Higher Education in Australia

Arcadia believes it is critical to be prepared for immersion in the Australian educational system by understanding some of its important characteristics. A good summation of the Australian Higher Education system can be found at Group of Eight Australia.

Important Items to Note:

  • The Australian academic year reflects the order of the seasons in the southern hemisphere. The year begins in early autumn (February) and runs until the beginning of summer (in early December). There are two semesters: February to June, and July through November. Each semester usually includes a week or ten days' break at about its mid-point. For our purposes:
    • The "Spring" semester (which the Australians call Semester 1 or Autumn) is February to June,
    • The "Fall" semester (which the Australians call Semester 2 or Spring) is July through November.
    • Bond University, a private institution which operates three full semesters during the year, follows the North American university calendar, with semesters beginning in January, May and September.
  • Most Australian universities offer three-year degree programs for arts, science and economics majors.
  • Engineering students can expect to spend four years at university, while future veterinarians and dentists complete five years of coursework.
  • Medical degrees are five to six years in length.
  • Grades tend to be based upon essays and final examinations rather than on the "continuous assessment" model which characterizes the American university system.
  • Graduate education in Australia consists of taught or research-based master's degrees of between one and two years' duration, and PhD programs, which are thesis-based.

An American in Australia

In Australia, American students can expect to experience a culture that, although English-speaking, is vastly different from the one to which we are. Australian universities offer you a truly international community with a range of subject areas to study. Students from throughout Asia and the Middle East are recruited to degree programs at many Australian institutions. International (non-Australian) students comprise a significant percentage of undergraduate enrollments in this country.

Course Levels

Arcadia program students frequently find themselves enrolled in second year courses. This does not mean that an American junior is being demoted to sophomore level; it means, rather, that the course which is appropriate for you is the one which is taught the year before graduation. In a three-year degree program, this means a second-year course. In the past, Arcadia program students have been successful in some third year courses, and many have been permitted to enroll in first year courses in which they've had no previous background.

Approaches Toward Students

Probably the key difference between higher education in Australia and in the United States comes in the approach which the host institution will give to you as a student.

They will assume that you are a serious learner. You should understand from the outset that nobody at the host institution feels an obligation to teach you. You should expect to find instructors who are glad to lecture, happy to discuss, pleased to read and to criticize what you have written, and who are interested in responding to what you have to say.

You will find those same instructors equally willing to leave you alone, to let you attend class or not, to permit you to choose to turn in assignments or not, to allow you to set your own pace.

It would be highly unusual for Australian instructors to go out of their way to ensure that you are doing your work. Chances are that you will not be closely monitored, you will not have your hand held, and you will not be told (without asking) how or when to do all the work that you should be doing.


You will, however, be expected to turn in assigned papers and to register for and perform successfully on examinations. To do so, you will need to have done a fair amount of reading on, thinking about and perhaps even discussing of the topics covered in the course. You will find academic work presented in a variety of ways:

  • Large lectures (similar to those in the U.S. with approximately 100 + students);
  • Seminars (instructor and up to 50 students gather to discuss readings or papers - more participation required compared to a lecture);
  • And tutorials (these generally accompany a lecture for a focused discussion and student participation, and can range in size of up to 30 students).

Most courses rely heavily on your doing a good deal of reading during your non-scheduled time. The list of readings which is distributed by the instructor on (or near) the first day of class can be quite intimidating. Frequently, as many as 50 or 100 books and articles will appear on the reading list. The lecturer will expect you to "look into" several of these works, and will likely not tell you which ones. As the learner, you will decide which materials to read. You will be encouraged to find themes among them that are of interest to you. You may then be asked to write a paper setting forth your analysis of one or more of these themes. When this happens, be sure to find out what's meant by the term "paper" and ascertain the instructor's expectations concerning length, citation of sources, etc.


At the end of each of your courses, you will be expected to "sit" an examination. In some courses, this examination may be the only evaluation of your work. Generally, there will be fewer assessed papers and tests in Australian classes than you are used to.  American students find it particularly challenging to be expected to summarize the work of an entire semester or year in a single three-hour examination period. Nearly every university provides special tutorial sessions on exam-taking for their own students, which you are encouraged to attend.


Clearly, your academic life will be different overseas. You wouldn't want it to be exactly like home, would you? It's a challenge. It can even be fun. It's an opportunity to show what you can do pretty much on your own. You have already demonstrated an ability to handle the academic work - if you couldn't, you wouldn't have been accepted. Now what you will need to discover is how to continue being a successful student in quite different surroundings.

As a general rule, you will be expected to take charge of your education in Australia. You must be certain you know how you are being assessed in each of your classes, since the patterns vary quite widely, even within the same university. You will be required to take any examination and/or special assessment for which you qualify during the period you are in attendance at the university.

Arcadia University's Role

The role of Arcadia University The College of Global Studies will be to help and support you throughout the academic process.

  • At the beginning of your overseas experience, our staff will help to orient and advise you.
  • We will put you in touch with individuals on the host campus who will help you to register in the classes you elect to take. We will provide you with guidance concerning the academic calendar and credits, requiring that you register for a full academic load, and that you do not overload or under-load without special permission. (Such permission must come not only from the host institution, but also from your home institution and from the Arcadia University College of Global Studies.)
  • We will facilitate communication between you and your home school in an attempt to resolve any course or credit conflicts that may arise during the registration process.
  • Members of our staff will visit you on campus from time to time not only to check on your academic enrollment, but to ask how you're doing in general. If there are difficulties, we encourage you to reach out to us, bring them to our attention, and let us help you resolve them.
  • We acknowledge responsibility to several parties in the study abroad process.
    • We have a responsibility to you, our student, to be certain that you are given the educational opportunity which you expect to find overseas and to provide you with the opportunity to succeed academically. We have an obligation to your family to do everything within reason to assure your safety and well-being. We have an obligation to your home school to receive your credits and grades from the host institution and to "translate" and report them honestly.
    • We must also notify your home school of situations of which we become aware which may affect the credit that you will be likely to transfer back from a study abroad experience. That way, we try to avoid having anyone surprise anyone else at the end of a program.
    • Finally, we have an obligation to get out of your way and give you an opportunity to gain everything possible from your study abroad experience.
  • At orientation, you will be required to sign a Arcadia University academic contract.
  • This contract states your responsibilities as an Arcadia program student. If you have any questions about it, please discuss them with your program manager before leaving this country.
  • Arcadia University and its overseas staff serve as a safety net, a point of contact.
  • We will provide a good deal of advice and guidance. We are there for you to call on when you need us. It is you, however, you who's undergoing this study abroad experience. We hope it will be all you expect.