Australia sits at a cultural crossroads, with historical links to the West and economic ties to the East. This may, in part, explain the country’s appeal to international students.
“You’re getting the best of both worlds,” says Vik Naidoo, head of international student recruitment at the University of Sydney.
There were more than 269,700 international higher education students in Australia in 2014, according to the Institute of International Education’s Project Atlas. That means roughly one out of every five students at the country’s universities was international.
While Australian universities have similarities to those in other English-speaking nations, such as theU.K., there are differences too. Here are three facts prospective students should know about the international undergraduate experience in Australia.
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1. There are laws on the books to protect international students. Australian legislation requires universities to provide international students with orientation programs, access to support services and contact information for university officials who can assist them, among other things.
“We don’t just recruit them and say, ‘Now off you go, you’re by yourself,'” says Naidoo. “We, by legislative arrangement, we have a duty of care to those students.”
Nina Khairina, a third-year international student at Monash University in Victoria who hails from Indonesia, said by email that she has faced challenges such as loneliness and having to adjust to a new style of teaching.
Khairina, who is national president of the Council of International Students Australia, an advocacy organization for foreign students, said the most helpful source of support has been the Monash University International Students Service, run by student volunteers “who work passionately to improve the experience of other international students.” She added that a student rights officer and counselors are available on campus as well.
Universities are also legally required to post on their websites lists of education agents appointed to represent the institutions abroad. Applicants who do not use agents can submit their materials directly to Australian universities online; there isn’t a common application system for international students.
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2. Students can earn a degree in three years, but might want to study longer. Most bachelor’s programs in Australia are three years long. However, high-achieving students at Aussie universities can go on to earn a bachelor honors degree – a more advanced credential – by studying for an additional year.
Honors programs are selective. At the University of Sydney, for example, less than 5 percent of all undergraduates are enrolled in the honors program, according to Naidoo. The higher-level program “is teaching you a lot of research skills,” says Naidoo, “which you don’t necessarily get in the traditional undergraduate degree.”
Earning an honors degree is the typical pathway to a doctoral degree program, according to the Australian government’s Department of Education and Training.
Keit Loi, a native of Malaysia who recently earned an honors Bachelor of Biomedicine at the University of Melbourne, says the “intense” honors year is a good trial run for students who think they might want to conduct research at a higher academic level.
“If you still survive it and you still enjoy research after that,” he says, “you know you’re capable of doing a Ph.D.” Loi has applied to a Ph.D. program at the University of Melbourne.
Some universities also offer four-year – or longer – programs with a built-in research component as another path to a bachelor honors degree.