Fancy studying for a diploma in “Surf Studies” on the Gold Coast? An undergraduate degree in marine biology on the Great Barrier Reef? Or maybe just a straight and geekish MBA? With 39 universities, a plethora of private and government institutions for vocational training, a booming English Language industry and worldwide recognition of qualifications, there are far worse places to study than Australia. And you can do your homework at the beach, just like in Home And Away. But the real benefits of studying here are the comparatively cheap fees and cost of living, plus the great year-round climate which enables that famous outdoor Aussie lifestyle.

Learn, work and travel

Attending study and social groups, cheap beer at the uni bar and nights of raucous partying against a backdrop of sun and surf is an alluring blend. So alluring to British-born student Naomi Cook, that she chose to complete her Masters in nursing at Sydney University. 

”After completing my undergraduate degree in philosophy in England I went to travel and live in Egypt where I met my partner. We both wanted to study further and when we did a comparison with other countries, Australia was the cheapest while the quality of education was still very good,” says Naomi, who is confident that qualifications from Sydney University are as well respected as any university in the US or the UK.

Naomi’s study programme is a two-year course and her annual fees are around $AU20,000. By comparison, Australian students enrolled in the same course, pay an annual fee of around $4,000 – it hurts, but it’s cheaper than many other countries, she says. Swedish student Anna Bakke had already travelled around Australia and her ambition was not necessarily to study, but to have the opportunity to live and work in Sydney. “I wanted to do that without using up my Working Holiday Visa,” says Anna. ”Originally I enrolled for just one semester’s study to give me time to experience Sydney, but I ended up extending that to three semesters, enabling me to complete a masters course in journalism,” says Anna, who is studying at the University of Technology in Sydney.

Naomi and Anna both hold student visas – which are valid for the duration of their study. Other conditions typical of the student visa allow candidates to exit and enter Australia as often as they like (NZ and the Pacific islands are temptingly close by), and the ability to work to support themselves while here (student visa holders can work a maximum of 20 hours per week during term time, more during holiday periods).

Stuff you should know

Australia has reputable institutions offering quality courses which are monitored by a range of government and industry organisations. But before you commit, do your research to ensure you are happy with the course content and reputation of the institution. Generally speaking though, the quality of Australian courses is comparable to some of the best in the world.

What can I study?

Community colleges (TAFES) and universities offer a baffling range of subjects including everything from juggling to journalism (geh – you mean you’re meant to study for this lark?). As well as trades and all the classic disciplines such as arts and humanities, sciences, business and economics, medicine, law, education and engineering there are other streams for which Australia is particularly well known, including Asian Studies, environmental sciences, viticulture, marine biology and the ever-popular MBA. In addition, look out for the odd ball stuff, like the Diploma in Surf Studies and the Degree in Circus Arts.

Course costs

Although much higher than fees paid by Australian students, international study fees are inexpensive compared to countries like the UK and the US (the cost of living is also lower).

According to a 2002 study*, the average cost of living per year for a student is AU$9,237 compared to the US (AU$13,133) and Britain (AU$13,038). This figure includes accommodation, food, transport, clothing, fuel, power, telephone and entertainment. The average weekly cost of living is AU$178.

Information from research by IDP Education Australia and Australian Education International, 2002: Cost of study for international students, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Student visa

Student visas are valid for any course accredited by the government to accept internationalstudents (CRICOS courses) so check your course has this accreditation before applying. A student visa allows you to work part-time (up to 20 hours per week during term time, and unlimited hours in holiday periods) and is valid for the duration of your studies. Before you apply for your student visa you will need confirmation of your enrolment from an Australian institution. For most applicants, there is also the requirement for a medical examination for those who intend to study for periods of more than three months.

Before you apply for a student visa there’s some basic things you’ll need to get organised. You’ll need to prove that you’ve got sufficient funds to support yourself and pay for your studies, and that you’re prepared to comply with the conditions of your visa. If your first language is not English, you’ll also need to show that you’ve got the appropriate level of English to do the course.

Do I need a student visa?

If you’re only intending on doing a short course, you may not need to apply for a student visa, as you’re permitted to study for a maximum of four months on a Working Holiday Visa.


Student visa holders must purchase an approved OSHC policy (overseas student health cover) from a registered health benefits organisation (health fund). You will need to buy OSHC before you come to Australia, to cover you from when you arrive and must maintain OSHC throughout your stay in Australia (Norweigan and Swedish students may be waived the compulsory OSHC visa requirements). If in doubt, check with immigration.

OSCH starts from $74 for three months cover ($274 for one year). You will be covered for most medical expenses in public hospitals, clinics and specialists. Dental and optometry costs are not included.

Other things to consider

When it comes to applying for a visa through the notoriously strict DIMIA (Department of Immigration and Indigenous Affairs) not all nationalities are created equal. Be aware that countries are divided into different assessment levels according to the risk of nationals overstaying their visa (Level One being lowest and Level Five highest). If you are considering applying for a student visa, make sure you check out what category your country is, as it will affect your application. For instance, if your country is a Level One you can apply for a student visa in Australia, whereas countries ranked Level Two or above have to apply from outside Australia (categories may also change depending on what kind of study you’re applying for). Note, you can only start work after you’ve got your student visa.

”Australia is a popular choice for international students and that means that at times you need to be patient,” adds Anna. “I received lower marks for group projects where I worked withstudents who could not speak English very well. Otherwise, the mixed ethnicity in the classroom is just another positive part of education in Australia.”

For more information about studying and living in Australia you should visit, or visit Department for Immigration and Multicultural Indigenous Affairs.

October 3rd, 2007