Education in Australia follows a three-tier model: primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Primary education

Primary education often consists of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten education, followed by six years of school education. These are commonly referred to as "Year 1", "Year 2", and so on, up to "Year 6".

Secondary education

In Australia, secondary schools are generally referred to as high schools, although some states have now adopted the name secondary college. The exact length of secondary school varies from state to state, but the majority teach years 7-12.

It is compulsory to attend school until the age of fifteen, and some students leave school after the completion of year ten, but a majority of students remain at school to complete their high school studies.

At the end of high schooling, students generally have an aggregate mark or rank calculated, based upon both school assessment and final exams. Selection for entry into tertiary education courses is determined according to this index.

This index is determined on an aggregate measurement on a final examination. In New South Wales it is measured by the Higher School Certificate (HSC) on condition of completion of the School Certificate and years 11 and 12 of secondary education. In Victoria it is determined using the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), and in the Western Australia, the examination is referred to as the Tertiary Entrance Examinations (TEE). The content of the syllabi and the exams change from state to state and are controlled by state government bodies, such as the Board of Studies for NSW.

Classification of degrees

In Australia, the classification of degreess is governed in part by the Australian Qualfications Framework (AQF), which integrates into a single classification all levels of tertiary education (both vocational and higher education), from trade certificates to higher doctorates. However, the primary usage of AQF is for vocational education, so the classification it provides at university-level is rather lacking in detail. Most of the details of the classification is decided upon by each university for itself, although in recent years there have been some informal moves towards standardization between them.

In Australia, degrees are classified as follows:

  • Certificate, Diploma and Associate Degrees, which take 1-2 years to complete, and consist primarily of coursework. These are primarily offered by TAFEs and other institutions as vocational training. Universities tend mainly to award Certificates and Diplomas as adjuncts to another degree, e.g. most Australian schoolteachers have complete a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science with a Diploma of Education (DipEd). They are also awarded at the graduate level, in which case they are called Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma, and consist of similar material to a Masters by Coursework, but do not go for as long.

  • Bachelors degrees, generally the first university degree undertaken, which take 3 or 4 years to complete, and consist primarily of coursework. Bachelors degrees are normally awarded with honours to the best performing students. In some courses, honours is awarded on the basis of performance throughout the course, but normally honours consists of undertaking a year of research (like a miniature PhD or Masters by Research). Honours are divided into First Class, Second Class (normally divided into Division I and Division II) and Third Class. This is roughly equivalent to the American classification of cum laude, summa cum laude, and magna cum laude. Individuals who do not attempt honours or who fail their honours course are awarded a degree with a grade of Pass.

  • Masters degrees, which are undertaken after the completion of one or more Bachelors degrees. Masters degrees deal with a subject at a more advanced level than Bachelors degrees, and can consist either of research, coursework, or a mixture of the two.

  • Doctorates, most famously Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which are undertaken after a Bachelors or Masters degree, by an original research project resulting in a thesis or dissertation. Admission to candidature for a PhD generally requires either a Bachelor's degree with good honours (First Class or Second Class Division I), or a Masters degree. In many cases a student with only a Pass Bachelor's degree can enroll in a Masters program and then transfer to a PhD. Australian PhDs to do not tend to take as long as American or British ones, and consist of less coursework than most American PhDs.

  • Higher Doctorates, such as Doctor of Science (DSc) or Doctor of Letters (DLitt), which are awarded on the basis of a record of original research or of publications, over many years (often 10).

Australian Universities tend to award more named degrees than institutions in some other countries. Most Australian universities offer several different named degrees per a faculty. By contrast, at an undegraduate level at Oxford University, almost all students complete a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), even if they are studying areas such as Chemistry or Economics, whereas at most Australian institutions only students choosing to concentrate in the humanities would be awarded a B.A. However, although there is a large proliferation at the level of Bachelors and Masters, at the Doctorate and Higher Doctorate level most institutions only have four or five degrees in all, and almost all Doctorates are PhDs.

Unlike American institutions, where most medical doctors or lawyers will graduate with an M.D or J.D, medical doctors and lawyers in Australia generally only graduate with Bachelor's degrees. In Australia, a degree of Doctor is only awarded after original research or honoris causa, although by custom medical doctors are permitted to assume that title without having completed a doctorate. In the case of medical doctors, the most common award is M.B.B.S, the double degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (this is similar to the case in Britain). The most common award for lawyers is LL.B or BLaws (which are both abbreviations, one Latin and the other English, for Bachelor of Laws). Traditionally in Australia, medical degrees where commenced immediately after secondary education, unlike in the United States where student generally complete an undergraduate degree first before going to medical school. However, some universities are now introducing graduate entry only degrees in medicine, but these are still classified as Bachelors degrees. Law is generally a combined degree (BA/LLB, BSc/LLB, BCom/LLB, etc., depending on the other interests of the student), although some universities offer graduate entry bachelors degrees and most permit in some cases undergraduate entry to non-combined law, although often only to mature age or distance education students.

Australian Bachelor's degrees are generally only 3 years, unlike the 4 year degrees found in the United States, although some institutions offer 4 year degrees as well (generally seen as a half-way point between doing a normal 3 year degree and a 5 year combined degree). Australian universities tend to have less of an emphasis on a liberal education than many universities in the U.S., which is reflected in the shorter length of Australian degrees.

See also: Education by country