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What’s it like to study in… Sydney?

Students from all over the globe, and particularly the Asia Pacific region, are drawn to Sydney's world-class universities. But what's it like to actually live and study there - and what do students need to know before they apply?

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If you have students who are thinking of studying abroad then Sydney may interest them. Australia’s largest city is number thirteen in the QS ‘Best Student Cities’ (2017) table, and up there at number two in the ‘Desirability’ category of the index. That could have something to do with the unlimited sunshine, fantastic beaches, food culture and surfing that Sydney is famous for.

If the appeal of an English-speaking country with great weather, a laid-back approach to life and a national sports obsession is kind of obvious, how about the academics?

Australia’s higher education system, which is broadly based on the UK’s, is well-regarded and placed fourth in the world in the QS ‘System Strength’ table, behind the US, UK and Germany. Australia has a world-class reputation for excellence in sports science, conservation, geology, geography, marine biology and environmental sciences and carries out cutting edge research into solar energy and hydro-power technologies. Its ‘Group of Eight’ premier research-led universities are considered to be world-class and two of these – the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney – can be found in Sydney itself.

Australian universities also tend to have strong ties with Asian cities. Sydney’s connections with the economic powerhouse that is the Asia Pacific region can be a draw for students keen to establish their global networks.

Where to study in Sydney

Sydney has five universities that feature in the QS World University Rankings: the University of Sydney, the University of Technology Sydney, the University of New South Wales, Macquarie University and Western Sydney University – so there is plenty of choice.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) is ranked 45th in the world. Located in the suburb of Kensington, it has nine faculties and a diverse alumni list that includes King Tupou VI of Tonga and Rebel Wilson.

Established in 1850, The University of Sydney is one of Australia’s largest institutions. Its currently number 50 in the World University rankings, and number four for Graduate Employability. Housed in some of Australia’s oldest buildings, it places emphasis on tradition. Sports are played at a high level and the university boasts the oldest cricket club in Australia and the oldest rugby club outside Britain.

Western Sydney University (WSU) has 10 campuses in Sydney’s western suburbs, each with its own personality. Macquarie University is slightly further from the city centre, and places emphasis on careers thinking from an early stage.

Each university handles its own applications and prospective students can find information on the universities’ websites.

What’s different about it?

The academic year in Australia begins in February, with the first term running from February to June and the second term from July until November. The long summer holiday comes between November and February.

Degree courses are typically flexible, and have some similarities with the American system. Students choose a ‘major’ which accounts for two-thirds of their course, with a ‘minor’ in any subject they choose. They can also choose a ‘double-major’, studying two subjects equally. Students often change course during their degree.

Study programmes are generally a mix or lectures and tutorials and teaching styles are informal, often with an emphasis on encouraging debate.

Student life in Sydney

Student apartment blocks are known as ‘Villages’ – and these are an easy accommodation option where newly arrived international students are guaranteed to meet people. Students may even end up taking part in an annual Village sports competition, in which students from Villages all over Australia travel to a designated city each year to compete in various sporting events. Did we mention sport again?

Getting around the city is relatively easy on public transport networks and lots of students also cycle around. There is no shortage of things to do in Sydney and student clubs and societies abound. Culture fans are well served here with plenty of theatres, art galleries and of course the iconic Opera House. While Aussies are known for their beer-and-barbie weekends, Sydney is also a health-conscious city with juice bars on every corner.

Students typically have a lot of responsibility to plan and manage their own study time, and students will need to be self-disciplined enough to choose essay-completion over Bondi Beach. The University of Sydney’s Student Support Service offers advice and mentoring schemes and can help with visa and accommodation issues. Orientation events are also organised for new students to meet each other and get lots of information about uni life.

How much does it cost to study in Sydney?

If there’s a downside to Sydney, it’s the relatively high tuition fees and cost of living. Average undergraduate fees are AU$29,235 (US$23,322; £16,769), but the most expensive courses, such as veterinary science and medicine are considerably more.

Tuition fees in Australia are usually calculated ‘per unit’ – with units belonging to a particular ‘band’, rather than per year. Because students choose their own modules – studying a combination of units from different bands, fees will be different or everyone.

Compared to the US and Europe, Australia is more expensive for things like groceries and eating out, rent and books. Costs are obviously very variable, but having a budget of around AU$350 (US$267; £200), per week to cover living costs, food and transport would be wise.

The Australia Awards are scholarships offered to students from participating countries in Asia, the Pacific, Middle East and Africa. There are also some university-specific scholarships that international students can apply for – check university websites for details.

Other things for students to consider:

  • Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIPP) [LINK: http://www.border.gov.au ] requires international students to prove that they have AU $19,830 (US$15,123; £11,362) to support themselves each year, as well as a return air fare.
  • When applying for a student visa, an offer letter from a university is required.
  • International students travelling to Australia to study must have valid Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) that covers the entire duration of their stay in Australia (even before their course has started). Many universities will arrange this for students, but it’s something that the student will need to check.
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