they have been accepted on a course by a recognised Australian university;
- Confirmation of their financial worthiness;
- Proof that they have the requisite English language skills; and
- Health insurance coverage
A visa will not be issued to anybody with a substantive criminal record.
Australia ranks amongst the most expensive countries in the world when it comes to higher education, especially for those coming from abroad (anybody who is not from Australia or New Zealand is classified as an international student).
Fees are set by individual universities, and can vary widely.
Typically, those want to study for a Master’s degree should expect to pay, annually, anything between AUS $20,000 (US $14,100) to AUS $37,000 (US $26,200); those who want to take their Doctorate are looking at annual fees of between AUS $14,000 (US $10,000) to AUS $37,000 (US $26,200).
High value courses such as medicine, veterinary science, and MBAs, cost considerably more.
To help meet defray the cost of study, students might want to consider taking-up part time work whilst they are in Australia. Most student visas typically allow students to work for unrestricted hours during vacation periods, and up to 40 hours every fortnight during term time. The rules on student working have recently been tightened-up, so those interested should check their visa type before applying for jobs.
There are a number of programmes available for international students which can take the form of either bursaries or grants. Amongst the most prominent are:
The Australia Awards
Targeted at students from developing countries, these are a collection of more than 3,000 scholarships offered by a number of governmental, and quasi-governmental, bodies.
Endeavour Leadership Programme
Announced by the Australian government as part of their 2018-2021 budget, this programme amalgamates a number of government awards under one umbrella.
Research Training Program (RTP)
This scheme administers grants to both domestic and international studies studying for research Masters and Doctoral degree.
In addition, the individual universities have their own programmes and endowments, and can be approached on a case by case basis.
The Application Process
International students need to apply directly to the university of their choice online. There is no uniform application process – it differs from institution to institution, so check with your chosen university first. Similarly closing dates vary depending on the course, so again check first before applying.
The following steps should be adopted:
- Decide on which course you want to study at which university;
- Submit an online application to the institute (making sure you correctly follow any stipulations they might have);
- Receive, and formally accept, their Letter of Offer;
- Receive from the university an electronic Confirmation of Enrolment (eCoE).
- Apply for a Student Visa (but only when all the above stages have been completed).
To support their application, a student needs to provide:
- Evidence of their academic qualifications (certificates, transcripts, letters from teachers or professors);
- Formal confirmation of English language proficiency;
- Proof that they have sufficient funds to support themselves whilst they are studying in Australia; and
- International student health coverage.
To further assist international students who wish to apply to study In Australia, a number of universities have accredited agents in the home countries of many prospective applicants. Contact details for these agents are listed, by law, on the website of each Australian university.