Education System Overview Manual Australia

Australian Education System


To properly advise students, you need to be confident about how to construct appropriate learning pathways for them. So, you need to understand the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and to be familiar with the range of study options available.

Focus Questions

  1. What types of Educational Institutions are there in Australia?
  2. What types of qualifications can a student gain from each?
  3. What is the Australian Qualifications Framework, and why is it useful?
  4. What are some of the common points at which international students enter and leave Australia’s education system?

What is the Australian Education System? Schools

Each state government manages the school system within their state. Both public schools and private schools exist in each state. The curriculum taught in each state or school may vary but the learning areas are the same in all.

You can find out more about each State and Territory’s education system by viewing their web sites below:

Australian Capital Territory Department of Education and Training New South Wales Department of Education and Training Department of Education and Training
Education Queensland

South Australia Department of Education and Children’s Services Tasmania Department of Education
Victoria Department of Education and Training
Western Australia Department of Education and Training

Vocational Education & Training (VET)

Australia has a VET system. VET prepares people for work in a career that does not need a university degree. The national body ASQA regulates and manages the system and ensures consistent national standards. Typically, a VET course takes up to two years of study.


Many parts of industry and business provide ongoing workplace training for their employees. Some of this training can count towards a qualification.

Higher Education

While each university is independent in its governance and can decide on which courses they want to offer and the course content, they are regulated by TEQSA. Typically, a university course takes three or four years of study.

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) is a system of seventeen national qualifications in 3 sectors:

  • Schools,
  • Vocational Education and Training (TAFE and private providers),
  • Higher Education (mainly universities).

The qualifications shown below are grouped according to the educational sector in which they are most commonly issued.

A qualification normally offered in one sector may be provided by an institution in a different sector. For example:

  • schools may offer a Certificate III course within their senior school,
  • a University may offer a Diploma,
  • some Vocational Colleges may offer Bachelor Degrees.

Are all Australian education courses listed on the AQF?

Some courses are not recorded on the AQF even though they offer excellent education and outcomes. For example:

  • many English language courses (ELICOS),
  • some foundation studies,
  • non-award programs.

These courses do not award a formal qualification as listed on the AQF table above.

Why is the AQF important?

The AQF is important since it:

  • provides a clear structure for the level of each qualification,
  • allows students to build their qualifications from lower to higher levels,
  • allows one education institution to clearly understand the level of a qualification awarded by another and provide appropriate credit.
  • determines the student visa subclass (see B – 6) that a student receives when they study in Australia.

Pathways for International Students

The AQF levels show how students can progress through the Australian education system.

International students who arrive in Australia to study may begin at any level of the system. However, their academic or English proficiency may not match the level that they wish to enter.

So, there are specific pathway programs for international students to eventually reach the level they want to study at. These programs have a variety of names but they all provide entry into another course of a higher level. A recent Australian government analysis of pathways students take can be found here.

There are four types of pathway programs that are designed for and are popular with international students:



English language courses (ELICOS) – see A.4

As a route to all levels of qualifications on the AQF

Foundation Programs

As a route to undergraduate and VET courses

Diploma Programs

As a route to undergraduate courses

Other Bridging Courses

As a route to all levels of qualifications on the AQF

Foundation Programs

Foundation programs (also known as Foundation Years or University Preparation courses) take many forms but they offer an alternative means for international students to access post-school institutions. They are most commonly used as a pathway for students who do not meet the entry requirements of an undergraduate Bachelor degree program. Such programs are offered by institutions in the School, VET, ELICOS and Higher Education sectors.

Foundation programs may:

  • be offered by private institutions for a particular university,
  • offer formal qualifications (normally a Certificate IV),
  • not offer a formal qualification.

More specifically, Foundation programs tend to:

  • contain academic based subjects,
  • focus on English language development,
  • have minimum entry requirements of successful completion of year 11 (or equivalent) and an of IELTS score of 5.5 (or equivalent scores of other acceptable language tests like TOEFL, Cambridge CAE or PTE),
  • be of a comparable academic standard to an Australian year 12 secondary school qualification,
  • be normally one academic year in length,
  • often guarantee entry to a particular university course if the student meets the required standards,
  • not offer credit in the subsequent program of study

Some foundation programs are shorter than one year (commonly called ‘express’ or ‘accelerated’ programs) and are typically offered to students who have completed year 12 and have an IELTS score of 6.0 (or equivalent scores of TOEFL, CAE, PTE or other ways of satisfying the provider*).

*this depends on the education provider, you need to check with them for specific language requirements.

Some foundation programs allow students to undertake a longer program than normal with extra English language development. These are often called ‘extended’ programs and are for students who have a lower English level (typically IELTS 5.0, TOEFL Paper 500, TOEFL iBT 64 or TOEFL Computer 180).

How are foundation programs different from secondary school Year 12 programs?

Foundation programs are functionally the same as Australian Year 12 secondary school programs and provide for a similar level of academic work. But there are key differences between these two types of courses:



– their results are accepted by those institutions with prior arrangements and may guarantee a place in an undergraduate program to a student

– their results are accepted by all Australian higher education institutions

– they are typically provided for international students alone

– international students typically study alongside Australian students in most classes

– they are often packaged with the undergraduate program the student wishes to study

– they are not packaged with an undergraduate program

– they are designed for international students who wish to go to higher education

– they are designed to meet the needs of Australian students who may seek a variety of outcomes

– they develop the students academic English, communication and cultural awareness skills

– they may not directly develop these skills

– they focus on the subjects typically taken by international students at an undergraduate level

– they have a wider range of subject choices for students

– they often focus on the delivery of higher education learning such as lectures and tutorials

– they normally focus on classroom learning

– they are typically delivered in an adult college environment

– they are mostly delivered in a school setting (e.g. regarding uniforms, extra- curricular activities, and school camps)

– their students are usually aged from 17 to the early 20s with some mature age students

– their students are typically aged from 16 to 18


– if the program is linked to a university, the students commonly have use of the university’s facilities, the university’s academic staff have input into the program, and the university tracks the performance of ex- foundation students in undergraduate programs

– they are designed by State education authorities

Recognition of Foundation programs

The recognition of a foundation program by universities can vary greatly. Many universities guarantee entry to students undertaking their endorsed program but only recognise other foundation programs on a case-by-case basis.

Generally, the Group of 8 (Go8) foundation programs are more widely accepted and are likely to provide entry into most Australian universities. However, other programs may have difficulty in providing entry into the GO8 Universities, except for their highest achieving students.

As a Stars N Beyond representative, you must be careful that any student intending to take a foundation program understands which universities or higher education providers accept that program.

Diploma Programs

You’ll look at Diploma programs in more detail in a section relating to Vocational Education and Training (VET), as they are commonly part of that sector.

However, international students often take Diploma courses principally as a pathway to an undergraduate program rather than for the Diploma qualification itself. Business or Information Technology courses tend to be the most popular fields of study.

These courses are promoted by Technical & Further Education (TAFE), private colleges and higher education institutions providing entry to undergraduate programs and are packaged with undergraduate courses. Typically, for example, a student who successfully completes the Diploma will gain entry into the second year of an undergraduate Business degree.

In this way, these courses provide a pathway into undergraduate programs for students who would otherwise not meet the entry requirements of the undergraduate program.

They are marketed as competitors to foundation programs and in many cases accept students from similar educational backgrounds. In some cases, students may undertake a foundation program in order to access a Diploma and then an undergraduate program.

How are Diploma Programs different from Foundation Programs?

Universities offer credit to students who have completed a Diploma program. This usually means that they enter a Bachelor degree program in the second year. Even though Diploma courses are longer than foundation programs, this credit allows Diploma students to complete their studies in a shorter time than if they undertake a foundation program and then an undergraduate course.

There are a few further differences as outlined below:



– they always provide a qualification

– not all of them provide a qualification

– they have a more limited subject base than foundation programs. So, there are fewer options for further study. Typically, they provide entry to Business and IT courses

– they can often provide entry into all undergraduate courses offered at their partner university

– the most prestigious Australian universities typically do not provide much credit (if any) to on-shore Diploma programs. So, Diploma programs are not so beneficial or attractive for students who wish to enter these universities

– the most prestigious Universities often do not support a Diploma partnership as a mechanism for entry into their undergraduate programs

– the most prestigious universities prefer to endorse foundation programs as their preferred pathway

Diploma programs are a key pathway for international students. Universities that promote Diploma programs may also have a foundation pathway available to students. This option may be useful for students intending to take non-Business or IT courses, or as an entry path to the Diploma itself.

On-shore and Off-shore Programs

Diploma programs are be offered both in Australia (on-shore) or off-shore through an off-shore campus or a partnership. This means that an Australian Diploma is offered by another provider overseas.

Alternatively, an overseas Diploma that is not accredited by any Australian authority can form a similar pathway to undergraduate programs. For example, it can provide entry into the second or even third year of an undergraduate program. These arrangements are particularly common in respect to Diplomas offered by colleges and polytechnics in Singapore and Malaysia. Also, the word ‘Diploma’ may be used to refer to different course levels in different countries.

Interestingly, overseas Diplomas are more widely accepted by Australian universities than local Diplomas. All Go8 Universities provide credit arrangements to some overseas Diplomas even if they do not do this for Australian Diplomas.

Other Bridging Courses

Australian institutions offer a large number of bridging and short courses, which are not similar to foundation or Diploma programs. It is difficult to categorise them, because they are typically designed to support entry into a particular program at a particular institution. Also, they may have limited portability and recognition by other institutions.

Some general features of bridging courses are:

  • they vary greatly in length from 5 weeks or more, but usually shorter in duration than foundation or Diploma courses
  • they are commonly non-award
  • they can be non-essential. This means they offer the attainment of skills, which may be of use to a prospective student in a further course but which they do not formally need to enter the principal program
  • they may allow a student to attain a single pre-requisite subject, which is necessary for further study
  • they may provide an alternative means of improving English proficiency in an environment specific to a single discipline
  • they may provide entry to particular postgraduate courses.

Useful Information

Government sites

  • Australia – Country Information (DFAT)
  • Australian Demographic Statistics, March 2011 (ABS)
  • Public Holidays

Tourism sites

  • Australian Capital Tourism Corporation
  • Tourism New South Wales
  • Northern Territory Tourism Commission
  • Tourism Queensland
  • South Australian Tourism Commission
  • Tourism Tasmania
  • Tourism Victoria
  • Western Australian Tourism Commission

Weather Information

  • Rainfall and Temperature graphs (BOM)
  • you also can find weather information about cities around the world from World Climate.

Standard Times

Australia has both Standard Times and Daylight Saving Times (note that GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time).






Eastern Standard Time (EST)

New South Wales Australian Capital Territory Victoria

+ 10


Central Standard Time (CST)

South Australia Northern Territory

+ 9.5


Western Standard Time (WST)

Western Australia




Daylight Saving Times





Eastern Daylight/Summer Time (EDT)

New South Wales Australian Capital Territory Victoria

+ 11


Central Daylight/Summer Time (CDT)

South Australia

+ 10.5


Western Daylight/Summer Time (WDT)

Western Australia

+ 9.0


No Daylight Saving Times – use Standard Times

Queensland Northern Territory

+ 10 + 9.5

7:00pm 6:30pm

Refer to the Bureau of Meteorology for the start and finish dates of daylight saving times.