Higher education in Australia refers to university and non-university higher education institutions which award degree or sub-degree qualifications. The three main phases 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. All higher education providers must be registered by the national regulator and quality agency, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to operate in Australia and offer Australian higher education awards. In order to be registered by TEQSA, institutions must meet the Higher Education Threshold Standards, established in legislation. The provider must 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). Each level and qualification type in the AQF are described in terms of the knowledge, skills and application of knowledge and skills that are expected of graduates. This ensures a strong focus on learning outcomes.
Responsibilities for Higher Education
TEQSA is responsible for regulating Australian higher education. The TEQSA National Register of Higher Education Providers is the authoritative source of all higher education providers registered to operate in Australia.
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 funding to higher education providers to help subsidize students’ tuition costs;
- The Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) arrangements provide income contingent loans to eligible Australian citizens and permanent humanitarian visa holders to assist with the upfront costs of tuition;
- Commonwealth Scholarships; and
- A range of grants for specific purposes including quality, learning and teaching, research and research training programs.
The Department of Education 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) Universities and receive the vast majority of their public funding from the Australian Government, through the Higher Education Support Act 2003. Non-self-accrediting institutions must have their courses accredited by TEQSA, and the National Register lists the accredited courses the institution is registered to deliver.
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 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.
The Higher Education Threshold Standards set out that institutions must ensure that they maintain processes to provide for the recognition of prior learning, credit transfer and articulation of awards. These processes should be designed to maximise the credit students may gain for learning already undertaken, subject to preserving the integrity of learning outcomes and/or discipline requirements of the award to which it applies.
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.
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 providers 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.
For more information on Higher Education in Australia