Australian education system has an undisputed reputation for academic excellence and quality. International students have an important presence in Australia and their numbers have been growing rapidly over the years. Located in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia is a land of adventures where over 250 languages are being spoken in the country. Its rich and vibrant culture has been attracting millions of expats every year and international students are not an exception.
Learning what attracts international students to Australia is absolutely fascinating. Andrea, a music student from Peru said, “I chose Australia because I know the country has so much to offer. My friends who had come here before me are all employed, which is unlike the situation in my country.” Another student, Roshan, who is pursuing nursing in Australia reported- “Back home jobs are mostly gender-biased. In Australia, I can study to be a nurse without being judged by anyone.”
Australian higher education system is as diverse as its culture. Students have ample options to choose the right institute and course for their future. As international students start to explore their options, a common question that surfaces is- what are the differences between colleges and universities. The terms are often used interchangeably, but they can be strikingly different.
What’s the confusion?
Globally the terminology of higher education can be complex. While I was a student in the United Kingdom, there were a few alternatives of Foundation Courses to be studied in colleges, which would then lead to a bachelor’s degree at a university, nonetheless, I could not have imagined securing a bachelors or a master’s degree at a college. However, the scenario is different in Australia. The difference is more defined, and not often interchangeable.
In Australia, colleges are often perceived as a smaller version of universities. Common belief could be that a college is only private, or that a university will be state-funded. Others may believe that the quality of education differs greatly between the two. However, the truth is that the differences depend on the particular institution in question. Let’s find out the basic differences of the Australian higher education providers – Colleges and Universities
- Are the qualifications different?
The answer is NO! The qualifications offered by a college, such as Diploma and Bachelor degrees are the same as those offered by the oldest universities in Australia. Sometimes the curriculum is even considered more up to date and relevant at a college than at a university.
- Fee Structure
Australian universities are more expensive than colleges in most cases. However, a handful of colleges might have a higher fee structure than a university, where the colleges provide a niche subject like theology or specialized courses like law or media.
- Class Size
One of the major differences between a college and a university is its size. In terms of physical space and class size, both vary to a great extent. For example, colleges provide a smaller community of students as compared to a university. Thus, the learning environment is way more intimate and focused than at a university. On the other hand, any big university would easily accommodate 30,000 to 50,000 students approximately, which means students would have a broader community exposure.
- Teaching Styles
Pedagogical styles might not be significantly different at a college and at a university. Australia provides guided learning to international students. Teachers at Australian universities and colleges deliver lectures and small class tutorials. The courses consist of essays, group work and individual assignments. In Australia, students are expected to think independently and creatively, and gaining practical experience is always encouraged irrespective of the size of the institution.
Been there, done that- A piece of advice from the industry insiders
At the end, the question really comes down to the student’s aspiration and expectations from his or her higher education provider. One of the well-known education agents in Australia says, “On one hand, in certain areas (creative arts, for example), private colleges are very prestigious and may even outperform universities, whereas, universities offer a wide range of courses in undergraduate and master’s level. Each university has a large, community atmosphere; offers a wide range of courses and qualification levels; and features a number of student services and facilities, but colleges also have their own strengths and characteristics.”
It is therefore advisable to explore your options as much as possible. Students must consider the post-study job prospects, faculty information, industry connection, networking options, location details, and most importantly check the ROI from their courses before deciding between a college and a university. Often there is a tendency to follow the path most travelled, but one must remember that many might be on the same journey, but each takes a different path. So, choose wisely!
By Payel Ghosh
Payel has worked in the education industry in Asia, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and now Australia. When not working, you can find her at a café, often daydreaming about owning one.