Australia's universities are recognised globally for their relevance and the high quality of their courses. Though it has a relatively small population of twenty million, Australia ranks third in the English-speaking world behind the United States and the United Kingdom for total numbers of international students.
In 2003, some 77,000 international students studied for Australian postgraduate qualifications ranging from graduate diplomas and certificates, masters, through to PhDs by research.While the majority of international students who choose Australia as their study destination are from Asia, increasing numbers are travelling from Europe and the Americas for a 'study downunder' experience.
While students are predominantly attracted to studying in Australia by the quality of its university courses, other strong drawcards include its climate, environmental wonders, its multicultural population and a reputation as a tolerant, friendly, safe and sophisticated society. Australia's standard of living is also very high and with generally lower course and living costs compared to the US and UK, studying in Australia is seen as good value-for-money.
For international students, by far the most common mode of postgraduate study in Australia is the masters by coursework with most students completing these courses through full-time study. In 2003, 35,000 international students studied towards a Coursework Masters ten times more than the numbers studying for PhDs by research.
The most popular areas of study for international postgraduate students are management, finance, economics, information technology and engineering and related technologies.
STRENGTH THROUGH DIVERSITY
Australia's higher education system is as diverse as its terrain and its people, with 39 universities providing undergraduate and postgraduate courses across a land-mass almost the size of the continental United States, excluding Alaska.
Australia is a federation of six states, each with its own elected government with wide responsibility for local affairs. The largest state is Western Australia which is four times the size of Texas and more than ten times the size of Great Britain. South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the picturesque island of Tasmania make up the remaining states. There are also two self governing territories ' the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory within which the nation's capital, Canberra, sits. Each state or territory capital city has at least one university, with others located in regional centres catering for the specific educational and research needs of these areas.
With Australian universities ranging in size from 3,000 to 50,000 students and each with its own strengths, it is vital that prospective postgraduate students think carefully about which university, course and mode of study will best suit their needs and expectations. They also need to research the city they will be living in, because living in major metropolitan areas like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth is very different to life in a regional centre.
EIGHT STAND APART
While Australia has 39 universities, just eight of these account for around sixty per cent of PhDs awarded in Australia each year. These eight universities are:
- -The University of Adelaide (Adelaide)
- -The Australian National University (Canberra)
- -The University of Melbourne (Melbourne)
- -Monash University (Melbourne)
- -The University of New South Wales (Sydney)
- -The University of Queensland (Brisbane)
- -The University of Sydney (Sydney)
- -The University of Western Australia (Perth)
Together, these universities are known as the Group of Eight and are recognised internationally as Australia's most prestigious universities.
THE GROUP OF EIGHT DIFFERENCE
A key difference between the Group of Eight and other Australian universities is the nexus that exists between research and teaching in Group of Eight universities. Group of Eight universities strive to sustain teaching and research programs that command international reputations for their impacts. Ensuring that postgraduate students have the opportunity to be taught by, or work with, leading academics in their chosen field is an important part of this and one that is recognised by many international postgraduate students as extremely valuable.
Take Andr' Gygax of Switzerland, who completed a PhD in the Faculty of Economics at the University of Melbourne in 2002 who says: 'Throughout my PhD studies I received terrific support from my supervisors who guided me in the right direction so that I could finish my degree within the scheduled time frame. I was impressed by the willingness of the department to listen to its students; to invest in financial databases and provide excellent computer hardware and software. I strongly recommend the PhD program in finance at the University of Melbourne to students with a strong background in finance, economics, statistics and mathematics.'
According to Professor Frank Larkins, Deputy Vice- Chancellor (Research) at the University of Melbourne the university 'continues to strengthen its research profile through strategic alliances, strong staff development programs to nurture early career research and through active bidding for competitive national and international research funding.'
Pockets of excellent research exist across the entire Australian higher education sector. However, with the majority of Australia's outstanding researchers based in Group of Eight universities, prospective postgraduate students wanting to be taught by academics working at the cutting edge of their fields, would be well served to investigate the options available at Group of Eight universities, before looking further-a-field.
For example, Group of Eight universities are the host institutions for around 90 per cent of Australia's university-based Federation Fellows. The Federation Fellowship program is a recent initiative of the Australian government designed to support researchers of international renown in carrying out ground-breaking research.
Twenty five of these fellowships, which include a salary component of $A250,000 per year for five years, are awarded each year. As a measure of the Group of Eight's dominance of the Australian research landscape, 19 of the Federation Fellowships granted in 2004 were awarded to researchers who chose to be based at one of these universities.
CLIMATE IMPACT ASSESSMENT Professor Amanda Lynch, Monash University
Professor Lynch, from the School of Geography and Environmental Science at Monash University, is a world-renowned climate change scientist. Her research is aimed at developing a new model and data-based methodology to characterise extreme weather conditions that are not predicted in normal climate models.
NANOMATERIALS Professor Max Lu, The University of Queensland
Professor Lu is Director of the Australian Research Centre for Functional Nanomaterials and holds the Chair of Nanotechnology at The University of Queensland. The technology being developed by Professor Lu and his team will contribute to the early commercialisation and adaptation of fuel-cell cars and zero-emission power generation.
QUANTUM COMPUTING Professor Robert Clark, The University of New South Wales
Professor Clark is Scientia Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of New South Wales and Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computer Technology. Professor Clark's research is at the forefront of the development of quantum computing.
stralia is a relatively young and small country, but one that punches well above its weight in terms of the quality of the teaching and research that occurs in its universities. A key strength of the Australian university system is its diversity, with the country's 39 universities all pursuing their own unique missions. Such diversity does, however, make choosing the right place to study difficult and prospective international postgraduate students should ensure they take the time to research the options thoroughly before making a decision. There is a wealth of information about Australia's universities available through the internet and most universities have international offices more than happy to answer specific questions. Information about Australia's leading universities ' The Group of Eight is available at www.go8.edu.au.