The UK vs Australian Higher Education System

Recently, Australia has overtaken the UK as the second most popular destination in the world for international students. Is one better than the other? What are the differences? Here, we give you the summary of the UK vs Australian Higher Education System.

Prestige and Reputation

Historically, the UK is internationally renowned for its prestigious tradition of educational excellence. Oxford and Cambridge are among the top 10 and most well known universities in the world. In the 2019 QS University Global Ranking Report, there were 7 Australian universities and 18 UK universities in the top 100. However, it’s important to note that Australia has higher proportion of Top 100 universities as it only has approximately 42 universities in the country while the UK has around 120. Still, both degrees are recognized and well regarded internationally.


Unlike the US higher education system which lets students out of high school entry straight into their four year degree programs, both UK and Australian universities require students to first complete a pre-university programme. UK universities prefer the A-levels while Australian universities prefer the Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT) or the South Australian Matriculation (SAM/SACE). Still, both are internationally recognized and are still accepted in other countries.

AUSMAT is administered administered by the Western Australian Government and the Australian Matriculation (SAM) which is administered by the South Australian Government. Both are largely similar, requiring one year to complete and for you to choose five subjects. However, the main difference is that AUSMAT is 50% coursework and 50% exams while SAM is 70% coursework and 30% exams. A-levels on the other hand is a 18-24 month programme where students study three to five subjects and are assessed on two big final exams.

For non-native English speakers, both Australia and the UK prefer IELTS as their primary English proficiency test to assess your English writing, reading, listening and speaking abilities.


Overall, the UK is generally more exam based in evaluating student performance than Australia. In Australia, there is more of a balance between coursework such as presentations, quizzes, participation, discussion, assignments and exams.

The UK and Australian universities also have differing grading systems. The UK uses the honours system from First Class to Third Class while Australia separates grades through high distinction to a fail.

High Distinction (HD)85-100First-Class70-100
Distinction (D)74-84Upper Second-Class60-69
Credit (C)65-74Lower Second-Class50-59
Pass (P)50-64Third40-49
Fail (F)<50Fail<40

Australia also has a seven scale Grade Point Average (GPA) system where the marks transfers as below:

  • High Distinction = 7
  • Distinction = 6
  • Credit = 5
  • Pass = 4
  • Fail level 1 = 1
  • Fail level 2 = 0


Unlike US degrees which allow you up to two years of study before declaring a degree, both UK and Australian undergraduate degrees require you to have chosen a major or programme beforehand. However, overall, the Australian higher education system can be seen as more flexible and broader than the UK one. In Australia, there is more emphasis on electives (subjects outside your main area). Thus, you will be able to uniquely tailor your degree to your specific career goals if you so choose.

Studying in the honours system is also vastly different in the two countries. In the Australian higher education system, an honours degree, BA(Hons), entails another extra year of study with a focus on research. It prepares you for a postgraduate degree through the completion of a thesis or a creative or practice-based research project.

In the UK, an honours degree means studying with 360+ credits instead of the usual 300 credits but still in only three years. During the final year of study, honours students will work on a substantial project or dissertation. It is not to be confused with honours in the context of classification of degree, first class honours etc.

Cost & Length

Both the UK and Australian higher education system’s bachelor degree takes 3 years. It might come to a surprise to many but Australia is actually considered by some sources one of the most expensive country to study in, beating out both the UK and US. Still, it all depends on where you study in the country itself though, as studying in prestigious university in London and thus living cost will likely be costlier than an average Australian university.

Other Things To Consider

Of course, the general setting and environment of the two countries are vastly different as well. The UK is more well known for its gloomy rainy weather while Australia is all non-stop sunshine. If you love wildlife and outdoor activities, Australia may be the place for you!

Culturally, many students comment that UK teachers are more formal compared to the Australians who are more relaxed and casual.

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