Australia – Education System

Education in Australia is the duty of the state governments. Education is divided into three tiers: primary, secondary, and post-secondary/tertiary. Up to the age of around 15 or 16, education is compulsory; this age is determined by each state. The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), a unified system of national qualifications of schools, vocational training and education, regulates post-compulsory education and the higher education sector. Primary school and secondary school take up to 12 years, with years 1–6/7 for primary schooling and years 7/8–12 for secondary. While school education is compulsory up to age 15 or 16 (year 9 or 10), most students continue and finish in year 12 so they can study for the government-endorsed Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. This certificate is recognised for entry into all Australian universities, vocational education and training institutions, and many international universities. Post-secondary education comprises two sectors: vocational/technical education and higher education. Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) sector must meet the nationally agreed standards of the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF). In 2007, nearly 108,000 international students were enrolled in VET courses in Australia.

Higher education programmes lead to the following qualifications:

Certificates, diplomas, advanced diplomas and associate degrees, which take one to two years to complete. Bachelor’s degrees generally take three or four years to complete; they are generally the first university degree students undertake. Master’s degrees are undertaken after the completion of at least one bachelor’s degree, and often deal with a subject at a more advanced level. Doctoral degrees are undertaken after an honours bachelor’s or a master’s degree, and require a significant original research project resulting in a thesis or dissertation. There are 39 Australian universities, and many other recognised higher education institutions, located in capital cities and many regional centres. Australian courses are of very high quality and recognised worldwide by employers and other institutions.


The academic year in Australia comprises two semesters; the first begins in February and the second begins in July. (Some universities and programmes offer other start dates outside of these, but these are the norm.) The deadlines for sending in applications are November 1 for the February intake and April 1 for the July intake. International students should begin the application process at least three months in advance. For courses lasting less than three months, international students can use a visitor visa or working holiday visa. For longer courses, they must apply for a student visa. Student visas are only issued for CRICOS-registered institutions or courses. The Migration Act 1958 and associated migration regulations govern the issuing of visas. Visas are divided into seven subclasses based on the study option a student has chosen. They are:

570 – Independent ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students)
571 – Schools
572 – Vocational Education and Training
573 – Higher Education
574 – Post-graduate Research
575 – Non-award
576 – AusAID and Defence

Students must be enrolled on a full-time basis to be eligible for a student visa. In addition, they must satisfy the Australian government’s general visa conditions. Extra conditions may apply depending on the student’s country of origin. A student visa allows full-time international students in Australia to work part time (maximum of 20 hours a week) during school semester and full time during vacation periods.

PRISMS (the Provider Registration and International Student Management System) produces and tracks all Confirmation of Enrolments (COE) for international students. A CoE is necessary for the issuing of a student visa.

Australian Education Agent Training Course

Student counsellors wishing to specialise in Australia are advised to take the Australian Education Agent Training Course (EATC), designed for education agents who counsel and refer students to study in Australia. It is an online course contained within the wider group of PIER courses for international education professionals, and is offered in partnership with Australia Education International (AEI) and the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).

The purpose of the course is to:

Provide education agents with information about the Australian education system and Australia as
a study destination, education quality assurance issues, and the Australian visa regulation system Keep agents abreast of changes and developments in international education services Encourage and support excellence in business service delivery, study, and career pathways and professional development.

It covers four areas:

Australia, the AQF, and Career Trends (AQF)
Legislation and Regulations (REG)
Working Effectively in International Education (WEF)
Professional Standards and Ethics (ETH)