Australian Higher Education System

Higher (or tertiary) education in Australia is made up of universities and other higher education institutions known as 'higher education providers'.

A tertiary education institution is a body that is established or recognised by or under the law of the Commonwealth, or a State or Territory.

The provider has to be approved by the Australian Government before it can obtain grants or its students can receive assistance from the Australian Government under the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA). Providers are subject to quality and accountability requirements.

A higher education provider is either a:

  • university
  • self-accrediting provider (colleges) or
  • non self-accrediting provider.

In 2020, the Australian higher education system consists of:

  • 42 universities - 37 are public institutions, 3 are private, and 2 are Australian branches of overseas universities;
  • 2 other self-accrediting higher education institutions; and
  • non-self-accrediting higher education providers accredited by State and Territory authorities, numbering more than 150 as listed on State and Territory registers. These include several that are registered in more than one State and Territory.

The non-self-accrediting higher education providers form a very diverse group of specialised providers (mostly private) that vary in size. They include theological colleges and other providers that offer courses in areas such as business, information technology, hospitality, health, law and accounting.

Group of Eight (Go8)

The Group of Eight (Go8) is a group of eight Australian tertiary institutions that are considered the most prestigious universities in Australia.

The Go8 is considered the Australian version of the Ivy League, made up of the most wealthy and prominent institutions in Australia.

The members of the Go8 are:

Bachelors degrees, generally the first university degree undertaken, which take 3–4 years to complete, consist primarily of coursework.
Bachelors degrees are sometimes awarded with honours to the best-performing students.

In some programmes, honours is awarded on the basis of performance throughout the course (usually those that last for 4 years or longer), but normally honours consists of undertaking a year of research (for example, a short thesis or a Masters involving research).

If honours is undertaken as an extra year, it is known as an honours degree rather than a degree with honours.

Generally, a student must be invited by the university to do Honours as an additional year of study, as opposed to being something a student can apply for. This is because most of the time it is only offered to the highest ranking students of that year group.

Further information

For more help and advice on applying to university in Australia, please see: