The Australian education system

It's robust, integrated and renowned

Australia has an integrated education system supported by the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) - a national policy for regulated qualifications across schools, vocational education and training and higher education.

The Australian education system at a glance

PreschoolPrimary SchoolSecondary SchoolVocational Education and TrainingHigher EducationAQF Level
    Doctoral DegreeLevel 10
    Masters DegreeLevel 9
    Bachelor Honours DegreeLevel 8
Vocational Graduate DiplomaGraduate Diploma
Vocational Graduate CertificateGraduate Certificate
    Bachelor DegreeLevel 7
    Associate DegreeLevel 6
Advanced Diploma
   DiplomaLevel 5
   Certificate IV Level 4
   Certificate III Level 3
  Certificate II Level 2
  Certificate I Level 1
  Senior Secondary Certificate of Education  

In 2016:

A pie chart showing that of 9400 schools, 6600 are government schools, 1700 are Catholic and 1000 are independent
A pie chart showing that of 9400 schools, 6200 are primary schools, 1400 are secondary, 1300 are combined and 460 are specialised
Registered training organisations
English language colleges

Schools in Australia

Formal schooling starts with a foundation year, followed by 12 years of primary and secondary school, until at least the age of 16. In the senior secondary years, students can study for their Senior Secondary Certificate of Education, which is required for entry to most Australian universities and vocational education and training institutions. It is also recognised as an entry requirement for many international universities.

Each Australian state and territory has a different approach to preschool (also known as kindergarten) with some operating independently and some within primary schools.

States and territories are responsible for the delivery of school education in Australia with schools operated by government and non-government education authorities, including faith based and independent schools. All schools are registered with the state or territory education regulators and are subject to government requirements in terms of infrastructure and teacher registration.

Relevant industry groups include the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, Education Services Australia and the Australian Council for Computers in Education.

There is a national standard that sets out what Australian students are taught. It means that all Australian students have access to the same content, and their achievements can be judged against consistent national standards.

The current curriculum gives attention to seven general capabilities that are vital for life and work in the 21st century:

  • Literacy capability
  • Numeracy capability
  • Information and communication technology capability
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Personal and social capability
  • Ethical understanding
  • Intercultural understanding

This sits under the main Australian Curriculum and has two distinct but related subjects:

  • Digital Technologies, in which students use computational thinking and information systems to define, design and implement digital solutions
  • Design and Technologies, in which students use design thinking and technologies to generate and produce designed solutions for authentic needs and opportunities

The National Innovation and Science Agenda’s Inspiring all Australians in digital literacy and STEM measure24 will see a variety of initiatives introduced to increase the participation of students and the wider community in STEM and to improve their digital literacy. They include:

  • initiatives to inspire curiosity and develop science and maths knowledge in early childhood
  • online computing challenges for Year 5 and 7 students nationally
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT) summer schools for Year 9 and 10
  • support for school leaders to drive digital literacy and partnerships between ICT leaders and schools

Total funding for this initiative is A$112.2 million over four years from 2016.24

The Australian Governments, both national and state, support the appropriate use of technology in Australian schools to prepare students to learn, train and live in a digital world.

Australian schools are rich in ICT resources and infrastructure, however many are adopting a Bring Your Own Device policy, which allows students to bring their own digital devices to school for the purposes of learning. This concept recognises that students and their parents and caregivers would like to use the same digital devices at school and at home.

Australian schools have one computer for every student compared to the OECD average of one computer for every five students. And the average 15-year-old Australian student spends more of their school day – around an hour – on the internet than their counterparts around the world.25

Australian schools: the 2016 figures

enrolled students (65% Government, 20% Catholic, 15% Independent)
full-time equivalent in-school staff
children enrolled in preschool programs

An exciting Victorian state initiative

The Victorian Government’s $128 million Tech Schools Initiative will see construction of ten Tech Schools across the state by 2018. The schools will use leading-edge technology, discovery and innovation to deliver the advanced education and training that students need to flourish in the rapidly changing global economy. There will be a strong emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills. Victoria also has six Science and Mathematics Specialist Centres to engage students and teachers in contemporary, experiential science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM curriculum.

Benefit from Australia’s unique National Schools Interoperability Program (NSIP)

NSIP aims to advance the development of digital learning services and infrastructure for schools across Australia. To achieve this NSIP is promoting technical standards and supporting projects that solve problems associated with data exchange between systems and organisations.

This includes support for the Systems Interoperability Framework, which has been endorsed as the preferred method for exchanging data in the Australian school sector. It also includes the development of the Learning Services Architecture, which is an agreed national approach for integrating information systems that exchange data about learners in schools.

NSIP has also developed National Data Exchange Information Contracts in conjunction with school authorities and solution providers to support solutions that perform core school processes such as: enrolment, attendance, timetabling, assessment, finance and well being.

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Australian English language training

Australia is a well-respected supplier of English language training services and is the only country in the world with an English language training accreditation and quality assurance framework. English Australia is the national peak body for the English language sector, representing over 120 colleges. Over 80 per cent of international students learning English in Australia choose to study with an English Australia member college. In 2016, there were over 150,000 enrolments in English language courses in Australia.

Australian vocational education and training

Australia’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector is based on a partnership between governments and industry. Industry and employer groups contribute to training policies and priorities, and to developing qualifications that deliver skills to the workforce.

VET qualifications are provided by registered training organisations (RTOs) which include government institutions called Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutions, as well as private institutions.

There are approximately 5,000 RTOs in Australia. Across metropolitan and regional areas, Australia has 58 government owned TAFE institutes and university TAFE divisions, and the Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC).

VET industry bodies include TAFE Directors Australia and the Australian Council for Private Education and Training.

Number of VET students by location26

Infographic showing the total number of VET students by location across Australia is 4542600, with Other stated as 10700. QLD 1095600; NSW 1338200, ACT 83700, VIC 1117600, TAS 75300, SA 245200, WA 484500 and NT 57600

Australian higher education

Australia’s higher education system is made up of universities and higher education providers that play a critical role in fuelling innovation, driving productivity and giving students the skills they need for future success.

There are 125 registered higher education providers in Australia. There are also 43 universities; 40 of which are Australian, two international, and one private specialty university. Australian universities have more than one million enrolled students and employ over 100,000 staff.

Higher education peak bodies include Universities Australia, the Group of Eight, the Australian Technology Network of Universities, Innovative Research Universities, the Regional Universities Network, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training and the Council of Private Higher Education.

Australian university rankings

Infographic showing that 7 Australian universities are ranked in the top 100 globally

37 Australian universities have been included among the world’s best in the latest QS World University Rankings. Seven Australian universities are in the global top 100, with a further 10 making the top 300.

Five Australian institutions claimed top 25 places in the Times Higher Education ranking of the most international universities - a new measure that takes account of the proportion of international staff and students and the strength of international reputations and cross-border research collaborations.

Sixteen of Australia’s universities appear in the ranking of the world’s top 100 universities less than 50-years-old, and half of these are in the top 50. This is a higher number of young universities than any other nation in the world.27

The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) is an alternative ranking system that compares higher education institutions and study areas, based on the results of thousands of surveys completed by domestic and international, current and former students.

Australia’s research excellence

Research is a defining characteristic of Australia’s universities. Indeed, to be recognised as a university, our institutions must demonstrate quality-benchmarked research proficiency in at least three disciplines. This structural prerequisite balances the spread of knowledge with the creation of knowledge.

  • Australia accounts for nearly 3 per cent of the world’s research output, with less than half a per cent of the world’s population
  • The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world, is in the top 1 per cent of world scientific institutions in 14 of 22 research fields
  • Across 22 scientific research fields, over 80 per cent of Australia’s major scientific research publications have a relative impact of at least 20 per cent above the global average28
  • Australia has educated 15 Nobel laureates over the last century, in the fields of medicine, science and literature
  • The Australian Synchrotron is the largest stand-alone piece of scientific infrastructure in the southern hemisphere
  • The €1.5 billion Square Kilometre Array telescope has been jointly awarded to Australia, New Zealand and southern Africa
  • Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of patent applications for innovations in renewable energy and biotechnology
  • Australian scientists and researchers have been responsible for, or contributed to, major breakthroughs and technological advances around the world, including:
    • Wi-fi
    • Google Maps
    • Black box flight recorder
    • Bionic ear
    • Spray-on-skin
    • Penicillin as a medical antibiotic
    • CETO wave energy
    • Permaculture
    • Cervical cancer vaccine

Procurement in Australian Universities

The Australian Universities Procurement Network (AUPN) works to improve strategic procurement practices in Australian universities through a collaborative approach focusing on: sharing expertise and business intelligence; promoting the benefits of aggregated purchasing; greater efficiency in processes; professional procurement education opportunities; and encouraging the development of regional and national aggregated procurement contracts. Australian universities ultimately make their own procurement decisions or may choose to outsource the selection and implementation of high-value procurements to professional service firms.

People aged 15 to 64 are enrolled in formal study in Australia