Studying in Australia - The Basic Alternatives

There are three standard possibilities for German students to study in Australian Universities. The first is via an Exchange programme, the second is in a Study Abroad programme and the third is by enrolling in a regular degree course. Only the third possibility allows you to return to Germany with an Australian degree. I now describe these three possibilities in turn.

Exchange Programmes

Unfortunately it is very difficult for German students to get a place in an exchange programme. This section describes the basic idea behind exchange programmes and then explains why there are so few exchange places available.

The Basic Concept behind Exchange Programmes

Some German states have partnership agreements with Australian states. For example the State of Hesse has an agreement with the State of Queensland and the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg has an agreement with the State of South Australia. These agreements provide for an exchange of students between the higher educational institutions of the respective states.

Individual German tertiary education institutions sometimes have similar agreements with individual Australian universities, in this case providing for an exchange between students of the two institutions.

Information about both kinds of programme can usually be found on the website of your university's International Office. Alternatively the International Office will advise you which partnerships, if any, exist. I say "if any" because it is difficult for International Offices of German universities to arrange such agreements. I will describe the reasons for this below.

You should be aware that the conventional agencies can organise an exchange place for you, and if you are one of the few lucky students to be offered such a place by your International Office or its partners, they cannot help you with the further planning. All the arrangements will be made by the German university's International Office. However, only a few students will be lucky enough to be offered a place in such a programme, so it is worth reading the rest of this chapter and the remaining pages on this website!

Where an exchange programme agreement exists it is likely to offer only one or two exchange places per semester, and these are sometimes limited to students in designated faculties or subject areas. The basic idea of an exchange programme is that students spend one or two semesters in the partner university on an exchange basis. This means that if you are lucky enough to be nominated by your university for such a place then while you are in Australia you will have to pay the normal tuition fees due to your German institution and you will not need to pay tuition fees to the Australian university.

Before the introduction of fees for tertiary education in Germany this used to mean that for German students an exchange place would not cost you anything. Although this is no longer officially the case (unless your university allows you to treat your time in Australia as a leave of absence), your normal German fees are still very considerably cheaper than the Australian international tuition fee which you would otherwise have to pay for either a Study Abroad or a degree programme. So if you are offered an exchange place, and if the partner university and its lecture offering suit your needs, then I strongly advise you to accept this place.

If you do accept an exchange place you should be aware that exchange agreements usually explicitly exclude the possibility that you can take out a degree while you are in Australia. The idea is that the results of the courses which you study in Australia should be recognised to count for your German degree. However, you should also realise that this does not happen automatically. The final decision about whether the Australian courses are afterwards recognised in Germany usually depends on the faculty committee responsible for your German degree regulations and examinations. You would be well advised to discuss your Australian units with this committee before you leave for Australia.

Why Only Very Few Exchange Places are Available

There are good reasons why most German students find it difficult to obtain an exchange place at an Australian university. Australian tuition fees, which must be paid by Australian students while they participate in an exchange programme, are quite considerably higher than those which German students pay (though they are not so high as those which international students have to pay to study in Australia), and just as German students have to continue paying their German fees while they are studying in Australia, Australian students likewise have to continue paying their Australian fees while in Germany.

Australian universities would experience a considerable loss of income if they were to accept higher numbers of German exchange students than the number of Australian exchange students coming to Germany. Hence the normal exchange agreements specify that the numbers of participating exchange students from each country must be approximately equal. And therein lies the real difficulty. It is extremely difficult to motivate Australian students to study in Germany. There are many reasons for this. An obvious one is that most Australians cannot speak German. A second reason is that the backgrounds of the majority of Australians lie in Britain. Consequently if they decide to study in Europe, studying in Britain is more attractive for most, because of the opportunity to live with, or at least easily visit, their families while studying abroad.

However there is an even more compelling reason why Australian students do not want to participate in an exchange agreement. Because the German Government does not allow its universities to charge higher fees for foreigners than for local students (which is what happens in Australia), it is much cheaper for an Australian student who actually wishes to study in Germany to do so just like any other foreigner in Germany (i.e. not as an exchange student but by simply by enrolling as a normal student). In this way the Australian student can avoid the high fees which he or she would otherwise have to pay in Australia and instead only has to pay the lower German tuition fees.

Study Abroad Programmes

In order to allow international students who are not fortunate enough to be offered an exchange place an opportunity to study in Australia for one or two semesters, Australian universities introduced a second possibility, called Study Abroad, which is now described below.

From the viewpoint of a German student a Study Abroad programme has many similarities with an exchange programme. The only substantial difference is that German students pay their own Australian fees, which, as I have already indicated, are considerably higher than their German fees (and considerably higher than the fees which an Australian pays to take the same course). Study Abroad programmes have become the main way for German students to study in Australia. There are a number of German recruitment agencies which help students to organise study abroad programmes. Australian universities pay these agencies a percentage of the fees for each student whom they recruit. This has the advantage for students that these get assistance at no extra cost. (Whether or not you let an agency organise your study abroad programme, you pay the same price.)

The main advantage of Study Abroad for German students is that it gives them the freedom to choose units (teaching units such as lectures) from almost the whole range offered by the Australian university (see the additional information on Study Abroad, which is provided to students who have signalled an interest in a Study Abroad programme).

Its main disadvantage: as in the case of exchange programmes the students cannot acquire an Australian degree, although they have to pay fees comparable with those of other international students who are registered for a degree. When I discovered this fact I was appalled, and I decided that I would help students wherever possible to enrol in normal Australian degree programmes as an alternative to Study Abroad, with the aim that they might obtain a degree or other award after studying for one or two semester in Australia. That become my speciality, and it is what distinguished from the normal recruitment agencies.

You should be aware, however, that it is often possible for students to obtain a qualification from Australia even if they plan to spend only a single semester there.

Degree and other Higher Award Programmes

Like other international students, appropriately qualified German students can enrol in a normal Australian degree programme, but of course they then have to pay the appropriate tuition fees.

These fees, like Study Abroad fees, are very high by German standards. However, they are generally considerably lower than tuition fees at universities in the U.S.A. The actual amount of the fees varies from university to university, from faculty to faculty and sometimes even between different degrees offered by the same faculty. In the appropriate appendix I will explain to you how you can determine the actual amount of the fee appropriate for courses at the universities with which I cooperate. But to give you a very general idea of tuition fee levels, you can expect to pay somewhere between about A$ 15,000 and A$ 30,000 per year (for two semesters) or half of this for one semester. You will find information about how to convert Australian dollar amounts into Euro amounts here.

While you are studying in Australia you will also have to finance your living costs, pay a compulsory health insurance, etc. Information about living costs in Australia is also provided here.

Studying for a Complete Bachelor Degree in Australia

Australian bachelor degrees are designed to take either three or four years of study (see this page about the Australian University System for more information), which means that it would cost at least about A$ 45,000 (for a very "cheap" three year degree) and up to about A$ 120,000 (for an "expensive" four year degree). If you the add to this your living costs, it becomes clear that you will need at least A$ 100,000 to finance even a cheap three year degree and about A$ 200,000 for an expensive four year degree. For most German students such amounts will probably not be affordable.

In the past I have wasted a lot of time trying to help students who have indicated that they would like to take a full degree course in Australia, but who have then dropped out. In fact I have never had a student who actually enrolled in an Australian university for a full bachelor course up until 2010. For that reason I  decided that I would only help students who showed an interest in taking a full bachelor course provided that they could prove to me in advance that they can afford to pay for their planned stay in Australia. Unfortunately I was an extremely busy person and I simply could not afford to waste time with the kind of cases I had experienced.

My strong advice to students is that they should first study in Germany for several semesters and then take advantage of one of the shorter alternatives which I could offer them to make an Australian degree more affordable (see here and the appropriate appendices). It is possible, but usually very difficult, to obtain a 3 year bachelor degree by studying for 2 semesters in Australia. However, you should seriously consider waiting until you have competed your bachelor degree in Germany (or you have achieved bachelor equivalence). Then it becomes much easier to obtain either a bachelor with honours degree or a three semester master degree in two semesters.

Studying for a One Year Bachelor Degree with Honours

Tip: Most German students incorrectly say Bachelor of Honours rather than Bachelor with Honours (or more simply Honours degree).

As we will see here, there are two kinds of Honours degrees, one of which is a four year degree, the other a one year degree. This makes more sense than you might think, as we shall see in the next chapter.

Studying for the four year honours degree or the four year pass degree would normally require at least three semesters of study in Australia, and for other reasons would also be very difficult to achieve.

Studying for a Complete Master Degree in Australia

Australian master degrees normally require at most three or four semesters of study. This is still very expensive, but it is nevertheless more affordable than studying for a complete three or four year bachelor degree. In this case (but also because applicants are usually older and more in control of their own finances) I was willing to help students to organise such courses, though I may have advised at least some such students to consider what I describe in the next section as a possibly better alternative.

Studying for a Degree or Other Award with Advanced Standing

Advanced standing (also known as credit transfer) refers in Australia to the recognition of courses from another university. Australian universities are in principle prepared to consider granting advanced standing to students for courses which they have successfully passed in German universities. Depending on the Australian university (and occasionally on the faculty) the rules may allow up to two thirds, or sometimes up to a half, of the units (the word usually used for teaching units, usually lectures) of a course to be granted advanced standing. We discuss advanced standing in detail here.

It was my speciality to try to obtain advanced standing for German students. The aim was to allow you to study for a shorter period than normal (usually for one or two semesters) and still be granted an award. My aim was usually to guide you so that sufficient of the units which you have taken in Germany are recognised so that you could then complete a six semester bachelor degree or, preferably, a three semester master degree in two semesters. I had very considerable success in achieving this for German students.

You should not assume that obtaining advanced standing is a simple matter. On the contrary it required a lot of time, patience and effort on both my part and that of the student. The rules are complicated and some rules may not make sense to you. You should also not assume that advanced standing is in practice possible in every degree, even if the rules make it theoretically possible. In my experience a lot depends on the individual academics (or sometimes administrators) who make the assessments and on the faculties in which they are located. Very successful (very highly ranked) faculties often see little need to admit students who will not study for the full degree length, because they get more than enough students who are not seeking advanced standing.

When students approached me with a request to help with advanced standing I usually classified their chances of success as either relatively straightforward (e.g. because I have had similar successful cases in the past), as uncertain but worth making an application, or as improbable (e.g. based on past experience with the area of study, or with the faculty, etc.). I would tell the student how I classify his request and if I view the chance of success as improbable, then I would not waste my time with it. (This would not exclude the possibility that I could have been able to help the student with a different university or for a different degree. If so I would have recommended this.)

PhD Degrees

You can apply to enrol in a PhD degree in Australia if the marks which you have obtained in previous studies are sufficiently good to meet the entry standards. However, you cannot obtain advanced standing in the same way as is possible for a coursework degree. Consequently you will normally have to study in Australia for at least three years. The price of this together with the cost of living in Australia for three years usually makes it impossible for most German students. There are a few scholarships for outstanding PhD students, but the competition is very strong. However, if you could demonstrate to me that you were able to finance a full course then I was normally be willing to help you (if I judged that you will be accepted into the course).

As I explained here the standards required for obtaining a scholarship for a PhD program are very high (much higher than those for being accepted as a PhD candidate).


If you are able to obtain a place in an exchange programme through your own university, then I recommend that you accept this, provided that you do not want to obtain a degree or other award for your studies in Australia.

I would recommend you not to make an application for Study Abroad until you have exhausted the possibility of enrolling in a degree. Even if you wish to go as an undergraduate to Australia for one semester you might be able to find an alternative which leads to the award of a qualification.