Should I study at a TAFE institute?

If you're looking for a practical course that will lead to a career in the workforce or a pathway to higher education, then a Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institute might offer what you're looking for.

In this section we discuss:

TAFE institutes in Australia

The TAFE sector is the largest education and training sector in Australia, consisting of 59 TAFE institutes spread over hundreds of campuses in metropolitan and regional areas. TAFE institutes are government-funded Registered Training Organisations (RTOs). They offer practically oriented Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses that are designed to give students the skills, training and qualifications they need for the workforce.

TAFE institutes are regulated by the relevant state or territory government, so policies and fees may differ around the country. Visit your state or territory's TAFE website for more information:

Which qualifications do TAFE institutes offer?

Traditionally, TAFE institutes are known for providing nationally recognised, vocationally oriented VET courses that deliver basic education and train students for semi-skilled, skilled, trade and paraprofessional careers. VET qualifications include certificates (from levels I to IV), diplomas and advanced diplomas, which may be completed on their own or in combination with on-the-job training with an employer. This training may be part of an apprenticeship or traineeship. They are available in a range of areas, from trades to business, health, creative arts and hospitality.

VET qualifications provide the skills and knowledge needed for employment, meaning they are perfect for those who are training to enter the workforce, those looking to re-enter the workforce or train for a new job and those looking to upgrade their skills.

In recent years, many TAFE institutes have also started offering courses from the higher education sector, delivering the same range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees as universities in a more practical, hands-on style and in an industry-based environment. Some TAFE institutes also offer secondary school studies and short courses to assist students to update skills in specific industries.

TAFE qualifications provide a great pathway into the workforce and can greatly improve employment prospects due to their focus on practical, industry-based skills. They can also be used as a pathway into further education and training, with many TAFE graduates working their way up the qualifications ladder to enter a higher-level VET qualification or higher education degree — often with credit.

See Study options for more information about TAFE qualification levels.

TAFE course structure

Unlike many university degrees, the units covered and skills gained by students in TAFE courses typically do not differ from institute to institute. This is because VET qualifications follow a nationally endorsed, industry-developed "training package", which sets out required "competencies" that students should achieve in each qualification level. This ensures that students across Australia are gaining a uniform set of skills required by industry.

Training packages are available in a number of areas — business services, hospitality, community services, retail, information technology, metal and engineering industry, and financial services, just to name a few. There are various course areas within each training package and qualifications ranging from certificate I through to advanced diplomas.

VET students are required to complete training delivered by their TAFE institute and demonstrate that they have met each competency through institution-set assessment before gaining their qualification. On the other hand, higher education degrees do not follow training packages, so required units and their delivery may differ from institute to institute. Apprentices and trainees are required to complete "off-the-job" training delivered by the TAFE institute, as well as paid "on-the-job training" with an employer, in order to gain their qualification.

Most TAFE institutes offer a range of study modes to cater for individual student needs, including full-time study, part-time study, block study and external study by distance or online. See Study options for more information.

The TAFE experience

While university courses tend to have an academic focus, TAFE courses are typically more hands-on and focus on providing students with the workplace skills needed by industry employers. TAFE facilities compliment the practical focus, providing students with industry-standard equipment and excellent learning facilities that allow them to train outside the classroom, such as automotive workshops and training restaurants that are open to the public.

Because most courses at TAFE institutes require students to meet certain skill competencies for the workplace, classes are generally quite structured and similar to what you would experience in a school classroom. There are more contact hours, smaller class sizes and more personal attention from teachers than you would typically find in a university course.

In addition to "off-the-job" learning on campus, many TAFE courses also incorporate an element of "off-the-job" training at a real workplace, which provides a great opportunity to put your new skills into practice in the industry. This is usually known as a work placement or "work-integrated learning" and often forms part of the course assessment. This industry experience may also be paid, depending on the individual institution. Apprenticeships and traineeships involve compulsory, paid on-the-job training with an employer as part of the qualification. See Work-integrated learning for more information.

While TAFE institutes are often quite large, students are typically spread over multiple campuses, which creates a more personalised atmosphere. Most TAFEs offer student support and recreational services that are similar to those offered by universities (such as student clubs, career and accommodation services, child care, counselling, cafeterias and sporting facilities), although the variety of services on offer may be more limited than what you would find at a large university campus. See Student services and facilities for more information.

TAFE tuition fees

TAFE institute fees vary between courses, institutes and campuses, with some courses attracting government funding (referred to as "government-subsidised" courses) and others not (known as "fee-for-service" or "full-fee" courses). Eligible students may receive fee concessions or exemptions. Students completing eligible diploma and advanced diploma programs are able to access VET FEE-HELP, allowing them to defer part or all of their tuition fees until they begin earning a certain level of income. Scholarships may also be available to assist with tuition fees. Students studying higher education courses are able to access HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP. See Funding your education for more information.

TAFE entry requirements

TAFE institutes pride themselves on their accessibility and typically have fewer (and lower) entry requirements than universities. Entry requirements for VET courses vary from the very inclusive 'no entry requirements' (for a certificate I) to Year 12 (for a certificate IV, diploma or advanced diploma). Work experience is also taken into account. Some courses may also require prospective students to complete tests, interviews, portfolios, auditions and interviews prior to entry. Keep in mind that higher education degrees at TAFE institutes have higher entry requirements similar to those found at universities. See Getting into a course for more information.

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