With the huge range of courses and education providers on offer in Australia, it can be difficult to know where to study. This will depend on what you want to study and what type of career you want to have. Here we describe the three main types of education providers in Australia to help you begin your search.
What they are: Australian universities are an obvious choice for those wanting a career in a regulated profession such as law, nursing, dentistry, medicine, architecture or engineering, but this covers only a very small proportion of all the fields that can be studied at university. Universities also offer a wide range of degrees in general areas (such as science, health science, business and arts) and more specialised degrees such as journalism, environmental studies or psychology. Universities offer the highest level of qualification available.
Characteristics: What characterises most universities is a focus on higher education — offering a mix of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. But a number of universities also offer non-award courses such as foundation studies and English language courses to prepare students for entry to higher education. A small number also offer more practical Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses in addition to higher education, while others may have recognised partner institutions that provide pathways into higher-level courses.
Benefits: Universities offer academic courses and prepare students to work in professional careers. Each university has a large, community atmosphere; offers a wide range of courses and qualification levels; and features a number of student services and facilities, but they all have their own strengths and characteristics. Overall, there are 39 universities in Australia, so there are a number of choices depending on where in Australia you want to live, the course you want to study and the type of atmosphere you are looking for.
What they are: Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes offer practically oriented VET courses at certificate and diploma level that focus on preparing students for vocational or paraprofessional careers (such as careers in the hospitality industry, child care or design). They are government owned and provide courses designed to give students the skills needed by employers (with work experience and training using industry-standard equipment incorporated into most courses), so you will graduate ready for employment.
Characteristics: What characterises TAFE institutes is the practical, ‘hands-on’ nature of their courses. Each institute offers a wide range of VET courses, and some have also started offering higher education courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level and offer these with the same practical industry focus. There are hundreds of TAFE campuses in various locations around the country, and these are typically smaller than university campuses. They also offer a range of student services, although these may be more limited than those offered by universities.
Benefits: In comparison to the higher education courses offered by universities and private providers, TAFE courses have a practical focus, lower entry requirements, a shorter completion time and a lower cost. But remember, this is because they offer a lower qualification level than a degree — it is important to make sure that a VET qualification will allow you to enter the career you want. With that said, the practical, industry-focused nature of the courses may greatly improve your prospects in the job market. Studying at a TAFE institute is also a great pathway into higher education studies, allowing you to progress to a higher-level qualification, often with credit.
What they are: In addition to universities, there is a large number of private colleges in Australia. They may offer higher education courses (including bachelor degrees and/or postgraduate degrees), VET courses or a combination of both. All private providers are subject to extensive regulation and should be registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS).
Characteristics: What characterises private colleges is that they are usually smaller than universities and usually specialise in a particular field (business, agriculture, the creative arts, natural health or hospitality, for example). Some private colleges offer a full range of courses, but do so in an environment that is aligned with a certain religious belief (a Christian education college, for example). They also offer a range of student services and facilities, although these may be more limited than those offered by universities.
Benefits: Because private colleges usually focus on one particular field of study, you will be surrounded by a smaller community of students who most likely share the same interests as you. In certain areas (creative arts, for example), private colleges are very prestigious and may even outperform universities. Smaller colleges may also offer a more personalised education experience — you may find that it is easier to settle in and make friends, that there is a real community atmosphere and that it is harder to get lost in the crowd.