Study abroad and student exchange

Studying overseas really does open up your world. You will make new friends, experience a different culture and maybe even learn a new language. It can also bring you a fresh perspective on your degree and get you out of your comfort zone. Overseas study programs can range from short study tours that last for a couple of weeks to a year-long student exchange. Credit from this study may count towards your course, but the amount of credit awarded will depend on the academic system at your Australian institution.

In this section we discuss:

Types of overseas study programs

Formal student exchange programs

Formal exchange programs involve you swapping your place at your home institution with another student from a partner institution for the duration of the exchange — usually one or two semesters.

During a student exchange program:

  • your Australian institution has a formal agreement with the overseas institution
  • you remain enrolled at your Australian institution for the duration of your time overseas
  • you continue to pay your normal fees to your Australian institution (the cost to the overseas institution is part of the exchange agreement between the two institutions)
  • you must be nominated and approved for the exchange program by the exchange coordinator at your Australian institution
  • credit from your overseas study will usually count towards your course in Australia as part of the exchange agreement, although it is important to check to make sure.

Study abroad programs

These programs also allow students enrolled at an Australian institution to undertake study with an overseas institution, but students are not normally covered by an agreement between their home provider and their host institution.

During a study abroad program:

  • your Australian institution does not have a formal exchange agreement with the overseas institution
  • you usually need to take leave from your Australian institution by deferring your course for a semester or two
  • you usually pay fees to the overseas institution upfront
  • you usually need to apply directly to the institution overseas
  • you need to check with advisers at your Australian institution whether you can receive credit for study abroad subjects.

Australian overseas campuses

Some Australian higher education providers operate their own campuses and study centres overseas, which may provide you with opportunities for overseas study tours, special exchange programs, language study or extended study and research. Many overseas campuses are located in Asia, but you will find them as widespread as Europe, Africa, North America and the Middle East. Look out for overseas campuses when you begin researching institutions, particularly if you are hoping to gain some experience abroad.

Study tours

Study tours may be offered as a compulsory or optional part of your course, or as an annual optional event by your institution, department or faculty. Study tours give you the opportunity to travel with teachers and fellow students as a group on a structured excursion and usually range in length from a couple of weeks to a month or two. You will usually have the opportunity to visit a number of locations (including tourist attractions and overseas organisations) and undertake activities such as industry projects and work-integrated learning.

Overseas internships and research

Some institutions offer specialised international programs that provide opportunities to complete industry placements and research projects at large multinational businesses and institutions overseas. These experiences focus on providing students with an intense industry experience and preparing students for the Australian and international job market. These programs usually range in length from a couple of months (perhaps run over the summer or winter break) to a semester or two. Not all institutions offer these experiences, so you will need to check this when applying.

International courses

Some courses have an intense international focus, offering study or work experience experiences overseas as a key part of the course. They are specifically designed to enable students to experience overseas, cultures and issues through in-country study, internships and research projects. These courses usually feature "international" or "global" in their name and are available at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. You may even find that generalist courses, such as business or arts, offer a special international or global stream.

Choosing a country

While study tours usually offer a structured tour in a predetermined country as organised by your course coordinator or faculty, exchange and study abroad programs are typically institution-wide programs that are run through a special study abroad and exchange office. This means that they often enable a lot more choice. Your choice of country for an exchange program may be determined by your institution and the arrangements they have with overseas partner institutions, but at other institutions you will have a wide range of institutions and countries to choose from. When it comes to student exchange programs, you may also have to pick more than one study destination in case the exchange office cannot secure your first preference. Keep in mind that you may need to compromise if a certain institution is not compatible with your field of study.

You should consider the following factors when selecting an overseas study destination:

Would you be comfortable living and studying in a country where English is not widely spoken?

Cost of living
You want to be able to fully engage with life in another country, and that means extra costs for seeing the sights, socialising, eating out and other activities.

Countries of interest
If you are going to be spending some time in a country, you may as well choose somewhere that fascinates you and that you have always wanted to visit.

Further travel
You may want to choose a country where you would like to travel before or after you complete your course of study overseas.

Your course
To get the full benefits of your exchange, you should try to pick a destination that excels in your industry (think Milan for a fashion degree or New York for finance). This will enable you to further your learning, begin to make industry contacts and possibly complete an internship.

The benefits of overseas study

You get to experience life in another country
Exchange allows you to experience what it is like to live and learn in another country, which, for many, is an eye-opening, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Plus, you can travel in the semester breaks, so you have the chance to explore the world before you finish your degree.

Language skills
While most students tend to choose countries where English is widely spoken and classes are taught in English, exchange provides budding linguists with an opportunity to immerse themselves in another language and develop their skills in a foreign study environment.

Educational benefits
Exchange enables you to add to the knowledge that you are learning in your Australian course by trying new specialisations and learning in a different cultural context.

Looks great on your résumé
Life experience? You'll have a truckload once you return from a student exchange. The skills, attributes, international experience and new cultural perspectives that you will gain studying overseas will look great to future employers and serve you well in many aspects of your life.

Entry requirements

You can apply for exchange programs, study at overseas campuses, study tours and international research and internships through the international exchange office or your faculty at your Australian institution. Study abroad programs, on the other hand, usually need to be arranged with the overseas institution, although you may be able to get some assistance from your course coordinator or the exchange office.

To be eligible, students usually need to:

  • have completed a minimum of two semesters of full-time study at their Australian institution
  • satisfy minimum academic requirements set by the Australian institution
  • satisfy any additional requirements set by your home or overseas institution
  • have satisfied any necessary subject prerequisites.

Students may also need to fulfil application requirements such as providing character references, a financial statement and an academic transcript, as well as meet the requirements for an overseas visa. Admission requirements vary depending on the type of overseas exchange and also between institutions, so be sure to check with the relevant institution before applying.

Once you have been accepted, you can apply for exchange grants and scholarships, book your flights, apply for visas and organise your accommodation (your exchange office will help with this).

Financial help

OS-HELP is a loan scheme to assist eligible Commonwealth-supported undergraduate students who want to complete a portion of their studies overseas with their expenses, such as airfares and accommodation. From 2014, the scheme will be available to postgraduate students holding a CSP. The scheme is only available to students whose overseas study counts towards their Australian course and is not available to students undertaking their whole course of study overseas.

Students can receive a maximum of two OS-HELP loans over their lifetime. In 2015, eligible students may receive up to $6,470 per semester (for a maximum of two six-month study periods). Students studying in Asia may receive up to $7,764 plus an additional $1,050 for those undertaking intensive Asian language study. This loan scheme works in the same way as HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP loans, meaning that you can choose to defer the payment until your income reaches the repayment threshold ($54,869 in 2016-17). See the Study Assist website for more information.

There are also many scholarships, travel grants and international fellowships available to eligible students. Some academic scholarships may even include a special allowance for overseas study, so look out for these if you are researching your funding options. Contact the exchange office or coordinator at your institution for more information.

See Degree costs and loans for more information on loans and scholarships.

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