How does the educational system in Australia work?

Levels of Education in Australia

Types of Accommodations

While many international students choose to pursue tertiary studies in Australia, knowing the entire education journey can be quite useful. This way, you'll be prepared if you ever intend to bring your child to Australia, while you study or work.

Usually, one's education in Australia follows these levels or stages:

-Pre-SchoolFrom 4 to 5 years old (1 year)
Years 1 - 7Primary SchoolFrom 6 to 12 years old (7 years total)
Years 8 - 11Secondary SchoolFrom 13 to 16 years old (4 year)
Years 12 - 13Senior Secondary SchoolFrom 17 to 18 years old (2 year)
-Tertiary Education19 years old and beyond

Pre-school is not mandatory, but it’s a great way to get kids ready for primary school. It is offered for free or subsidised in some states/territories.

Primary school covers the early years, from Kindergarten to Grade 6. After that comes Secondary School, from Grades 7 to 10.

After one completes these mandatory years of schooling, they can drop out of school to hop into the job market, or enrol in further vocational education and training (VET), or even seek an apprenticeship.

However, they can continue their studies in Senior Secondary School (Grades 11 and 12), and upon completion, they will earn the Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. This path usually leads to pursuing higher education at a university.

Tertiary education covers two main categories: higher education and VET.

In higher education, you have options like bachelor's degree, graduate certificates and diplomas, master's degrees, and doctorate qualifications.

On the other hand, VET offers practical courses tailored to industries, where you can pursue certificates leading to a diploma of your choosing.

We’ll tackle each stage or category in further detail later in the next sections.

Grading System

The grading system in Australia can differ based on which state/territory you’re studying in, as well as the specific school or college you attend.

For higher education studies, they commonly use the grading system shown below

Au GradeGrade Scale Percent (%)GPA ScaleUK EquivalentUS Equivalent
HD (High Distinction)85 - 1007First ClassA+
D (Distinction)75 - 846 - 6.99Second Class - Upper DivisionA
C (Credit)65 - 745 - 5.99Second Class - Lower DivisionB
P (Pass)50 - 644 - 4.99Third ClassC
N (Fail)0 - 490 - 3.99FailF

For VET, instead of traditional letter grades, students are either marked as either competent (pass) or not yet competent (fail), based on whether they’ve met the required standards for their skills or occupation.

Some institutions might have their own grading system, which could be similar to university grading.

In primary, secondary, and senior secondary school, the following grading system is commonly used:

GradePercentage (%)
A (Excellent)85 - 100
B (Good)75 - 84
C (Satisfactory)51 - 69
D (Limited)31 - 50
E (Very low)26 - 30
F (Fail)0 - 25

Remember to reach out to the school or institution directly to get accurate information about their grading system.

Language of Instruction

The medium of instruction in Australia is English. However, if you’re looking for bilingual programs or courses in other languages, there are several schools that offer those options.

Australia Education System Structure


Pre-school serves as a child’s first formal education in Australia, which spans a year. As mentioned earlier, it is not compulsory, but it’s a great way to expose children to the real world through activities like playing, making friends, and other experiences that foster creativity and self-discovery.

ACECQA is the statutory authority that regulates early childhood education and care centers, as well as outside school hours care services. Check the list of accredited providers through their National Register.

Primary School in Australia

Primary school spans the first seven years of compulsory education in Australia, starting at Foundation Year or Kindergarten (Year 1) to Grade 6 (Year 7). During this time, students are taught basic skills like reading, math, social skills, and basic knowledge about the world.

At this stage, they explore subjects like English, Mathematics, Science, The Arts, Physical Education, and many more.

Secondary School (Highschool in Australia)

Students move on to secondary school for the next four academic years, which covers Grades 7 to 10.

Naturally, things get a bit more complex — they’ll learn chemistry and biology instead of “Science”, Geography and Economics instead of “Social Sciences”, and so on.

After finishing Year 10, a student can explore a different path. They can either continue with Senior School or dive into the workforce.

For those keen on improving specific skills for certain jobs or industries, they can pursue VET courses or become an apprentice instead.

Secondary Senior School

After completing secondary school, students have the option to go for two additional years known as Secondary Senior School, which opens up broader opportunities for higher education or employment paths.

When they finish their exams in year 12, they earn the Senior Secondary Certificate of Education.

To help you choose the right school for your needs, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has a handy directory of registered schools

Tertiary Education

Students often come to Australia to pursue further tertiary education. Here, you can find both higher education options like universities, and VET programs.

Higher Education

Higher education studies allow you to gain a deeper understanding of underlying theories and concepts that serve as the backbone of various industries. This opens doors to innovation and allows you to bring fresh ideas and approaches to your field.

Below are the pathways you can take, including the number of years to finish each qualification and the prerequisites needed.

Associate Degree
Time to completePrerequisites
2 yearsMust complete Grade 12, or Certificate III or Certificate IV

If you’re pressed for time or already busy with work, you may want to consider going for the Associate Degree.

It helps you upskill for more challenging work roles with wider or more complicated scopes and prepares you for a Bachelor degree down the line (no need to start from scratch).

Furthermore, since the Associate Degree leans more toward theoretical knowledge, you can apply that valuable knowledge to pursue an Advanced Diploma.

Bachelor Degree
Time to completePrerequisites
3 - 5 yearsMust complete Grade 12, or Cetificate III or Certificate IV

With a Bachelor Degree qualification, you can expect a higher level of education and training, which opens up a wide range of white-collared job opportunities down the road. A Bachelor Degree is also the starting point for pursuing a Masters or Doctoral degree if you're thinking about going further in your studies.

If you excel and get those good grades in your Bachelor Degree, you’ll be eligible for an extra year of study to refine your education and earn a Bachelor (Honors) Degree, adding a more impressive achievement to your resume.

Graduate Certificate
Time to completePrerequisites
6 monthsComplete a Bachelor Degree

After completing your Bachelor’s Degree program, you can take an additional study to expand the skills developed during your undergraduate program or gain expertise in a whole new field.

Graduate Diploma
Time to completePrerequisites
1 yearComplete a Bachelor Degree, relevant work experience (in some cases)

After completing your Bachelor’s Degree program, you can take an additional study to expand the skills developed during your undergraduate program or gain expertise in a Graduate Diploma is a higher-level postgraduate qualification, where you can build on the knowledge learned during your Graduate Certificate and advance your skills further in preparation for highly-skilled, specialized work, or further postgraduate studies.

Masters Degree
Time to completePrerequisites
1 - 2 years or moreComplete a Bachelor Degree or a Bachelor (Honors) Degree

The Masters Degree qualification consists of two types.

Masters Degree (Coursework) typically takes two years after completing your Bachelor Degree. But if you finished your Bachelor with honors, you might be able to get your Masters in a year. This qualification is more focused on practical application.

Then, there’s the Masters Degree (Research), which takes two years or more to complete after your Bachelor Degree. As the name suggests, it involves intensive research and putting together a thesis.

You can choose to go for one of these options or a combination of both. Ultimately, this helps you become a leader in your field of expertise.

Doctoral Degree (PhD)
Time to completePrerequisites
3 - 4 yearsComplete a Masters Degree

The Doctoral Degree is recognized as the pinnacle of academic achievement. Here, you’re given the opportunity to conduct original research and contribute groundbreaking discoveries in your field.

This establishes you as an expert in your field, which sets you up for top-notch positions in research institutions, academia, consulting, and other professional settings.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) is the government agency that monitors and regulates higher education providers. They make sure that the education you receive meets all the standards for quality.

Here’s a list of Australian universities you can choose from.

Vocational Education and Training (VET)

While universities and higher education studies lean more toward academic knowledge and research, Vocational Education and Training (VET) adopts a more practical, skills-focused approach.

Thus, it allows you to gain current industry skills that you can apply right away in the workplace.

Apart from classroom discussions, you can expect to be immersed in an actual workplace environment, which allows you to demonstrate your skills and face real-world challenges in your industry.

VET programs take a shorter time to complete, typically less than two years, and are more cost-effective compared to attending college or university. Plus, they offer the option to pursue further studies in the future.

It spans four levels of certificates, From Certificate I, II, III, and IV.

You can use Study Australia’s Course Finder to find VET courses of your liking.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is the national VET regulator, ensuring that VET programs and providers constantly provide quality training for students.

These VET providers include the government-run Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutions, and privately-owned Registered Training OIrganizations (RTOs).

Australian Qualification Framework (AQF)

Australia’s higher education and VET sectors, as well as the Senior Secondary School we discussed earlier, all form part of a nationally recognized policy called the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF).

Here are the 10 AQF levels:

The AQF has 10 levels in total. It helps you keep track of your education journey and smoothly move from one level of study to the next. Plus, it gives you the flexibility to plan your career path the way you envision it. AQF levels:

AQF LevelQualification
Level 1Certificate I
Level 2Certificate II
Level 3Certificate III
Level 4Certificate IV
Level 5Diploma
Level 6Advanced Diploma, Associate Degree
Level 7Bachelor Degree
Level 8Bachelor (Honors) Degree, Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma
Level 9Masters Degree
Level 10Doctoral Degree

Keep in mind that some qualifications are offered in more than one sector. According to the AQF, VET covers Levels 1 to 8, while higher education goes from Levels 5 to 10.

See, there’s some overlap there, which means there are many options for you.

Australia`s Academic Year

In Australia, the academic year is not fixed. It can vary depending on the level of study and the specific institution you attend. However, there are some typical patterns that most institutions follow, and it usually goes like this:

Kindergarten to Grade 12From early late January / early February to December
Vocational Education and Training (VET)from February to July (1st semester), July to December (2nd semester)
UndergraduateMarch to June (1st semester), August to November (2nd semester). Some institutions offer a summer semester from November to February.
Post-graduateMarch to June (1st semester), August to November (2nd semester). Some institutions offer a summer semester from November to February.
DoctoralNo formal semesters as terms are negotiated with supervisors.

To make sure, it’s a good idea to reach out to the institution for the specific academic year of the course you’re interested in.

Alternative Education in Australia

Every student is unique, and some may have specific learning requirements or special needs. In certain cases, mainstream schooling could present certain risks to a child, and some simply might be living too far away to attend classes physically.

The good news is that there are approved learning alternatives available to cater to these individual needs.

In a homeschooling arrangement, a child is taught by their parents or a qualified tutor, usually within the comfort of their own home, but it can also take place in outdoor community spaces.

The child’s parents — not a third-party organization — take full responsibility for their child’s learning and education. Apart from that, they are also in charge of legally applying for homeschooling.

This involves filling out a registration form, creating a customized learning plan for the child that aligns with the national curriculum and meets their individual needs, and completing other tasks required by the designated department or authority.

Remote or distance education involves completing all the necessary academic work required by the school or institution using digital technologies. Think about live video lectures, emails, and online assessments, among other things.

Basically, it's like everything you do in a classroom, but without actually being inside a classroom.

Many often refer to this alternative as “online” learning or education. It’s a popular alternative among students living in remote areas or those with specific needs that can’t be addressed by physically attending school.

For younger students, parents take on the responsibility of supervising their children, following up on their progress, and ensuring they submit their work.

A blended learning setup is simply a mix of distance education and face-to-face learning.

This way, a student can have in-person interactions with peers and colleagues, as well as with their teachers or professors, and have access to learning materials and assignments provided online when they are outside the classroom.

Australian School System Vs Other Countries

It’s not our own opinion – it’s straight facts! Australia is indeed one of the best places in the world to pursue your education and the numbers are there to show it. With that said, how does it fair compared to other countries?

  • According to a reliable 2022 research, Australia ranks as the 2nd most popular destination for international students, just behind Canada, and surpassing countries like the UK and the US.

    Safety and a balanced study-life environment are some of the primary factors that make Australia an attractive choice for students worldwide.

  • Australia is recognized as having one of the top 10 education systems in the world, along with countries like Germany and the UK.

    According to Wisevoter, it holds the 7th position, while US News places it at 9th.

  • Australia’s higher education system ranked 9th overall in Universitas 2020 U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems, ranking above countries like Germany, Japan, and many others.

  • In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023, seven Australian universities have proudly secured positions within the top 100 universities globally, including:

    • University of Melbourne (34th)
    • Monash University (44th)
    • The University of Queensland (53rd)
    • The University of Sydney (54th)
    • Australian National University (62nd)
    • UNSW Sydney (71st)
    • University of Adelaide (88th)

Education in Australia FAQ’s

Yes, Australia has an excellent education system. In fact, it is world-renowned for providing students with a high-quality education in an environment that celebrates diversity.

Australia shines in several reputable education rankings, securing top ranks alongside countries like Canada, the US, and the UK.

Furthermore, several Australian universities rank within the top 100 in the Times Higher Education rankings, offering you plenty of options to choose from.

Beyond the superb quality of education, Australia offers a high quality of life with vibrant urban living and scenic landscapes. With over 600,000 international students, it's a melting pot of cultures and experiences,

Safety and study-life balance are also key reasons why it's a favorite among international students

Apart from that, international students have numerous opportunities for part-time work to earn some extra income and enhance their skillset which adds further to their resume.

With over 22,000 courses to choose from, you’ll surely find the one that best suits your interests and talents. Some of the most popular courses (and the most in-demand) in Australia include those in the field of:

  • Science and technology
  • Information technology
  • Business
  • Tourism and hospitality management
  • Social work and education
  • Medical and health sciences

Absolutely! The Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) is recognized by employers, businesses, and other institutions worldwide for its robust education and training standards.

And to strengthen this recognition, Australia has officially endorsed the Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education. This means international students like you can confidently pursue work or further studies in other countries.

Yes, there are scholarships or funding available to help international students with their expenses, including tuition and accommodation costs.

Some are government-initiated, such as the Australia Awards, Destination Australia, and Australian Government Research Training Program.

Many educational institutions also provide their own scholarships, so it's definitely worth checking with the specific university or college you're interested in. They might have exclusive scholarships tailored to your field of study or other criteria.

Yes, you will most likely need a visa to study in Australia. There are student visas available and other visa pathways for your specific circumstances, and we’ll be glad to assist you throughout the visa application process.

Ready to study in Australia? Connect with KBA Global Education Consultants today!

Sometimes, when things become stressful and confusing, all you need is a reliable companion you can count on.

That’s why we’re here – at KBA Global, you’ll never walk alone on your education journey, just like we've been supporting international students for over 10 years.

Right from the start, we’ll help you discover the “perfect” program or course that suits your needs and natural talents – and of course, one that aligns with the current job market demands, so you have more post-study career opportunities for you.

Also, besides looking into scholarships and funding to ease your finances, we’ll walk you through a realistic breakdown of your cost of living expenses. This way, you can better prepare financially and avoid unnecessary stress.

You’re one click away! Speak directly with our education consultants and gain valuable insights for your exciting journey.