The Australian Higher Education System

The Australian higher education system consists of independent,  self-governing public and private universities and higher education  institutions that award higher education qualifications.

There are 38 public universities and 3 private universities in Australia.

A higher education provider is either a:

  • university
  • self-accrediting provider, or
  • non self-accrediting provider.

Higher education providers are required to be registered under Part 3 of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011(Cth) and listed on a national register.

The Australian  Qualifications Framework is a national system established by the  Australian Government linking courses and qualifications. The Framework  provides guidelines for learning outcomes, pathways, assessment and  accreditation of qualifications, allowing students to move easily between  levels of study and institutions, receiving credit for previous study.

The main qualifications awarded by universities in Australia are:



Degree Title    Duration
Bachelor Degree(General)    3 years full-time study  
Bachelor Degree (Professional)   4 years full-time study  
Bachelor Degree + Honours   3-4 years full-time + 1 additional year's successful completion allows entry to a research Masters or Doctorate  



Degree Title       Duration
Masters - Extended 3-4 years full-time study
Masters by Coursework   1-2 years full-time study  
Masters by Research   1-2 years full-time study  
Doctoral Degree   3-5 years full-time study  
Doctoral Degree (Professional) 3-5 years full-time study


Requirements for admission to all programs are set by individual universities.

Admission to undergraduate programs is usually based on  successful completion of a total of 13 years of school education though some  institutions use interviews, portfolios or demonstrated aptitude and most  provide alternative pathways for mature-age (non-school leaver) students.

Admission to postgraduate programs is based on the  level of achievement in previous higher education studies.

Admission to doctoral programs is usually based  on high achievement in a Research Masters Degree or completion of a Bachelor Degree  with First Class Honours or Second Class Honours Division A.


Australian universities are autonomous bodies that are responsible for managing quality through internal accreditation processes and codes of practice. Universities are also subject to a wide range of government legislation.

The Australian Government department with the main responsibility for  higher education and research is:

All institutions receiving Australian Government financial support must  meet quality and accountability requirements set out in the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (Cth). 

All Australian higher education providers are required by legislation to comply with threshold standards. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, an independent, national quality assurance  body assesses the performance of higher education providers against the Higher Education Standards Framework.


Overseas students represent a substantial  percentage of the student body in many institutions in Australia. In 2012, international students made up an average of 20.7 per cent of all onshore higher education students.

The interests of international students are protected by the Education Service for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act which provides tuition and financial assurance.

The ESOS legislation requires all education providers to enter into a  written agreement with overseas students when they enrol.  It protects students if their visa is refused  or their education provider is unable to teach the course for any reason.

Where an Australian university offers courses at an offshore campus, the  university must maintain standards at least equivalent to those provided in Australia.

For more information about the Australian higher education system see the Go8's Useful Links for Students.