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Higher Education in Australia 

Australian universities are characterized by the high quality of their instructional programs and their desire to prepare students for the professional challenges of the coming century. The Australian system of higher education is mostly public and highly accessible, and it is characterized by self-motivated, independent study. It recognizes excellence and often places emphasis on research that is linked to the country's development. Australia takes advantage of its unique geographical location by pursuing educational and professional ties with the nations of East Asia. As a result, Australian university campuses reflect these links in their diverse student populations.

In order to understand the Australian academic system, you must first take into account the size of its institutions. There are 37 Australian universities, with a total student population of 630,000. This number has climbed significantly since 1987, when there was a total student population of 385,000. All but two of these universities are publicly supported. Most Australian students attend large universities in their home states. The size of a typical urban Australian university is similar to that of many American state institutions. To qualify for university entrance, Australian high school students must take a tertiary entrance examination in twelfth grade. Application to university for Australian students is via a centralized state admissions center. Entrance exam scores are reviewed along with grades, and students are offered places in various departments on the basis of their achievement.

One higher education option in Australia is Training and Further Education (TAFE), which serves over a million students. These are the rough equivalent of community colleges found in the US. These institutions largely provide courses of up to two years in skills development. TAFE institutions grant certificates, associate diplomas and diplomas.

Most Australian universities offer three-year degree programs for arts, science and economics majors, with an optional fourth "honors" year. Engineering students can expect to spend four years at university, while future veterinarians and dentists complete five years of coursework. Medical degrees are five to six years in length. Grades tend to be based upon essays and final examinations rather than on the "continuous assessment" model which characterizes the American university system.

Graduate education in Australia consists of taught or research-based master's degrees of between one and two years' duration, and PhD programs which are thesis-based.

The Australian academic year reflects the order of the seasons in the southern hemisphere. The year begins in early autumn (February) and runs until the beginning of summer (in early December). There are two semesters; February to June, and July through November. For our purposes, the "spring" semester (which the Australians call Semester I) is February to June, and the "fall" semester (which is called Semester II) is July through November. Each semester usually includes a week or ten days' break at about its mid-point. Bond University, a private institution which operates three full semesters during the year, follows the North American university calendar, with semesters beginning in January, May and September.

In Australia, American students can expect to experience life in a culture that, although English-speaking, is vastly different from the one to which we are accustomed in this country. Australian universities offer you a truly international community with a range of subject areas to study. Students from throughout Asia and the Middle East are recruited to degree programs at many Australian institutions. International (non-Australian) students comprise a significant percentage of undergraduate enrollments in this country.

Arcadia program students frequently find themselves enrolled in second year courses. This does not mean that an American junior is being demoted to sophomore level; it means, rather, that the course which is appropriate for you is the one which is taught the year before graduation. In a three-year degree program, this means a second-year course. In the past, Arcadia program students have been successful in some third year courses, and many have been permitted to enroll in first year courses in which they've had no previous background.

Probably the key difference between higher education in Australia and that with which you are familiar in the United States comes in the approach which the host institution will have to you as a student. They will assume that you are a serious, independent learner. It is your responsibility as a student enrolled in a course or a cluster of courses at a given institution to take full advantage of everything available to you there. Nobody who teaches at the host institution will feel an obligation to reach out to you. You will find instructors who are glad to lecture, happy to discuss, pleased to read and to criticize what you have written and who are interested in responding to what you have to say. You will find those same instructors equally willing to leave you alone, to let you attend class or not, to permit you to choose to turn in assignments or not, to allow you to behave independently and set your own pace.

It would be highly unusual for lecturers to go out of their way to ensure that you are doing your work. Chances are that you will not be closely monitored, you will not have your hand held. If you don't ask, you will not be told how or when to do everything that you should be doing. The expectation is that you will behave as a mature learner who is able to decide for him/herself what you need to learn and how to go about learning it.

There are, however, expectations. You will be expected to turn in assigned papers and to register for and perform successfully on examinations. In order to do these things, you will need to have done a fair amount of reading on, thinking about and perhaps even discussing of the topics covered in the course. You will find academic work presented in a variety of ways: large lectures (you are probably familiar with these in the United States), smaller classes (these are usually conducted by the lecturer or by an assistant to the lecturer and frequently focus on topics that are dealt with in the lectures), seminars (here an instructor and six to ten students gather to discuss readings that might have been done or papers which might have been written by members of the seminar group), and tutorials (these can range in size from a student and an instructor together to a group of three or four students with an instructor presenting papers, discussing topics and reviewing thoughts that all of them have had about material they have studied).

Most courses rely heavily on your doing a good deal of reading during your non-scheduled time. The list of readings which is distributed by the instructor on (or near) the first day of class can be quite intimidating. Frequently, as many as 50 or 100 books and articles relevant to the topic of the course will appear on the reading list. The lecturer responsible for the course will expect you to "look into" several of these works. He or she will likely not tell you which ones. As the learner responsible for his/her own intellectual development, you will decide which materials to read. You will be encouraged to find themes among them that are of interest to you and to do more reading on those themes. You may then be asked to write a paper setting forth your analysis of one or more of these themes. When this happens, be sure to find out what's meant by the term "paper" and, if you can, ascertain the instructor's expectations concerning length, citation of sources, etc.

Almost invariably you will be expected to "sit" an examination at the end of each of your courses. In some courses, this examination may be the only evaluation of your work. It is thus possible, in a full-year course, to come to a three-hour time slot at the end of the year during which you must demonstrate, by answering a set of questions, that you have read widely, thought deeply and have learned something of significance during the preceding nine months. It is more likely that you will be examined in each course at the end of a semester (a twelve to fifteen week teaching period). Generally there will be fewer assessed papers and tests in Australian classes than you are used to. The emphasis is on producing comprehensive work that shows both the breadth of your reading and the originality of your approach to a subject. American students find it particularly challenging to be expected to summarize the work of an entire semester or year in a single three-hour examination period. Nearly every university provides special tutorial sessions on exam-taking for their own students, which you are encouraged to attend.

All (or some) of this may sound rather strange. It may even be intimidating. Don't let it put you off. Yes, it will be different overseas. But you wouldn't want it to be exactly like home, would you? It's a challenge. It can even be fun. It's an opportunity to show what you can do pretty much on your own. You have already demonstrated an ability to handle the academic work – if you couldn't, you wouldn't have been accepted. Now what you will need to discover is how to continue being a successful student in quite different surroundings.

The role of the Arcadia University College of Global Studies will be to help and support you throughout the academic process. At the beginning of your overseas experience our staff will help to orient and advise you. We will identify and put you in touch with those individuals on your host campus who will be responsible for helping you to register in the classes you elect to take. We will provide you with guidance concerning the academic calendar and credits, insisting that you register for a full academic load and that you do not overload or underload without special permission. (Such permission must come not only from the host institution but also from your home institution and from the Arcadia University College of Global Studies.)

We will facilitate communication between you and your home school in an attempt to resolve any course or credit conflicts that may arise during the registration process. Arcadia staff members will visit you on campus from time to time not only to check on your academic enrollment but to ask how you're doing in general. If there are difficulties, we encourage you to reach out to us, bring them to our attention and let us help you resolve them.

We acknowledge responsibility to several parties in the study abroad process. We have a responsibility to you, our student, to be certain that you are given the educational opportunity which you expect to find overseas and to provide you with the opportunity to succeed academically. We have an obligation to your family to do everything within reason to assure your safety and well-being. We have an obligation to your home school to receive your grades from the host institution and to report them honestly along with an indication of how we believe credits and grades should be assigned for the work you undertake overseas.

We must also notify your home school of situations of which we become aware which may affect the credit that you will be likely to transfer back from a study abroad experience. That way, we try to avoid surprises at the end of a program. Finally, we have an obligation to get out of your way and give you an opportunity to gain everything possible from your study abroad experience. At orientation, you will be required to sign a Arcadia University academic contract stating your responsibilities as a Arcadia program student. Click here to see a copy of the contract. Arcadia University and its overseas staff serve as a safety net, a point of contact. We will provide a good deal of advice and guidance. We are there for you to call on when you need us. It is you, however, having the experience. We hope it will be all you expect.

Note: You are strongly encouraged to retain all course syllabi and coursework until you receive your final transcript from Arcadia University. Course assessment methods can vary from course to course. Tutorial participation often factors into assessment.