Higher education in Australia refers to university and non-university higher education institutions which award degree or sub-degree qualifications. The three main cycles of higher education are Bachelor, Master and Doctoral studies. Higher education providers are established or recognised by or under the law of the Commonwealth, a State, the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory. The provider has to be approved by the Australian Government Minister for Education before it can receive grants or its students can receive assistance from the Commonwealth.

Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) higher education qualifications are knowledge-based rather than competency-based (as in the vocational education and training sector).

Responsibilities for Higher Education

The Australian Government has the primary responsibility for public funding of higher education. Australian Government funding support for higher education is provided largely through:

  • The Commonwealth Grant Scheme which provides for a specified number of Commonwealth Supported places each year;
  • The Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) arrangements providing financial assistance to students;
  • Commonwealth Scholarships; and
  • A range of grants for specific purposes including quality, learning and teaching, research and research training programs.

The Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE) is the Australian Government Department with responsibility for administering this funding and for developing and administering higher education policy and programs.

Decision-making, regulation and governance for higher education are shared among the Australian Government, the State and Territory Governments and the institutions themselves.

By definition within Australia, universities are self-accrediting institutions and each university has its own establishment legislation (generally State and Territory legislation) and receive the vast majority of their public funding from the Australian Government, through the Higher Education Support Act 2003.

Entry requirements

State and territory tertiary admissions centres coordinate admission. Students can use their tertiary entrance rank, score or index from their home state or territory to apply for undergraduate admission elsewhere in Australia. In some cases, entry may be based on additional requirements such as an interview, portfolio of work, prerequisite courses, and/or a demonstrated interest or aptitude for the study program. Postgraduate entry is normally based on a Bachelor Degree or higher. Exceptions may be made for those with appropriate work experience, depending on the institution and field of study.

Credit transfer

Credit transfer refers to the recognition of previous formal learning so that study does not have to be repeated. Credit transfer is available in both undergraduate and postgraduate programs, at the discretion of the institution. The ways in which credit may be awarded are complex, and depend on the formal study for which recognition is sought.

There are different processes which apply to seeking credit, including those for:

  • Study previously undertaken at the same Australian higher education institution.
  • Study previously undertaken at an Australian university with reciprocal credit arrangements.
  • Study previously undertaken with an institution (Australian or overseas) with which an Australian higher education institution has a partnership agreement that includes recognition of formal study for credit in certain programs of study.
  • Study previously undertaken in courses for which there are some structured credit arrangements.
  • All Australian universities have information about credit transfer and articulation arrangements which can be accessed from the Going To Uni website. Information is updated regularly, and many universities provide a credit transfer database that is interactive and can be searched by students who wish to match their existing qualifications with the list of possible credits that may be available in programs of study offered.

Credit transfer and RPL Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) are some of the ways students seek recognition of previous informal training, work experience, professional development, professional licensing and examinations and other work-based education and training.

Cross sector qualification linkages

Most higher education institutions allow some credit transfer from vocational education and training (VET) sector accredited courses of Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), depending on the level of the VET course and its relevance to the proposed higher education studies.

Australia also has a small number of dual-sector universities which offer both VET and higher education programs. Private higher education institutions may also be RTOs and structure their courses to allow for credit transfer across the sectors.

The Australian Qualifications Framework Advisory Board (AQFAB) has co-ordinated major work in both credit transfer and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

The Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA) has adopted good practice principles for credit transfer to promote improvements in institutional practice.