When thinking about where to study, many students consider just two options — TAFE or university. A third option, often not considered by prospective students, is to study at a private tertiary education provider. At the Vocational Education and Training (VET) level, private providers offer VET qualifications alongside government-funded TAFE institutes and are classified as Registered Training Organisations. In the higher education sector, private providers offer university-level higher education programs alongside universities. Private providers can include industry bodies, private companies and community organisations.
- Courses available: Much like TAFEs and universities, a private provider may be ‘general’ or ‘specialist’. Some may focus on a specific study area (such as business, psychology or creative arts) or trade (such as hospitality), while others offer a wide range of courses catering for students from particular groups in society (religious groups, for example). Study options include anything from short courses, certificates and diplomas through to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. They may offer courses from the VET sector, the higher education sector or a combination. Some private providers also specialise in distance education, catering to those already in the workforce, or provide accelerated learning, meaning that you can complete your course over a shorter period of time.
- Entry requirements: Although entry requirements within a field will always differ, you can expect private providers to have similar entry requirements to a university or TAFE, depending on the field of study and sector (VET or higher education) you want to study. Some providers may focus less on ATAR scores than universities, but alternative selection criteria such as an essay submission or interview may apply.
- Tuition fees: Most private providers will charge full fees for their courses, meaning that you may be required to pay your fees upfront. However, it is worth noting that students at government-approved higher education providers can access FEE-HELP loans to help cover course fees, meaning that you are not required to pay back your loan until you are earning a set amount per annum. The threshold for repayment of loans in 2012 is $49,095. Visit the Study Assist website for more information about FEE-HELP
loans. Some providers may also offer scholarships or Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs) for certain courses, so it is best to scope out your chosen institution’s website to see if these apply to you.
- Campuses and facilities: Most private providers will have smaller campuses than the average university or TAFE institute. While they may lack the hustle and bustle of a large campus, smaller campuses typically offer more personalised attention from staff and more opportunities to make friends. You may also find that the campus facilities are tailored to your field of study — many boast state-of-the-art equipment such as multimedia labs and industry-standard training kitchens.
When choosing a course — whether at university, TAFE or a private provider — the same checklist applies. You should consider your reasons for choosing a course, how it will help you realise your career goals and whether the specialisations or majors available are suited to your interests.
You should also think about which provider type will best suit your needs — location, study mode and accommodation options will all need to be considered before making your final decision. You may find within your field that certain private providers provide a better option because they are highly renowned, have extensive industry links and outshine their university and TAFE counterparts (in the creative arts field, for example).