Education system

How does the education system work?

This section gives you an overview of the Australian education system, and answers your questions about our world-class educational facilities and institutions.

In New South Wales, the education process is as follows:

  • Preschool – before Kindergarten (not compulsory)
  • Primary School – Kindergarten to year 6
  • Secondary School (referred to as 'High School') – years 7 to 12

Students who successfully complete years 11 and 12 in NSW are awarded a Higher School Certificate (HSC), an internationally recognised qualification for students entering tertiary study, vocational training or employment. Students wanting to continue studying after high school can also apply for an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), which ranks students across Australia based on their results in years 11 and 12.

'Entry requirements' are what you need to have in order to get into a course. As part of their entry requirements, most higher education providers need you to have an ATAR or an international equivalent. TAFE and private vocational education and training (VET) providers generally ask for HSC or an international equivalent, and may also need proof of your work skills. English language courses often require a minimum level of English language proficiency.

You should always check the entry requirements of your course with your chosen institution

Your questions answered


What is the language of instruction?

English is the official language of Australia and is the main language of instruction in most educational institutions. Some institutions offer bilingual programs in languages such as French, German, Indonesian, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

To find out if bilingual teaching is available at your chosen institution, contact them directly.


What are the options for post-school education for international students?

After secondary school (years 7-12), there are various education options, including vocational education and training (VET) institutions – such as the public technical and further education (TAFE) colleges, private registered training organisations (RTOs) and universities and private higher education providers (HEPs).


Which institution and courses are registered and accredited in NSW?

Institutions that offer courses and services to international students are listed on the 'Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students' (CRICOS). All courses for international students must have a CRICOS code to be registered and accredited in Australia (and NSW).


What kinds of qualifications are available?

NSW offers all levels of qualification – from VET certificates and bachelor degrees through to postgraduate qualifications. Some institutions, such as English language colleges and VET providers, also offer a number of non-AQF short or intensive courses to international students. Information on Australian qualification levels is available from the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).


How long do the courses last?

Your course can last anything from a few weeks or months (an intensive English language course, or a Certificate II at a VET provider) to several years (a bachelors or masters degree at a higher education provider, for example).


Are qualifications earned in NSW recognised worldwide?

Yes, the qualifications gained via the NSW education system are recognised by institutions and employers worldwide.


How is the academic year structured?

This varies depending on the individual educational institution. Some work with a semester (two terms per year) system, while others have a trimester system (three terms per year).

Most education providers publish calendars with important dates outlined including: enrolment, orientation, programs starts, breaks, exams and exam results publication, which you can usually find on their website.


What happens if I cannot pay?

If you cannot pay your fees, you must contact your educational institution as soon as possible. Some institutions will allow you to apply for an extension, but others will not. Paying your fees on time is generally a requirement of remaining enrolled in your course, and remaining enrolled in your course is a requirement of holding a student visa.