Education in Australia
Education in Australia encompasses the sectors of early childhood education (preschool) and primary education (primary schools), followed by secondary education (high schools), tertiary education (universities, TAFE colleges and vocational education and training providers) and adult education (referred to as adult and community education or ACE). Regulation and funding of education is primarily the responsibility of the States and territories, but the Federal Government also plays a funding role.
Education in Australia is compulsory between the ages of four and fifteen, sixteen or seventeen, depending on the State or territory and date of birth.
For primary and secondary education, government schools educate approximately 60% of Australian students, with approximately 40% in private or independent schools. At the tertiary level, the majority of Australia’s universities are public and student fees are subsidised through a student loan program where payment becomes due when graduates reach a certain income level.
For primary and secondary schools, a national Australian Curriculum has been progressively developed and implemented since 2010.
The Education Index, published with the UN’s Human Development Index in 2008, based on data from 2006, lists Australia as 0.993, the highest in the world. In 1966, Australia signed the Convention against Discrimination in Education, which aims to combat discrimination and racial segregation in the field of education.
Regulation and funding
The regulation, operation, and funding of education is primarily the responsibility of the States and territories, partly because the Federal Government does not have a specific constitutional power to pass laws with respect to education. However, the Federal government helps fund independent or private schools, helps fund public universities and subsidises tertiary education through a national student loan scheme and regulates vocational education providers
Post-compulsory education is regulated within the Australian Qualifications Framework, a unified system of national qualifications in schools, vocational education and training, and the tertiary education sector.
The Federal Government’s involvement in education has been the responsibility of a number of departments over the years, the present version of which is the Department of Education and Training.
The academic year in Australia varies between States and institutions, but generally runs from late January/early February until early/mid-December for primary and secondary schools, with slight variations in the inter-term holidays and TAFE colleges and from late February until mid-November for universities with seasonal holidays and breaks for each educational institute.
Education System in Australia
Primary School / Secondary School
This is for students who wish to study at primary or high school and approved secondary school exchange programs. The students can be enrolled at Private or Public schools starting from year 1 to year 12. One parent or guardian can accompany the student or a guardian will be assigned to them by the school.
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Tertiary education in Australia is different to many other countries in that it is divided into two sectors; Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Higher Education.
a) Vocational Education and Training
All countries have a higher education sector which people usually associate with universities, but Australia is one of just a few countries that have a vocational education sector where a trainee is assessed by his or her acquisition of competencies and focuses on the development of skills relevant to a trade or field of skilled specialization.
In fact, Australia’s VET sector is internationally recognized as providing world’s best practice in vocational training and qualifications from Australian VET institutions are recognized worldwide.The VET sector is comprised of public and private training institutions, referred to collectively as Registered Training Organizations (RTOs). Government-funded or public training institutions are known as colleges or institutes of Technical and Further Education, or TAFE for short.
All TAFE institutes offer a range of training courses from Certificate level through to Advanced Diploma and an increasing number now also offer undergraduate degree (Bachelor) courses. While all TAFEs offer a fairly standard range of core training subjects, many also provide training in more specialized fields, often relative to the particular skills requirements of the workforce in their surrounding area.
Australia’s VET sector is characterized by a large number and variety of private training organizations. Like TAFE, most private colleges offer standard core subjects such as Business and Information Technology, but many also offer specializations both in specific areas of the core subjects and in a wide variety of other courses. Students wishing to do training in areas such as audio engineering for the music industry or computer graphics for digital animation and gaming, and many of the natural or alternative therapies and even pilot training, are well served by private colleges specializing in these fields. Independent education providers also offer courses from Certificate through to Advanced Diploma levels, and an increasing number also offer undergraduate degree (Bachelor) programs. A very small number are even accredited to offer Masters programs.
b) Higher Education
Australia’s higher education sector is world class and all Australia’s universities have highly active and comprehensive international programs. Universities in Australia have been welcoming international students for more than a century and today most campuses boast an ethnic mix in the student body of 50 or more nationalities. Cultural sensitivity, tolerance of religious observance and freedom of expression are proudly promoted and encouraged by all Australian universities.Although every Australian university is autonomous and sets its own standards and course offerings, each belongs to a unified national system which ensures that at undergraduate level, all Australian university degrees are nominally of equal quality.
Australian universities are not officially ranked, as in some countries, but instead are characterized by the types of courses they offer. While some are more traditional and place great emphasis on research, others are more actively engaged in practical teaching, producing workforce-ready and skilled graduates. Some universities also specialize in course and research programs according to their location. For example, regional or country universities might offer programs in Agriculture, Ecology and Animal Husbandry, while universities with campuses in tropical regions might have developed courses in Tropical Medicine, Marine Biology and the like.
Taken collectively, the variety of programs available at Australian universities is as comprehensive as anywhere in the world. The structure of Australian higher education follows a common 3+2+3 international model. That is to say, the first (undergraduate) degree – usually Bachelor – is normally of 3 years duration. This might be followed by a Masters degree, usually 2 years and finally candidates may aspire to a doctoral qualification, (e.g. PhD), usually 3 years in duration. There are variations, with some professional undergraduate degrees requiring 4 or more years and some Masters degrees, (by course work), available in a single year of study. “Honours” years are available as extensions to some Bachelor degrees, and a student with “First Class Honours”, i.e. very good grades, may fast-track to a doctoral degree.
Educational Pathways to Higher Education
Australia’s education system provides for flexible access to higher education. Some VET institutions already offer undergraduate (Bachelor degrees), but students completing a Diploma or Advanced Diploma at a TAFE or private training organization may obtain academic credit for entry into the second year of university. The amount of academic credit a university will grant may depend on a number of things, such as the nature and content of the vocational training course, the entry level or number of places available for the degree course and other factors.
Some universities have explicit agreements with vocational training colleges, guaranteeing a place subject to successful completion of certain prerequisite subjects. The benefit of this arrangement for international (and domestic) students is that they are able to enter the Australian tertiary education system at a lower, or academically less demanding, level than might otherwise be required for direct entry to university. Also, entry into the tertiary system through vocational training normally requires a lower level of English language proficiency, so international students whose first language is not English, have the opportunity to build their language skills as they study and live among English-speaking Australians.
Another option for international students wishing to attend an Australian university is through a Foundation Studies program. These programs are designed specifically for overseas students and aim to ease the transition from a student’s school education in their home country to university study in Australia. Most Foundation Studies programs last 1 year, but may be fast-tracked to 9 months for high-ability students, or those who already satisfy other requirements for their chosen university course. Most Foundation Studies programs feature subject specialization or streaming where, in addition to core subjects, the program provides an introduction to the subjects a student will take as part of their degree course.
English Language Teaching
The language of instruction in Australia is of course English. Students wishing to study vocational or degree courses in Australia will need to demonstrate proficiency in English as prescribed by the entry criteria for the chosen course. Most Registered Training Organizations will accept students with an IELTS score of 5 or 5.5. Direct entry to university normally requires an IELTS score of 6, sometimes higher.
Virtually all English colleges offer programs in General English, some with specializations such as “Business English’ or ‘English for Tourism’. Most colleges also offer English for Academic Purposes (EAP) – courses designed especially to prepare students for further study. Many English colleges also offer preparation for one or more of the international English proficiency exams such as IELTS (International English Language Testing System), FCE (First Certificate in English), CAE (Certificate in Advanced English) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).
IELTS is by far the most widely recognized English test in Australia and some education providers will only accept an IELTS test score. Some English colleges are also IELTS testing centres. There are large number of English language colleges throughout Australia, although the capital cities offer the greatest choice. Most universities have their own English language centre, but by far the majority of English colleges are private, or independently funded. English language teaching in Australia is closely regulated by government for the quality assurance of teaching standards, facilities available to students and business soundness. English language teaching in Australia is a highly competitive business and students can often find “‘good deals”. Because most colleges offer essentially the same courses, they differentiate themselves by the range of extra-curricular activities they provide. These might include day trips to places of interest in and around the local region such as museums and galleries, or even overnight excursions to more distant destinations for things such as skiing trips or surfing weekends; perhaps visiting a national park, learning to scuba dive or just lazing on the beach. Language learning should be fun and Australian English colleges make sure of it!