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Australia is sometimes called “the land down under” because it lies in the Southern Hemisphere. The original people of Australia, the Aborigines, have no known connection to any other living race. Australia is a highly developed stable democracy with a federal-state system. The Commonwealth of Australia is a country in the southern hemisphere comprising the mainland of the world’s smallest continent. Australia has a prosperous, Western-style mixed economy, with a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slightly higher than those of the UK, Germany and France in terms of purchasing power parity. Australia rates highly in virtually all areas but is most impressive in financial freedom, property rights, business freedom, labor freedom, and freedom from corruption.

Area: 7,741,220 sq km
Population: 21,515,754
Religion: Catholic 25.8%, Anglican 18.7%, Uniting Church 5.7%, Presbyterian and Reformed 3%, Eastern Orthodox 2.7%, other Christian 7.9%, Buddhist 2.1%, Muslim 1.7%, other 2.4%, unspecified 11.3%, none 18.7%
Languages: English 78.5%, Chinese 2.5%, Italian 1.6%, Greek 1.3%, Arabic 1.2%, Vietnamese 1%, other 8.2%, unspecified 5.7%
Government type: federal parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm
Capital: Canberra
Currency: Australian Dollar


Aboriginal settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia about 40,000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the 17th century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James Cook took possession in the name of Great Britain. Six colonies were created in the late 18th and 19th centuries; they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The new country took advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop agricultural and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the British effort in World Wars I and II. In recent decades, Australia has transformed itself into an internationally competitive, advanced market economy. It boasted one of the fastest growing economies during the 1990s, a performance due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980s.


Australia has an enviable Western-style capitalist economy with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant West European economies. Robust business and consumer confidence and high export prices for raw materials and agricultural products are fueling the economy. Australia’s emphasis on reforms, low inflation, and growing ties with China are other key factors behind the economy’s strength. Drought and strong import demand pushed the trade deficit up in recent years, although the trade balance improved in 2006. Housing prices probably peaked in 2005, diminishing the prospect that interest rates would be raised to prevent a speculative bubble. Conservative fiscal policies have kept Australia’s budget in surplus since 2002.


The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast and extends for over 2,000 kilometers. Mount Augustus claimed to be the world’s largest monolith, is located in Western Australia. By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid. Australia is the flattest continent, has the oldest and least fertile soils, and is the driest and least inhabited continent. Only the south-east and south-west corners of the continent have a temperate climate. Most of the population lives along the temperate south-eastern coastline. The landscapes of the northern part of the country, with a tropical climate, consist of rainforest, woodland, grassland, mangrove swamps and desert. The climate is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the El Niño southern oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia.


Since 1788, the primary basis of Australian culture until the mid-20th century has been Anglo-Celtic, although distinctive Australian features had been evolving from the environment and indigenous culture. Over the past 50 years, Australian culture has been strongly influenced by American popular culture (particularly television and cinema), large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking countries, and Australia’s Asian neighbors. The vigor and originality of the arts in Australia — literature, cinema, opera, music, painting, theater, dance, and crafts — have achieved international recognition. The traditions of indigenous Australians are largely transmitted orally and Australian Aboriginal music, dance and art have a palpable influence on contemporary Australian visual and performing arts. Australia has an active tradition of music, ballet and theater; many of its performing arts companies receive public funding through the federal government’s Australia Council. There is a symphony orchestra in each capital city, and a national opera company. Australian English is a major variety of the language; its grammar and spelling are largely based on those of British English, overlaid with a rich vernacular of unique lexical items and phrases, some of which have found their way into standard English. Sport plays an important part in Australian culture, assisted by a climate that favors outdoor activities; 23.5% Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organized sporting activities.


Education in Australia is primarily regulated by the individual state governments. Generally education in Australia follows the three-tier model which includes Primary education (Primary Schools), followed by Secondary education (Secondary Schools / High Schools) and Tertiary education (Universities and TAFE [Technical And Further Education] Colleges). School is compulsory in Australia between the ages of six and sixteen, with, in recent years, over three-quarters of students staying on until they are eighteen. Post-compulsory education is regulated within the Australian Qualifications Framework, a unified system of national qualifications in schools, vocational education and training (TAFE) and the higher education sector (University). The academic year in Australia varies between states and institutions, but generally runs from late January until mid-December for primary and secondary schools and TAFE colleges, and from late February until mid-November for universities. All universities except Bond University operate over two semesters. Bond University has three academic semesters. Universities also offer summer sessions to provide greater flexibility for both universities and students and to enable earlier completion of degree programs. Some non-university higher education institutions run programs year round.

In Australia, the classification of tertiary qualifications is governed in part by the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), which attempts to integrate into a single classification all levels of tertiary education (both vocational and higher education), from trade certificates to higher doctorates.

However, as Universities in Australia (and a few similar higher education institutions) largely regulate their own courses, the primary usage of AQF is for vocational education. However in recent years there have been some informal moves towards standardization between higher education institutions.

In Australia, higher education awards are classified as follows:

  • Certificate, Diploma and Associate Degrees, which take 1-2 years to complete, and consist primarily of coursework. These are primarily offered by TAFEs and other institutions as vocational training. Universities tend mainly to award Certificates and Diplomas as adjuncts to another degree, e.g. many Australian school teachers have completed a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science with a Diploma of Education (DipEd). They are also awarded at the graduate level, in which case they are called Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma (or sometimes Postgraduate Certificate and Postgraduate Diploma), and consist of similar material to a Masters by Coursework, but do not go for as long. The distinction between Graduate and Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas is somewhat arbitrary and dependent on the institution offering them.
  • Bachelors degrees, generally the first university degree undertaken, which take 3-4 years to complete, and consist primarily of coursework. Bachelors degrees are sometimes awarded with honours to the best performing students.
  • In some courses, honours is awarded on the basis of performance throughout the course (usually in 4yr+ courses), but normally honours consists of undertaking a year of research (like a short thesis or Masters by Research). If honours is undertaken as an extra year it is known as an honours degree rather than a degree with honours. Honours may be divided into First Class, Second Class (normally divided into Division I and Division II) and Third Class. This is roughly equivalent to the American classification of , summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude. Individuals who do not attempt honours or who fail their honours course are awarded a degree with a grade of Pass.
  • Masters degrees, which are undertaken after the completion of one or more Bachelors degrees. Masters degrees deal with a subject at a more advanced level than Bachelors degrees, and can consist either of research, coursework, or a mixture of the two.
  • Doctorates, most famously Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), which are undertaken after a Honours Bachelors or Masters degree, by an original research project resulting in a thesis or dissertation. Admission to candidature for a PhD generally requires either a Bachelor’s degree with good honours (First Class or Second Class Division I), or a Masters degree with a research component. In many cases a student with only a Pass Bachelor’s degree can enroll in a Masters program and then transfer to a PhD. Australian PhDs do not tend to take as long as American or British ones, and consist of less coursework than most American PhDs. There are also professional doctorates which consist of advanced coursework and a substantial project in an area such as education (DEd). There is no concept of a “first-professional doctorate” like those awarded in the United States.
  • Higher Doctorates, such as Doctor of Science (DSc) or Doctor of Letters (DLitt), which are awarded on the basis of a record of original research or of publications, over many years (often at least 10).

Australian Universities tend to award more named degrees than institutions in some other countries. Most Australian universities offer several different named degrees per a faculty. This is primarily for marketing purposes. Universities often try to outdo each other by offering the only degree titled with a popular major.

By contrast, at an undergraduate level at Oxford University, almost all students complete a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), even if they are studying areas such as Chemistry or Economics, whereas at most Australian institutions only students choosing to concentrate in the humanities would be awarded a B.A. However, although there is a large proliferation at the level of Bachelors and Masters, at the Doctorate and Higher Doctorate level most institutions only have four or five degrees in all, and almost all Doctorates are PhDs.

Unlike American institutions, where most medical doctors or lawyers (known as solicitors in Australia) will graduate with an M.D. or J.D., medical doctors and solicitors in Australia generally only graduate with Bachelor’s degrees. In Australia, a degree of Doctor is only awarded after original research or honoris causa, although by custom medical doctors are permitted to assume that title without having completed a doctorate.

In the case of medical doctors, the most common award is M.B.B.S., the double degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (this is similar to the case in Britain). The most common award for lawyers is LL.B. or BLaws (which are both abbreviations, one Latin and the other English, for Bachelor of Laws).

Traditionally in Australia, medical degrees were commenced immediately after secondary education, unlike in the United States where student generally complete an undergraduate degree first before going to medical school. However, some universities have introduced graduate entry only degrees in medicine, but these are still classified as Bachelors degrees.

Law is commonly studied as a combined degree, such as with Arts or Science (BA/LLB, BSc/LLB), with only a small number of places available for a ‘straight’ law degree. The large number of combined courses enable students to develop skills in a diverse range of areas. Another common combination is Commerce and Law, which opens up many positions in business, commerce and industry. The Law degree in Australia is seeing fewer graduates going on to become practicing solicitors; instead many graduates take work in private industry or government sectors.

Australian Bachelors degrees are commonly only 3 years in duration, unlike the 4 year degrees found in the United States, although some institutions offer 4 year degrees as well. The length of the degree usually depends on the field of study; for example engineering usually takes four years while medicine takes six. Combined degrees are also available and usually add an extra year of study. Australian universities tend to have less of an emphasis on a liberal education than many universities in the US, which is reflected in the shorter length of Australian degrees.

Associate Degrees have recently been introduced. These generally take two years to complete and can be seen as equivalent to the Associate’s Degree in the US and the Foundation Degree in the UK. They are also equivalent to the older Australian qualifications the Diploma and the Advanced Diploma.

Prior to the 1980s health science disciplines were being established by Colleges of Advanced Education, who were forbidden to award “degrees”. Courses were conducted and classified as a “Diploma of Applied Science in (discipline)”. These courses had considerable content requirements, some having over 32 contact hours per week over a three year period. These “diplomas” have been somewhat devalued by the newer naming conventions, as some diploma courses conducted nowadays may only consist of attending 12 training days for a total of less than 72 contact hours. However, many former “diplomates” have either converted or upgraded their DipAppScis to the corresponding Bachelor degree, or have undertaken further post graduate study.

Many universities in Australia have gained international recognition. Two of the most acknowledged are the Academic Ranking of World Universities, produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the THES – QS World University Rankings, which in 2006, had no fewer than 13 universities amongst the world’s top 200. In 2005, there were 344 815 overseas students studying in Australia, with the largest numbers coming from China, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, United States of America, and Singapore. There has also been significant increase in the number of students coming from South America and the Middle East.

Overseas students undertake the same programs as Australian students.

The major providers of vocational education and training (VET) in Australia are the various state-administered Institutes of Technical and Further Education or TAFE across the country. TAFE institutions generally offer short courses, Certificates I, II, III, and IV, Diplomas, and Advanced Diplomas in a wide range of vocational topics. They also sometimes offer Higher Education courses, especially in Victoria.

Admission to a higher education course for school leavers is normally based on completion of full secondary education, (i.e. Year 12). Entry is normally determined by the student’s tertiary entrance score, rank or index.

Most institutions make special provision for the admission of mature-age students. Such applicants for admission to regular programs are usually required to have completed Year 12, but are sometimes admitted without this prerequisite if they meet other criteria, such as work experience in the area they wish to study, an entrance examination, or a demonstrated aptitude for study. There are also special admission schemes or arrangements for other identified groups, such as Indigenous people. Some universities that offer programs by distance education have flexible admissions policies. Admission to entry level units in the open learning programs of Open Learning Australia require no educational prerequisites.

There are possibilities to transfer credits from other courses or degrees started or completed.

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Open University Australia (Distance Education)