Due to its proximity to Asia, reputation for good quality and relatively easy admission criteria and visa arrangements, Australia is a popular destination for international students to study abroad. All Australian universities actively seek international students, and students from overseas make up a high proportion of enrollments in many institutions as well as across the university system as a whole.
The most prestigious universities in Australia are known as the Group of Eight, and while they are not as prestigious as the top American and British universities, they are in general of a high standard, and seven of the eight are consistently ranked among the top 100 in the world. The standard of the other Australian universities is also generally very good, and few Australian employers are concerned about which university job candidates graduated from given the widespread confidence in academic standards across the system.
Most Australian universities are large public institutions, and there are only a handful of private universities (of which Bond University is the best-known). It's not unusual for universities to operate across multiple campuses in their home state or city, and several have international campuses as well. While most international students study in institutions located in Australia's major cities, some regional universities are very popular. Bridging courses and other support to settle into Australia are generally provided to international students, but are not always adequate.
Useful resources to research and compare Australian universities include the Good Universities Guide and the national government's MyUniversity [dead link] website. The government's Study in Australia[dead link] website also provides information about Australia's tertiary education system and the application process for potential international students.
Australian students attend high school for six years, and enter university or vocational education at seventeen or eighteen years of age. (In Australia, neither "school" nor "college" are used to refer to tertiary institutions; they are referred to only as "universities", or "unis" for short - a 'college' might be a primary or secondary school, or more commonly a form of on-campus accommodation). Australian undergraduate programs are usually three to four years in length. A fifth year is compulsory in some professional undergraduate programs such as engineering, law, medicine and dentistry, with a sixth year being compulsory for medicine. Students in three-year degree programs who perform well during the three years can take an optional fourth year known as honours, which generally involves a year-long research project and requires the completion of a thesis, and would graduate with a bachelor honours degree. In Australia, the bachelor honours degree is regarded as a qualification above the regular bachelor's degree, but below a master's degree. Students enrolled in some four year programs can incorporate their honours thesis into their fourth year, while in others, the awarding of a bachelor honours degree is solely based on the student's GPA.
Postgraduate studies in Australia fall into two classes: coursework and research. Coursework degrees are generally at the Masters level, and in some cases involve a research component which requires the completion of a thesis. Students whose coursework Masters degrees involve a research component usually have the option of not completing the research component, and obtaining a Graduate Diploma instead. Research degrees are at the Masters and Doctoral level. To qualify for a PhD program, one is generally required to have either a bachelor honours degree of class 2A and above, or a master's degree with a research component. PhD programs are exclusively research degrees, and require the successful completion of a research thesis or a series of papers to graduate. However, unlike in most other countries, PhD students in Australia are typically not required to defend their thesis.
There are 42 Universities in Australia, and all compete vigorously for overseas students. The use of the word "University" in an institution's name is strictly regulated under Australian law, meaning that all universities are required by the Australian government to meet certain minimum academic standards.
These standards are quite high, and Australia does not have any poor performing universities - they are all well regarded by Australian employers, for instance. As a result, there is not a need to go to one of the more prestigious Group of Eight universities to get a good education.
Each university has sections on their websites which describe the courses available to overseas students, and they will help you to apply and obtain accommodation and transport. Applications for university courses (and the appropriate visa) will need to be lodged before coming to Australia. Courses range from single year diplomas to full length undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. There is a choice of the sandstone universities, with their history and prestige, modern city universities, and regional (country town) universities, with open space and cheaper accommodation.
All tuition at university level is in English, save for courses that specifically focus on other languages.
For domestic students, as well as international students with Australian high school qualifications, undergraduate admission to university is centralised at the state level. You make a single application for admission to the state admissions body stating your course preferences. The universities select students from this common applicant pool based upon their ranking and preferences. Unless you are applying for a creative arts degree, your ranking will be based solely on previous academic performance at both high school and previous university studies.
In contrast, other international undergraduate students apply directly to individual universities or through a non-government education agent. The federal government's Study in Australia[dead link] website explains the process.
Postgraduate admission is managed by individual universities for both domestic and international students, and you will need to apply separately to each institution you are considering.
The full fees payable by overseas students are competitive compared to many Western universities. Australian citizens receive substantially reduced fees thanks to government subsidies, and also have the option of deferring payment until they are earning income through the FEE-HELP government-run loan scheme. Permanent residents of Australia, as well as New Zealand citizens also pay reduced tuition fees, but are generally not entitled to defer payment. Other students will generally be required to pay full tuition (usually 3 times what Australian citizens/permanent residents pay) on enrolment each semester.
Scholarships are rarely awarded for undergraduate or postgraduate coursework degrees. A comparatively large number of scholarships are available for postgraduate research usually covering both tuition, where required, and living costs. These are awarded by individual universities, as well as various government bodies and private foundations. Admission to a PhD program is usually conditional on receiving a scholarship
Foreign students can also undertake education in Australian vocational education providers. There is a large system of government-run institutions across the country (typically called 'TAFEs'), and hundreds of private-sector providers. The standard of education delivered by the private-sector providers differs considerably, however, and there were several scandals about the non-provision of training which was promised to foreign students in the early 2010s, leading to significant government-led reforms to the sector.