Studying at a University

Universities in Australia

There are currently 39 universities in Australia. Of the 39 universities, there are two private universities (Bond University and the University of Notre Dame) and two Catholic universities (Australian Catholic University and the University of Notre Dame).

Universities are located in both metropolitan cities and regional areas. Some have multiple campuses in a particular region (or across different states in some cases), offering students a range of campus options. Others are proud to state that they are a single-campus institution.

All Australian universities are required to produce a certain amount of research in addition to teaching, but the balance differs depending on the university you choose. Some excel in teaching and have research strengths in particular areas, while others have a stronger focus on research overall (these are often referred to as research intensive or comprehensive universities) and belong to networks such as the Group of Eight . Other universities have a focus on technology, particularly those that are part of the Australian Technology Network of Universities .

Which qualifications do universities offer?

As academic institutions, universities primarily offer higher education qualifications at undergraduate and postgraduate levels to prepare graduates for professional careers. This includes bachelor degrees, postgraduate certificates, postgraduate diplomas, masters degrees and doctoral degrees.

Universities also offer lower-level qualifications (such as associate degrees, advanced diplomas and diplomas) and non-award courses (foundation studies and bridging courses, for instance) to prepare students for higher education studies and provide an alternative entry pathway for those who do not meet degree entry requirements.

In addition, some Australian universities have TAFE departments that offer Vocational Education and Training (VET). These are known as dual-sector universities, and they provide an excellent option for students looking to work their way up the tertiary qualifications ladder from a VET qualification to a degree. Other universities may offer similar schemes through partnerships with TAFEs or private providers.

University course structure

Most universities offer a wide range of degrees at undergraduate level, including bachelor degrees in specialised vocational areas such as human resource management or criminology, as well as general bachelor degrees in broader fields in areas such as ‘business’ or ‘arts’ that allow students to focus on a particular ‘specialisation’ or ‘major’.

Several universities offer a two-part course structure, where students complete a more general degree at undergraduate level (in an area such as arts or science) before moving on to complete a more specialised professional degree at postgraduate level. While many offer this two-part structure in selected fields only (usually those professions that are tightly regulated or highly specialised such as architecture or optometry), it is likely that many more will introduce this structure in the future — some more widely across the course menu. A couple have already introduced a two-part structure across the board. See Two-part degrees for more information.

Some universities also place a greater emphasis on providing industry-focused vocational education and integrate schemes such as internships and industry-based projects into their courses. See Work-integrated learning for more information.

You will find that in some fields that aren’t heavily regulated, such as humanities and communications, course structures and subjects may vary quite significantly from university to university. In other fields that are regulated and require students to gain industry accreditation before they are qualified to practice — such as medicine, architecture, teaching and law — courses will often cover similar core units no matter where they are studied.

All universities offer a range of study modes, including full-time study, part-time study, block study and external study by distance or online. See Study options for more information.

The university experience

While universities come in many shapes and sizes, they are generally bigger than other types of tertiary institutions and offer a vast range of fields to a large number of students.

But not to worry — the size of universities is also countered by the array of student services, resources and facilities that are offered. This includes sporting facilities, medical services, employment and housing services, academic support services, libraries, clubs and societies, student unions, cafeterias and university media publications. These will provide more personalised support and will enable you to find your own niche within larger institutions. See Student services and facilities for more information.

Universities are also characterised by the independent style of learning they offer. In most cases, students select their own subjects to make up the requirements of their degree (with assistance from an academic adviser, if necessary) and are responsible for managing their own timetable by selecting individual class times.

Subjects are typically broken into lectures and tutorials. The first of these usually involves lecturers teaching a large group of students using visual aids, requiring students to take their own notes as they listen. Tutorials, on the other hand, involve class discussions with a smaller group of students and a tutor, which are designed to cement and expand upon the core knowledge taught in lectures. Some courses are a lot more hands-on — particularly those in the creative and performing arts, health, science and engineering fields — and may incorporate more practical units such as ‘labs’.

While contact hours differ from course to course, students are typically required to spend a significant portion of time outside class hours completing required reading and set homework for tutorials, studying for exams and working on assignments. Generally, students are assessed on their knowledge using a combination of assignments (such as essays and reflective blog posts), exams and tutorial participation.

University tuition fees

There are two types of places at Australian universities — full-fee (non-subsidised) places and Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs), which are subsidised by the government. While domestic undergraduate students at public universities receive CSPs, the majority of postgraduate students or those attending private institutions are required to pay full fees. Both groups are able to defer part or all of their tertiary fees until they begin earning a certain level of income — CSP students through HECS-HELP and full-fee-paying students through FEE-HELP. VET students studying at dual-sector universities may be eligible for a VET FEE-HELP loan. Scholarships may also be available to assist with tuition fees. See Funding your education for more information.

University entry requirements

University entry requirements at undergraduate level usually revolve around academic achievement and completion of subject prerequisites in the Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (SSCE), supplemented by interviews, auditions, portfolios and tests for certain fields. Requirements for postgraduate study involve a combination of previous academic study and work experience. Those completing VET courses at dual-sector universities are subject to VET entry requirements (usually the completion of Year 10, 11 or 12). Alternative entry criteria may be used for mature age students and others who fall into certain categories. These do vary according to the course and university, so it's worth shopping around. See Getting into a course for more information.

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