A great learning experience along with a fabulous lifestyle: that’s what Australian universities promise international students. While the country’s top universities offer world-class education, its cities lay out a high standard of living with quality infrastructure and sustainable environment.
Many Australian degree programs include work experience and internships, which help students be aware of their target industries and widen their professional network. Many of them become eligible to stay on “Down Under” for jobs after graduation.
According to the Australian government’s 2018 International Student Data, there were over 690,000 full-fee-paying international students in that country that year.
China (205,189), followed by India (89,570), Nepal (43,021), Brazil (26,620), and Malaysia (26,085) were the biggest student contributors.
Among study areas, management and commerce was the most popular, followed by information technology, health, engineering, society and culture, and natural and physical sciences. The five most popular states were New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia.
As an international student in Australia, you may, as in any other country, have cultural differences and the language barrier to overcome, on top of initial homesickness.
But by making friends from other countries including Australia and not sticking to students from your own country, and by becoming more outgoing, these difficulties can be eventually overcome.
This isn’t easy, but if you do this, you can reap the full benefit of your Australian experience and become a more confident person.
Like other countries, Australia also tries to protect its citizens from unemployment and many positions are filled by them. Therefore, jobs often become scarce for foreigners, and there’s tough competition among foreigners for jobs, especially during an economic slowdown.
Some jobs with high unemployment rates are taken off the skilled occupation list, which means those graduating and hoping to get those positions find it difficult to get a work visa.
However, international students / graduates who have unique skills, experience and proficiency in English are able to find the jobs they are looking for and build careers of choice.
International student life in Australia
Tertiary education in Australia comprises both higher education in universities and vocational educational and training programs.
School education consists of primary and secondary education, with primary school running for seven or eight years, starting from kindergarten through to year 6 or 7; secondary school, running for three or four years, from year 7 or 8 to 10; and senior secondary school, running for two years from years 11 and 12.
Higher education courses lead to the award of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Many students enroll for double or combined bachelor’s degree programs that lead to the award of two bachelor’s degrees, most common in the fields of arts, commerce, law, and science.
Australian institutions offer programs in a range of fields from management to engineering, finance, to medicine, and environmental science to accounting.
An important national policy that ensures the quality of education is the Australian Qualifications Framework, which specifies standards of qualification for senior secondary level, tertiary education, and vocational programs. With AQF, your degree from Australia is recognized by the government.
Australia has 43 universities, including 40 Australian universities, two international universities, and a private specialty university, besides may other institutions offering higher education programs.
The best universities, according to THE World University Rankings 2020, are the University of Melbourne, Australian National University, University of Sydney, University of Queensland, and UNSW Sydney. All of them are among the top 100 in the world.
Australian universities don’t use a lecture-oriented teaching method. Moreover, study groups take up pragmatic rather than theoretical projects.
The autumn semester is from February to July, and spring semester from July to November. Most students have classes from Monday to Friday.
The summer break is from December to February (autumn is from March to May, winter from June to August, and spring from September to November, as Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere).
It might be difficult for some students to cope with studies during the first few weeks as they may be only settling down. There will be no one to see whether you are attending all classes, but missing lecturers can prove costly as you may find yourself behind other students.
Tips: Devote adequate time for studies; but don’t lose yourself in books. Handwriting notes helps process the information. Find a study buddy and give each other tests.
After you arrive
Before you leave your home country, try to spend a few weeks with family and friends. Get your education funding and student visa done in good time to avoid stress. Studying and living in Australia is expensive, so apply for a scholarship specifically meant for international students.
You can buy a cheap SIM when you arrive in Australia and insert it into your phone that you brought from home. Short-term contracts, pre-paid plans, and cheap international calling cards are available.
You can open a bank account even before arriving in Australia. There may be banks in your home country that provide service to overseas students, too. It isn’t a difficult process.
Health insurance, covering doctor’s consultation and some medicines, is required as part of the visa, and your university can advise you on which provider to choose. You may need a private plan if you have a serious ailment.
Australia has a temperate climate, but the sunshine can be harsh and you may need to buy suitable clothes, a hat, and sunscreen on arrival.
Most of Australia is hot and dry, but the coastal regions can be cold from May to September and you may need a warm coat. In some places, the weather can change quickly bringing rain, and buying an umbrella is a wise move.
Campus life starts with welcome parties, campus tours, and university events, including seminars, group mixers, and sports competitions.
As the semester progresses, and you come to know other students, you can expect invites to all kinds of social events from formal dinners to nights out at a local bar, to annual balls and weekend getaways.
When your classes are over, and you need a little study time, there will always be a library or student lounge to give you some quiet. College life also involves studies, and you cannot afford to let your guard down.
If you need some time away from friends, you can go for a walk, or if you have relatives nearby, stay with them over a weekend.
You will get a lot of opportunities to snack or over-eat at college, so special attention needs to be given to maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Be careful not to drink too much alcohol regularly at the many social events.
International students will be, no doubt, impressed by the modern cities thriving along with vast open spaces and spectacular landscapes. During the break, you can venture into the great outback, the golden beaches, and the national parks.
You can join guided tours to the Great Barrier Reefs, the Outback, and other natural wonders. Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney are also a shopper’s paradise.
On weekends, you can indulge in sports and outdoor activities such as rock-climbing, scuba-diving, hiking, and skiing, or go to a pub or restaurant with friends.
On campus, international student support services by state governments and student groups ensure that students get the best advice about their legal rights and the job skills in demand.
The Education Services for Overseas Students Act makes it mandatory for institutions to protect the legal rights of international students.
Tip: Interacting with other international and also local students and joining societies and clubs will help you settle down more quickly and make friends.
Australian cities have among the lowest crime rates in the world, and streets and public places are open and safe. However, this doesn’t mean they are crime-free, and students need to take the usual precautions.
There have been quite a few incidents of physical and verbal attacks on international students, including Indian and Chinese students, which have threatened to affect Australia’s $35-billion international student market.
In the worst attacks, students have been murdered. Authorities have been at pains to assert that these murders were not linked to racism and were only opportunistic acts of crime, but students and their home countries’ government and media think otherwise.
Lately, Australian organizations, including universities, have stepped up their responses to racism, including through the “Racism. It Stops With Me” national campaign launched by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
As an international student in Australia, you should take care of your own safety, but you will receive assistance from the authorities. You can dial “000” in an emergency, call your university security service, or use an app that is available.
You should also take care of your personal safety when you set out for outdoor activities, such as swimming or bushwalking, for which a lot of opportunities exist in Australia.
Like other major educational destinations, Australia has diversity of religion, language, history, and art. As many as 200 various languages and dialects are spoken, including 45 indigenous languages. The most spoken languages after English are Italian, Greek, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, and Vietnamese.
The original inhabitants are Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples, who have been living in Australia for the past 40,000-60,000 years.
The rest of the people are migrants or their descendants from 200 countries since Britain established the first European settlement in 1788. Immigrants have influenced Australian culture in all walks of life.
Today, Australia’s population is over 26 million, with over 28 percent born overseas. The stereotypical “Aussie” is irreverent and laidback with a liking for outdoor sport (70 percent of Australians aged 15 and above participate in a sport or exercise activity at least once a week, with the most popular activities being walking, running, bushwalking, swimming, cycling, etc.).
But this is true of only some Australians, who are also seen as law-abiding citizens, who say what they mean, and who champion the cause of the underdog. They are also among the most hard-working people in the world with among the longest working hours in world.
While English is Australia’s most spoken language, Australian English has its own characteristics, with an identifiable but slightly different accent and the use of Australian slang, which might confuse newcomers. The Macquarie Book of Slang serves as a useful resource.
Although around 65 percent of Australians follow Christianity, the country has no official religion, and people are free to practise any religion as long as they obey the law.
The most popular art form is film, followed by popular music, art, opera/musical, live theater, dance, and classical music.
Australia has an efficient public transport system with buses, trains, trams, ferries, rideshare, and bikes. Private and public car rental services are available. Costs depend on the city and type of transport.
Some states provide concessions to international. Some educational institutions have their own transport, which is especially useful for students who leave the campus late or live in the suburbs.
You can drive if you hold a driver’s licence from your home country. But some states may require you to take a test three months after arrival.
Food and cuisine
Australia is often known as a “barbeque country” for its weather that encourages outdoor eating. Popular items range from steak and seafood to pork and other meat, which can be eaten with one hand, with the other hand holding a cold beverage.
But like many other international student destinations, you will find stores with groceries from all over the world, including Asian, Indian, Greek, Italian, French, and British.
If you don’t cook, campuses usually have options including vegetarian and vegan food. The government promotes healthy eating options, such as a low-salt, low-fat diet, which go well with the Australians’ outdoor lifestyle.
Indigenous food, such as fruits and berries, kangaroo and emu meat, are available at specialty restaurants and stores. Beer, wine, and coffee are favorite drinks.
Adelaide is a big center for wine production and Melbourne and Sydney have set off their café culture all over the world. Tim-Tam, a chocolate biscuit with a chocolate cream filling, is also world famous.
Expenses and costs in Australia
Tuition is less expensive than it is in the US or UK, but students will do well to plan a budget and take care with money matters. Fees are calculated per unit and may vary from student to student. Detailed information is usually available on university websites.
At the top five universities, the first year tuition fee for BE, for example, ranges from A$30,111 (A$1 = Rs. 49.38 = US$ 0.66 as on May 11, 2020) at the Australian National University, to A$37,440 at UNSW.
The first year tuition fee for MS is A$33,168 at ANU and A$36,960 at UNSW (the latter is the highest among the five) and for MBA A$31,593 and A$75,000 (the latter is the highest among the five). In addition, there will be other fees (such as registration) and expenses (such as insurance).
Of course, some universities have much lower undergraduate tuition fees, starting from A$15,000 for undergraduate programs and A$20,000 for postgraduate programs. PhD student pay around A$14,000 to A$37,000 a year. Scholarships are available for international students.
The Australian government specifies A$20,290 a year as the minimum required for living expenses, though expenses may vary between cities—Sydney is the costliest, followed by Melbourne, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane, and Adelaide.
The split may be accommodation A$6,720 a year, groceries and eating out A$6,240, public transport A$1,920, power and gas A$1,200, phone and Internet A$720, and entertainment A$1,920, with “miscellaneous” adding up the rest.
The first priority for an international student coming to Australia is to find an accommodation. Some students prefer to live off campus, in homestays, hostels, and rental properties.
Better accommodations will, of course, cost more, with shared house rents of between $150 and $300 a week. Rents in the suburbs may be less, but the building may be older or rundown.
An option might be to rent a better, more expensive accommodation during the semester and move to less expensive one during the holidays, if this is practical.
Some tenants may have to pay the landlord a “rental bond,” or security deposit, for a long-term lease, usually four to six week’ rent.
As an international student, you are allowed to work for 20 hours a week when you are studying and full-time during your semester break. This will give you work experience and find a suitable job when you graduate.
Popular jobs includes those at retail stores, supermarkets, call centers, cinemas, restaurants, and hotels.
You may even be able to find a job in your own target industry, such as at a TV station, in the case of a media student. The minimum wage in Australia is about A$16 before taxes.
Day in the life
By Sandeep Karki, writing as a freshman in an Australian university (paraphrased for conciseness): I get up around 6 am to the alarm beep on my phone, disturbing my dream of being at home in my own country and getting ready for a traditional breakfast. After a bath, I head to the kitchen for a breakfast of toast, and I see my flat-mate eating a bowl of cereal.
I leave for the train station at 9 am, and there I meet a friend from my home town and have a quick chat with her.
A 20-minute train journey takes me to a bus stop near the university, but from there I walk instead of catching a bus, and I save A$4 for the effort.
I reach my university in about 15 minutes and go to the lecture theater.
After the lecture, I go to my laboratory, where my tutor is happy to see me. There’s an Asian girl there, and the tutor’s happy to see us as he thinks we are the most promising students in his class.
After classes, I take the train to my class, enjoying the sunset from the train window, watching the sun go behind skyscrapers in the CBD area and then coming back again.
As I finish my assignment and look up my lessons, I can hear my flat-mate preparing dinner, and he calls out that it is for both of us.
I chat with my sister who lives in my country and send her some photos. I go to the kitchen and have the food, which was good, though a little spicy, and a lot better than something I could have dished out.
Before going to sleep, I set my alarm again, this time for 9 am tomorrow, as I don’t have classes in the morning, only a work shift at 3 pm. God, am I glad to treat myself to a few hours of extra sleep!
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– Executive MBA in Australia after resume gap of 6 years
For some related international student experiences elsewhere, read:
– International student life in Germany
– International student life in France
– International student life in Canada
– International student life in UK
– International student life in USA
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42