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Australia’s education system is a three-tier structure combining school education, vocational education and training, and higher education and involving funding and administration at state and federal level. The Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs provides policy development and implementation for all levels of education.

With 31 per cent of its adult population completing tertiary education, Australia has the third highest educational attainment among OECD countries. It has the second highest ranking in the OECD in terms of those currently enrolled for educational courses up to mature age level.

State Governments have the constitutional responsibility for providing education at the school level, with the Federal Government supplementing their funds for agreed objectives linked to national social justice policies such as providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged groups. Fee-paying private schools are an important part of the school scene, catering for 28 per cent of students across the country.

Vocational education and training are funded mainly at the state level, with the Federal Government providing about 26 per cent of total funding to implement national priorities for improving the productivity and skills of the workforce through training programs. The largest provider of the skills required by the workforce is the network of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Colleges, now numbering 287 throughout Australia. The Australian National Training Authority provides advice and strategic direction in this sector, and the Federal Government has established the National Employment and Training Task Force to improve training and find jobs for young people.

Higher education is a national responsibility, with the Federal Government providing $4.9 billion in 1994-95 for public universities in all states and territories. There has been a significant increase in funding for higher education in recent years, resulting in a 37 per cent increase in student numbers between 1988 and 1993. Students may have their fees paid through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS), but are required to repay the debt when they enter the workforce. Subject to a means test, they may also be paid a non-refundable living allowance. There are some privately-funded higher education institutions, including colleges for teachers and theologians. The Bond University of Technology in Queensland was established in 1989 as a private university.


Australian educators have had long association with overseas institutions, especially in Asia. The Colombo Plan brought many Asian students to Australian universities under scholarships, and Australian universities have established links with institutions in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan. The Federal Government continues to provide assistance for overseas students, with the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) sponsoring 5700 students in 1994.

Australian education institutions are now combining to provide facilities for overseas students paying full fees for their courses. Beginning in 1986 with 300 students, the international education program now caters for more than 64 000 fee-paying international students. It provides for studentsfrom primary school to higher education level and is supported by a network of education advisers in Australian missions in about 40 countries.

In 1994, the Federal Government established the Australian International Education Foundation (AIEF) to lift the profile of Australian education around the world and develop a trade in international education and training services now worth more than $1.6 billion a year. The Foundation, representing government, educational institutions and industry, administers a fund attracting government and private sponsorship and now totalling $6 million to promote Australian education services overseas. Individual institutions connected with the Foundation spend about $30 million a year promoting their own services.

In Asia, where almost 90 per cent of full-fee paying students are sourced, Australian Education Centres have been established in Jakarta, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Seoul and Taipei to help intending students learn about the facilities offered byAustralian institutions. AIEF is also developing overseas study, research and career opportunities for Australians through programs that help student and staff exchange.

This document has been prepared by Australia's International Public Affairs branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The help received from Australian government departments, associated organisations and other authorities is gratefully acknowledged. Information is current to April 1995. Money values are in Australian currency, weights and measures in Metric.