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Postgraduate degrees

Around 300,000 people are enrolled in postgraduate study at Australian universities, TAFE institutes and private higher education providers. Among them, more than one-third are from overseas and many study part time or by distance mode, both onshore and offshore.

Female studying in library

One of the defining features of postgraduate life is that most students juggle a range of commitments and wrestle with competing priorities. Some combine work and study, others combine family and study, while another group of students tries to balance all three.

Despite this common balancing act, postgraduate students are a very diverse group. This is not only due to the differences in their professional and personal backgrounds but also because of their reasons for undertaking further study. Some continue onto postgraduate study straight after completing their undergraduate degree to ensure successful entry into their chosen profession. Others return for a refresher or upgrade course a few years into their career. Some opt for a total career change or just wish to explore an area of interest.

Types of postgraduate degrees

There is a wide range of postgraduate degrees available to suit a variety of purposes. Firstly, the postgraduate menu can be divided into research and coursework programs. The majority of postgraduate students undertake coursework degrees. These are structured programs where content is delivered through lectures and seminars, and assessment takes the form of assignments and examinations.

By contrast, research degrees involve more self-directed study that focuses on a particular area of interest. They normally involve minimal coursework (units on research methods being the most common) and require you to write a substantial body of work (a thesis) for assessment.

The types of postgraduate degrees divided according by coursework and research are as follows:

Postgraduate degrees by coursework

  • Graduate certificate
  • Graduate diploma
  • Masters degree (by coursework)
  • Masters degree (extended)
  • Professional doctorate

Postgraduate degrees by research

  • Masters degree (by research)
  • Research doctorate (PhD)

VET versus higher education

With postgraduate degrees existing in both the Vocational and Technical Education (VET) and higher education realms, they can be also be divided according to their sector. The types of postgraduate degrees available in each sector are as follows:

Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector

  • Vocational graduate certificates
  • Vocational graduate diplomas

Higher education sector

  • Graduate certificates (or postgraduate certificates)
  • Graduate diplomas (or postgraduate diplomas)
  • Masters degrees
  • Doctoral degrees

Vocational graduate certificates and diplomas are equivalent to the higher education graduate certificates and diplomas, but have a more vocational, industry-based focus. See VET courses for more information.

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