If you want to study in Australia, start by first applying for a place at a university, college or a school. Only after you have been offered a place it is time to apply for a student visa from Australian Immigration. The Australian Government also requires students to have access to just over (AUD) $20,000 per year for living costs (prices correct in October 2018).
Before I describe the process of the application, I would like to explain some basic concepts. To begin with, it is important to understand that even if the Australian education system is generally high-class, there are some rogue educational providers who are more interested in taking a lot of money from international students instead of providing training and education that is of high class.
There is a wide range of tertiary educations and they are often divided into two sectors: Vocational Education and Training (VET), vocational training courses that are organised under The National Training System. And, Higher Education Courses, which corresponds to what in some other countries goes under university and college studies. The latter courses are offered by universities and higher education providers (other types of schools, from college to privately owned educational providers).
Different types of training and courses
Once you have decided to study in Australia, it is time to start thinking about what kind of training or course you are after. Whatever you choose, your course or training will end up in one of the following categories;
- ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students). Some foreigners study a short language course to get a certificate that they are sufficiently proficient in English. Many foreign students with poor English skills read these courses in preparation for their university education. Others study longer courses, training programs or even whole degrees in Australia. There are a few different types of ELICOS courses, and they are organized by several different language schools;
- Primary and Secondary School.
- Vocational Education and Training (VET) – These are different types of professional and further educations that provide diplomas or certificates, but not a university degree (although universities also organize these courses). Several of these courses are organized by private companies (and some of these calls themselves School or College).
- Non-Award Study Programs – One or more courses at university level without taking out a degree from the Australian university. If you only study one or two semesters (and then credit these points as part of your education at your educational provider back home), this is the right type of visa for you. If you read one or two semesters as part of an exchange program between a foreign and an Australian program, this is often called reading within a Student Exchange program. If you apply on your own for a place to study at (with the intention of trying to credit your studies as part of your home country’s educational provider), this is called Study Abroad.
- Higher Education – University studies at an undergraduate level leading to some form of degree from an Australian university. If you plan to study a full diploma, bachelor or master’s degree in Australia, this is your visa.
- Post-graduate Research – Postgraduate studies at either master’s or doctoral level leading to a degree from your university in Australia.
The Australian Government’s site Study In Australia (studyinaustralia.gov.au) has an excellent overview of the different types of schools and courses that you can choose between.
Different types of studies, grades and degrees
It is not quite that easy to get an overview of all sorts of courses, trainings and exams offered in Australia. The following is an attempt to summarize and explain what different types of studies there are. This is particularly complicated because each state in Australia are responsible for their own educational system and therefore, for example, curricula may differ between different states and territories.
Primary, secondary and tertiary school and university admissions test
- Primary School – Children in Australia are starting Kindergarten/Preparatory school by the age of near 5 or max 6 ½ years old. Primary school runs up to year 6 or 7.
- Secondary School – Years 7 to 10, or 8-10.
- Senior secondary school – Years 11 and 12. The students will get some form of departure certificate that is generally referred to as a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. This rating has different names in different states, such as Higher School Certificate (HSC) in New South Wales, Year 12 Certificate in Capital Territory and Certificate of Education in all other states. These departure ratings are then used when the student is applying for colleges and universities. Each state’s Certificate of Education can be translated into an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR, so that universities can rank students from different states. (Universities in Queensland, however, do not use ATAR for admission of local students but have their own admissions system called Overall Position.)
- International Baccalaureate (IB) is a kind of internationally standardized secondary education that is also available abroad under the same name. Worth mentioning is that with an IB degree you meet the minimum requirements to be accepted to all Australian universities.
- Tertiary school –It refers to any education a student receives after having finished compulsory studies (i.e. continuing studies after Senior Secondary Certificate), which includes Higher Education (e.g. a university degree) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) (courses and trainings focused on a profession).
- Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT) is a test for admission to university undergraduate education for those who do not have ATAR-points to apply with (see above).
There are several courses in Australia that are tertiary alternatives to a university education. They are all shorter than Higher Education (from a few weeks for shorter courses up to 1-2 years for longer programs) and can be described as advanced courses, Vocational Training or Higher Vocational Training. There is a certain overlap between longer professional Higher Educations and shorter university programs.
Australian courses on a level between secondary school and university
- Adult Community Education (ACE). These are short courses that are not accredited and do not lead to any formal proof of completed training.
- Certificate (I-IV) are certificates obtained after shorter further trainings of different lengths. Certificate I courses can be as short as just a few weeks while Certificate IV courses can go from 6-12 months. Certificate I and II courses provide basic professional skills and knowledge, while Certificate III and IV courses are VETs. A Certificate IV is generally considered to be equivalent to 6-12 months of university studies at undergraduate level and can often be counted as part of a university education.
- Diploma, Advanced Diploma and Associate Degree are certificates obtained after courses of approximately 18-24 months (Diploma) or two to three years (Advanced Diploma) and they are considered equivalent to one or two years of university studies on undergraduate level. You will receive a Diploma or an Advanced Diploma after more practical and vocational courses and an Associate degree after more academic courses. Many who read an Associate degree later credit it as a part of university studies.
Note that ACE- and VET-courses are not as strictly quality-reviewed as university courses, which is why there are many training/educational providers trying to sell educational places to foreign students. Do a little research before you apply to avoid not paying an expensive tuition fee for a diploma training with low quality.
Australian tertiary education at university level
- A Bachelor’s degree requires between three and four years of full-time studies.
- An Honours is a kind of silver lining on a bachelor’s degree and is available if you either extend a three-year bachelor with a year in-depth study or if you after a four-year long bachelor graduate with very good grades.
- Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma is like regular certificates and diplomas but has as an admission requirement that you as an applicant must have a relevant bachelor’s degree. They are an alternative for university students who want to study further without studying at a master’s level.
- Master’s Degree requires about two years of full-time studies after a bachelor’s degree. These courses are often given in three different forms.
– via course work. These are master’s degrees in the same format as a bachelor’s degree with courses, project work and some research.
– via research. These are master’s programs with a stronger focus on research.
– via professional work. These master’s degrees involve project work in collaboration with the business community.
- Doctorate Degree is the highest qualification from an Australian university and students normally need an Honours degree or equivalent to be accepted into an Australian doctorate program.
- Non-Award Studies are studies on university level that do not lead to a specific degree. This is equivalent to studying individual courses and is the most common way for foreigners when studying abroad. Although the studies do not lead to an Australian degree, they can often be credited as a foreign semester at the student’s local university from back home.
Furthermore, the grading scale for university courses can be worth explaining since it differs between different universities. All universities obviously share “fail” as a grade, but what differs is the grading scale corresponding to approved, well-approved, very well approved. Most Australian universities use the grade scale Fail, Pass, Credit (or Merit), Distinction and High Distinction.
Different types of elementary schools
Each state or territory has its own educational budget and school system. Since some readers might wonder what type of school they should choose for their children, I will briefly explain how the system of primary and secondary school works. In the following section, I go deeper into the system of universities, colleges and vocational training.
I can’t tell which schools are the best, but the ranking tables on the site Better Education (bettereducation.com.au) is a good start for those looking for a school for their children. Those who move to Sydney and NSW will at NSW Department of Education (education.nsw.gov.au/public-schools/going-to-a-public-school) find a search engine for all public/state schools in the state. For those of you who instead are looking for public schools in i.e. Melbourne and VIC, the website Victorian Government schools (study.vic.gov.au) is a good start. And finally; For those looking for private schools regardless of state, the Private School Directory (privateschoolsdirectory.com.au) might be a good place to start.
If a primary school student will be moving back and forth between Australia and its home country, it may be worth choosing a school that teaches according to the IB-program (International Baccalaureate) (ibo.org), offered by several schools in Australia. The IB-curriculum is the same all over the world and therefore makes it easy to change schools halfway through primary school if the family decides to move back home.
State/public elementary schools
Australian children start first class when they are 5 or 6 years old and the majority are put into state schools (public schools). The education is free for residents, but many parents pay a voluntary contribution fee to their local school in order to add to the school’s budget. Most schools are open to all children in the surrounding area and are called open public schools.
Some of these have selective classes for especially talented students, giving students the opportunity to read at a higher rate and more subjects than what is included in the general curriculum. In New South Wales and Victoria there is a group of state schools (at secondary level) who have chosen to have special admission requirements and who only take students who have done very well when they graduated from primary school. At these selective high schools, students usually start in grade 7 and the admission process is like that of a university, with a selection based on how well the student performs in admission tests.
Note that the school is only free for families who have permanent residency or are citizens. If your family is in the country on a temporary visa, you must pay for your children’s education in some states.
In NSW, the average cost for one year in a public primary or secondary school is about $5,200 (2018-2019) and the corresponding fee is between $11,000 and $16,500 in ACT unless you get approval of getting the school fee waived (this option was introduced in ACT in 2016). You can also apply for fee exemptions in VIC and QLD and whether it gets granted or not depends on what type of visa the main visa holder has. If your family is in the country on a student visa (you as a parent studying and have brought with you your children on the same student visa) then you probably must pay the school fee for the children. For more information about states and fees and exceptions, see the website Study in Australia (studyinaustralia.gov.au/english/australian-education/bringing-your-children).
Private primary schools
Out of the private primary schools, most schools are religious (the majority are Catholic operated). They are known to be relatively expensive with high tuition fees (and as a result have finer premises and more resources than state schools). Tuition fees vary from school to school and state to state, but you can expect to pay a yearly fee from $5,000 up to $40,000 if you are a resident. If you are a non-resident it can cost even more.
Many private schools are found high up in the ranking tables of schools whose students performed best on the central exams written by all last-year students at upper secondary level. Also, one can speculate whether the main advantage of private schools is social networking and contacts since the academic achievement don’t seem to be a critical factor when it comes to a student’s future work.
Different types of schools following a senior secondary school education
We move on through the different kinds of educational options.
- University: A university is an institution that by an Australian government-approved body has been awarded the status university. Universities are appointed and audited at a federal level. Approved universities have the right to issue degrees and conduct their own research on different subjects. Most universities are owned by the states they are based in.
- School / College / Institute: At a state level, there are several educational providers that have been granted permission to issue their own bachelor, master or doctorate degrees. Thus, they are not universities but can still issue a bachelor or master’s degree. Some of them issue degrees in collaboration with a nearby university and they usually call themselves School, College or Institute. Several of these are private schools that are run as private companies.
- The word college shows up in slightly different contexts. For example, the word college may refer to:
- A university faculty. For example, the Queensland College of Art is part of Griffith University.
- An institution or school that does not have university status, but which has from a state authority been granted the right to issue certain higher education degrees. For example, the school Billy Blue College of Design in Sydney.
- A school that does not have the right to issue higher education degrees but has the right to organize VET courses and to issue related diplomas and certificates. For example, Martin College in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sydney. Many TAFE Institutes (organizing vocational training) are also called colleges.
- TAFE: TAFE Institutes (Technical and Further Education) are state educational institutions and are called either College or Institute. They primarily organize education and courses at VET level (Vocational Education and Training). Like most universities, the TAFE institutions are owned and operated by the authorities of the various states and territories.
- Registered Training Organisations: At a state level, there are also many private schools and training companies that organize VET courses at Certificate I-IV and Diploma-level. For such an educational provider to be able to run accredited VET courses and to arrange training courses leading to some form of officially recognized diploma at VET level, it is required that the they are registered as a Recorded Training Organisation (RTO). All RTO’s are registered in a national database called The National Training Information Service (NTIS). Being registered on the NTIS shows that the organisation meets the national minimum requirements on how vocational training should be organised.
- CRICOS: All schools that organize state approved training courses aimed for foreign students are registered in a federal database called CRICOS (Commonwealth Register of Institutions for Overseas Students). The CRICOS is freely searchable for those who want more information about a specific educational provider. This is called being CRICOS-registered and non-registered educational providers are not allowed to organize courses for foreign students.
There are about 5,000 Registered Training Organizations (RTO’s) and the majority of these are private schools and businesses. Even though there are far more private than state training institutes, previous years’ trends have been that most students study vocational educational training programs (VET) through the state’s TAFE institutes. A survey conducted in 2004 by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, explains that the reason why students prefer to study at TAFE is a result of price differences (tuition fees). For those who have found a course at the VET level they want to read, it may be worth looking into if there is a TAFE option available.
You may pay an expensive course fee and then be disappointed with the quality of the training. Hopefully this does not happen but do a little research when you choose which institution you want to study at. Make sure that the school you choose is serious. If you are unsure, it may be worth looking for schools via the Australian Higher Education website studyinaustralia.gov.au and to search online for other students’ evaluations of the training you are considering applying for.
The academic year in Australia starts with term 1 (autumn semester) which begins in February and runs until the end of June. Semester 2 (spring semester) begins in July and runs until the end of November. Exact dates for the start of each semester vary between schools and years.
How to apply for a place of education
How to be accepted on a language course
There are many language schools in Australia that organize English courses and these schools sell places in their language course either directly to students or through their overseas partners. All local companies that are selling so called Language Travel packages either have their own language schools in Australia, or they sell training places from Australian schools (with a certain surcharge on the price). Sometimes you can even find several Language Travel organizers who sell studying places at the same school.
It is very easy to arrange a place on a language course. The easiest way is to let a local Language Travel organizer take care of all the details, but you can also buy your course place directly from schools in Australia. The process is in short as follows:
- You find a language course package and a school that suits you.
- You apply for a course place by completing and submitting the application form to the organizer (a local Language Travel organizer) or directly to the school (if you choose not to use a Language Travel organizer).
- You are virtually guaranteed a course place (it’s not like applying for a university place, this is more like buying a service of a training company). The next step is that the school offers you a course place (by sending you or your local Language Travel organizer a letter of offer).
- You accept the place by paying the course fee and in some cases also fill out an acceptance form that is sent back to the school.
If the course is longer than 3 months, you apply for a suitable student visa. You can study short courses on a regular tourist or visitor visa, but for longer courses you need a student visa. Worth knowing is that someone on a Working Holiday visa may study for up to four months.
Here are some tips if you want to read a short language course abroad:
- On ELICOS webpage (com) you will find a list of ELICOS schools around Australia.
- The different schools have their own course packages, but it is most common that they are some variant of the ELICOS courses I mentioned earlier (common differences can be length and hours studied per week).
- Do not forget to compare prices and course packages between the various Language Travel organizers to get the best deal.
- Consider acquiring accommodation yourself (for example, at hostels) while you are in Australia. The various organizers often offer extra services such as transportation from the airport and accommodation at a host family, but this can often be solved by yourself to a better price. For example, a Language Travel operator (no name mentioned) offered “airport transfer” from Sydney Airport to a school at Manly for $150. If you take a taxi yourself from the airport to Manly, it costs around $70 and if you go by public transport you can get to Manly for around $30 – an easy way to save over $100.
How to study a semester as part of your overseas degree
Most students who do one or two semesters in Australia credit these into their overseas degree. These students can be divided into those who participate in an exchange program and those who organize their studies in Australia on their own, so-called “free movers”. To study abroad, you must pay a tuition fee.
If you are studying at an overseas university that has an exchange program with an Australian university, you can apply to study one or two exchange semesters in Australia (this require good grades since it’s a bit of a competition to get in). To get access to these training places and get help with your application, talk to your student counsellor at your university back home.
If you are studying at an overseas university but can’t enter an exchange program, you can on your own organize a training place at an Australian university. In short, the steps to do this are as follows;
First, find a university in Australia that offers international students to guest study for one or two semesters (or however long it is you want to study for). Search for universities that offer non-award study programs (also known as study abroad programs). To find the right one among Australia’s 43 universities, use the website Universities Australia (universitiesaustralia.edu.au) as a starting point. They are the official peak body representing the university sector and there you will find a good overview of all universities.
The universities listed below are the best ranked in Australia (2018) but other universities can be very strong in specific subjects.
- The Australian National University (ANU) (anu.edu.au)
- The University of Melbourne (unimelb.edu.au)
- The University of New South Wales (UNSW) (unsw.edu.au)
- The University of Queensland (UQ) (uq.edu.au)
- The University of Sydney (sydney.edu.au)
- Monash University (monash.edu)
- The University of Western Australia (UWA) (uwa.edu.au)
- The University of Adelaide (adelaide.edu.au)
- University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) (uts.edu.au)
- University of Newcastle (newcastle.edu.au)
You apply and get offered a training place at the university you are interested in (hopefully). The details are different between the courses so visit respective university’s website for international students and you’ll see just how their application process works (and when the deadline for applying for a certain semester is). Parallel to applying for a training place, talk to your student counsellor at your home University. Present the course you would like to study in Australia and be sure to receive a positive advance notice that your foreign semester can be credited as part of your education. Of course, this means you must choose courses that follows the curriculum for your education back home.
How to get an Australian degree
You can study an entire training program in Australia (and get an Australian degree) if you don’t mind paying a fortune on tuition fees. You can do this in the same way as if you were looking for a Study Abroad place for a semester but instead you must apply as an international student for a degree program at either a university or another school.
If you want to study an undergraduate education at a university, you are to search for a training place on an undergraduate degree program. If you already have a bachelor’s degree and want to read at the master’s level, you will be looking for a postgraduate degree program.
If the universities’ programs do not suit you, you can choose to study a vocational education at a polytechnic institute, a college or a private school. The process is very similar to the admission process for a degree program (you apply directly to the school/university). The school’s or the university’s admissions department will guide you through the application process.
Some Australian schools and universities collaborate with overseas recruiters who can help you with your application. What happens when you do this via a recruiter is that the university or the school later pays the recruiter a commission for every student who is enticed to study at the school (this is paid out of your tuition fee). The recruitment agencies offer a convenient way to arrange a training place abroad, but unfortunately they do not cooperate with all schools, which may be a problem for people with more specific training requirements (if you want to read a specific course or at a particular school).
If you arrange your own training place as a free mover (not travelling within an exchange program with your school) it is likely that you will need to attach following documents together with the application that you send directly to a school or a university. One or more application forms are available on the school’s website.
- Proof that you speak good enough English. Either in the form of a test result (such as IELTS) or a copy of your senior secondary school grade in English. The admissions department at each school will give you detailed information about what you need to send. (For example, Griffith University requires that Swedish students can show at least a grade of credit in English from senior high school.)
- Certified copies of your previous grades (and any exams), as well as a summary of what you have studied before (to prove that you meet the required prerequisites). These documents may need to be translated into English.
- For studies in design or similar, you may be asked to submit a portfolio with examples of past work.
- At a later stage in the application process, you may be asked to prove that you can pay the tuition fees.
Regardless of what training place you have applied for, at the end of the admission process you will receive some form of document (or email from the schools that no longer send admissions via regular post) that proves that you have been offered a training place at the school (here I am assuming that you actually will be admitted in the end). This document is called a few different things, but often one talk about you as an international student receiving a Letter of Offer, Offer of Place or a Confirmation of Enrolment (COE). It may happen that you get a Conditional Offer if the school has a requirement before they can offer you a training place. This can happen, for example, if you are applying for an education before you have received your required final grades.
Once you have your Letter of Offer or Confirmation of Enrolment, you can finally apply for a student visa. The tuition fee is usually paid when you register at the school at the beginning of the semester. The University’s admissions department (or your agent if you go through a recruitment agency) has information about how the payments work at your chosen school.
Below are some price examples to give you an idea of what it costs to study at universities in Australia as a foreign student (not as an Exchange student, then you pay your usual tuition fees and study costs to your home institution). Suppose you want to read a Study Abroad term at the undergraduate level at one of Australia’s major universities;
- If you are studying a full-time semester at Griffith University (griffith.edu.au) on the Gold Coast just south of Brisbane the cost for one semester in 2019 is between $8,780-$11,130 (depending on your credit points, CP).
- A full-time semester at University of Queensland (UQ) (uq.edu.au) cost around $12,650 per semester in 2019.
- For a full-time semester at the University of Sydney (sydney.edu.au) the price in 2017 was around $12,300 depending on the choice of course, in addition to this about $200-$300 was needed for literature as well as $50-$200 for other materials, equipment, field studies etc. depending on course orientation.
Overseas Student Health Cover
All international students in Australia must be covered by a health insurance called the Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) and it is a requirement that all students in one way or another arrange such insurance cover (to cover medical expenses if something happens to you), unless you fall in one of the exemption categories (applies only for students from Norway, Sweden or Belgium). You can read more about getting an OSHC on PrivateHealth.gov.au (privatehealth.gov.au/health_insurance/overseas/overseas_student_health_cover.htm).
Working while on a student visa
Student visas gives you and your accompanying partner the right to work during the study period (but you must not start working before starting your course). The purpose of this is to enable students to make a living by working part-time. You may work no more than 40 hours per fortnight during each semester (excluding any internship that is part of your training). For more information about the work rights and restrictions that apply to student visas, visit the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs’ website (archive.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/stud/more/work-conditions-for-student-visa-holders).
Arranging a visa to study in Australia
Visas that you can use to study
There are different kinds of student visas for different kinds of studies, but no matter what and how you choose to study abroad, you must have a visa that allows you to live and study in Australia (and in most cases also work part time to be able to support yourself). To find which visa is right for you, start by visiting the Department of Home Affairs and their online tools to help you find the right student visa (immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-finder/study). To be able to study in Australia, most students (at the time of writing (March 2019)), apply for either a visa of type 500 “Student Visa” (immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/student-500) or type 407 “Training Visa” (immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/training-407). If you are only visiting Australia to study a shorter course then you can also use a visitor visa of the type eVisitor (immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/evisitor-651) or a Working Holiday visa (immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/work-holiday-417). The first one allows you to study for up to 3 months at a time, and the second for up to 4 months.
Please read the section “Processing Times” on respective visa to see how long the average waiting time is for each visa. When your visa is granted, you will also find out how long before the start of the semester you are welcome into the country (in most cases, your visa will be valid a few weeks before the start of the semester, giving you time to arrange accommodation etc. before school starts). You should apply for your student visa as soon as possible after you have been granted a training place.
After completing your studies
When your course or training is completed, you usually have a few weeks to leave the country (see the validity period of your specific visa to find out how long you can stay). If you want to continue studying, you can often apply for a new training place and visa without having to leave Australia. If you have graduated and want to stay, hopefully you will find a job. You can examine the possibility of obtaining a visa of type 485 “Temporary Graduate Visa” (immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/temporary-graduate-485). This visa allows newly graduated students to remain after graduation and try their luck on the Australian labour market. This has for many foreigners proven to be the bridge from studies to permanent residency in Australia.
If you instead of working after the studies want to stay in the country to travel around as a tourist for a while, you should either apply for an extension of your visa, or a new visitor visa that will be valid at the end of your student visa. Regardless of which one you choose; You should contact the Australian Immigration and ask them for help so that you have the right visa after your studies have finished.
Living in Australia but studying at a distance
To conclude, I should mention the possibility of going to Australia while studying at a distance (an online course or similar) on your local school. For this, you do not need a student visa (because you are not studying at an Australian school but at your local school back home). Other foreign students who have chosen to study and travel like this have used, for example, a Working Holiday visa (immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/work-holiday-417) to get into the country. With such a visa they can work or just have a vacation during the day, and in the evenings study the online courses that their local school offers.