The difference between universities in Australia and universities in other countries

Let's find the ideal place to study.

Making the next step in your education and taking the path to university is a big deal, especially if you want to study internationally.

While the idea of a university is fairly straightforward, colleges are mostly different around the world, and depending on which country you want to study in, each can make a big difference to the type of experience you have.

If you want to study in Australia but are confused by the comparison of universities in other countries, we are here to help.

universities in Australia
universities in Australia

Pathways into University

In Australia there are many pathways to university you can choose from. Whether you just graduated from high school or TAFE, or if you haven't studied in a while, there are many options out there.

One of the most popular ways to enter university in Australia is through the ATAR score you achieve on completing your high school certificate. This score, ranging between 1 and 99, basically ranks you against the other students in your year and region cohort to determine whether or not you can get into your chosen course or university.

Students who choose not to complete university entry classes in high school can apply to the university with a TAFE certificate or university liaison course. These options work very similarly to each other: in essence, students complete a course - whether it's a certificate, diploma, or a university liaison course - which serves as a stepping stone to the course of your choice.

Students who have not studied for a while or who are not interested in bridging programs can choose to apply with a portfolio of all their previous work and studies, or, if they are over 21 years of age, can register as an adult student aged.

Things work a little differently in other countries around the world, so let's look at three.

In the United States, students apply to universities and courses of their choice directly via an acceptance test and / or forms directly to those universities. Students are encouraged to write to the university of their choice - perhaps submitting a personal essay - and take an admissions test.

In the United Kingdom, students can apply to universities through their high school A level, which is basically a high school university entry course, or through the International Baccalaureate (IB) which is a non-profit foundation that offers educational programs. The IB Diploma program can be used to apply for university admission.

And in China, you can apply to the university of your choice via the application form. This is done through the China University and College Admissions System (CUCAS) which is an online portal that international students use to apply to universities in China.

Depending on how you prefer to study, you may want to consider how each country approaches teaching, how the classes work, and their sizes. The learning style of a course can also influence how universities ask you to complete assignments and exams, so let's compare Australia to Japan.

In Australia, universities tend to combine larger courses with smaller workshops and tutorial courses so students can learn to manage workloads and become independent thinkers.

Tutorials and workshops tend to be much smaller classes requiring students to do weekly reading and smaller one's in-class projects, presentations, or debates. Lectures tend to take the form of longer, larger classes where the tutor presents information and students just take notes.

In Japan, the focus is much on lectures, with fewer tutorials and workshops. Studying in Japan is very independent, and students are expected to set their own time and research information related to their own courses.

Degree length

Oddly enough, even the length of a certain degree will vary from country to country, so let's compare Australia to the UK.


  • Bachelor’s degree: 3 years

  • Honours: 1 year

  • Master’s: 1 – 2 years

  • PhD or Doctoral degree: 3+ years

United Kingdom

  • Bachelor’s degree: 3 – 4 years

  • Master's degree: 1 years

  • PhD/Doctoral degree: 3 – 4+ years

Undergraduate degree structure

The structure and flexibility of your bachelor's degree may vary depending on the country you are studying in. If you're looking for more flexibility to find what you like, you may want to see which countries have that option.

In Australia, studies tend to be more focused and specialized from the start. Students choose their degree and classes are dedicated to that study specialization even in the first year.

In the US, however, the focus is more on the breadth of studies. In the first few years of a bachelor's degree, students can choose from several different classes of different subjects to form the basis for their education. The major is then selected for the last two years of study as the main focus of the study.

University Rankings

Where global university rankings may be very important to you, and while I'm sure we've all heard of Harvard University and Oxford University, there are still plenty of other great universities on the list from around the world.

According to the QS World University Rankings 2021, at the time of writing, the highest-ranking university in Australia is the Australian National University, sitting at number 31 on the list, with the University of Sydney at 40, the University of Melbourne at 41, and the University of Queensland at 46.

Australia is also home to many universities that are number one in a particular specialty, so check your area of interest and preferred universities to see their ranking.

The world's highest-ranking universities are all in the US and Great Britain, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at number one and the University of Oxford at number five, but many other countries also have top-ranking universities.

Some of these include Swiss ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at number six, National University of Singapore (NUS) Singapore at number 11, Tsinghua University China at number 15, the University of Hong Kong at number 22, and Japanese University from Tokyo at number 25.