Tertiary education in Australia

Tertiary education in Australia consists of both government and private institutions. A higher education provider is a body that is established or recognised by or under the law of the Australian Government, a state, or the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

There are 43 universities in Australia: 40 public universities, two international universities, and one private specialty university.

The flagship Australian universities are Go8 universities. Australian universities are modeled from the British system, so learning is comparatively challenging, but there are other intermediate options to take as preparatory steps and very research-oriented starts early from the similar American freshman year (there is no liberal arts requirement in the first year, so many of them only have three years to graduate), and generally sets international research-ready standards throughout the entire learning experience to evaluate students’ academic performances.

Allocation of responsibilities

Decision-making, regulation and governance for higher education are shared among the Australian Government, the state and territory governments and the institutions themselves. Some aspects of higher education are the responsibility of states and territories. In particular, most universities are established or recognised under state and territory legislation. States and territories are also responsible for accrediting non-self-accrediting higher education providers.


In 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. The Australian National University, the Australian Film, Television and Radio School and the Australian Maritime College are established under Commonwealth legislation. The Australian Catholic University is established under corporations law. It has establishment Acts in New South Wales and Victoria. Many private providers are also established under corporations law. As self-accrediting institutions, Australia’s universities have a reasonably high level of autonomy to operate

within the legislative requirements associated with their Australian Government funding.

Australian universities are represented through the national universities’ lobbying body Universities Australia (previously called Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee). Eight universities in the list have formed a group in recognition of their recognized status and history, known as the ‘Group of Eight‘ or ‘Go8’. Other university networks have been formed among those of less prominence (e.g., the Australian Technology Network and the Innovative Research Universities). Academic standing and achievements vary across these groups and student entry standards also vary with the Go8 universities having the highest standing in both categories.

Technical and further education and registered training organisation

The various state-administered institutes of technical and further education (TAFE) across the country are the major providers of vocational education and training (VET) in Australia. TAFE institutions generally offer short courses, Certificates I, II, III, and IV, diplomas, and advanced diplomas in a wide range of vocational topics. They also sometimes offer higher education courses, especially in Victoria.

In addition to TAFE institutes there are many registered training organisations (RTOs) which are privately operated. In Victoria alone there are approximately 1100. They include: commercial

training providers

  • The training department of manufacturing or service enterprises
  • The training function of employer or employee organizations in a particular industry
  • Group training companies
  • Community learning centers and neighborhood houses
  • Secondary colleges providing VET programs

In size these RTOs vary from single-person operations delivering training and assessment in a narrow specialization, to large organizations offering a wide range of programs. Many of them receive government funding to deliver programs to apprentices or trainees, to disadvantaged groups, or in fields which governments see as priority areas.

VET programs delivered by TAFE institutes and private RTOs are based on nationally registered qualifications, derived from either endorsed sets of competency standards known as training

packages, or from courses accredited by state/territory government authorities. These qualifications are regularly reviewed and updated. In specialised areas where no publicly owned qualifications exist, an RTO may develop its own course and have it accredited as a privately owned program, subject to the same rules as those that are publicly owned.

All trainers and assessors delivering VET programs are required to hold a qualification known as the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAA40104) or the more current TAE40110, or demonstrate equivalent competency. They are also required to have relevant vocational competencies, at least to the level being delivered or assessed. All TAFE institutes and private RTOs are required to maintain compliance with a set of national standards called the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF), and this compliance is monitored by regular internal and external


Classification of tertiary qualifications

In Australia, the classification of tertiary qualifications is governed in part by the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), which attempts to integrate into a single classification all levels of tertiary education (both vocational and higher education), from trade certificates to higher doctorates. However, as Australian universities largely regulate their own courses, the primary usage of AQF is for vocational education. In recent years there have been some informal moves towards standardization between higher education institutions.

International reputation

Australian universities consistently feature well in the top 150 international universities as ranked by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the QS World University Rankings, and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. From 2012 through 2016, eight Australian universities have featured in the top 150 universities of these three lists. The eight universities which are regularly ranked highly are Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, the University of Adelaide, Monash University, the University

of Western Australia, the University of New South Wales, and the University of Sydney. These universities comprise Australia’s Group of Eight, a coalition of research-intensive Australian universities.