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Applying for a PhD in Australia & New Zealand

by Sarah Nash

Unless you hold citizenship or permanent residency of Australia or New Zealand you will be classed as an international student when undertaking any level of study there, including doctoral study.

You will find PhD projects for international students in Australia and New Zealand here on FindAPhD. If your specialty isn’t listed then you should contact the university or universities that you are interested in studying at with a draft research proposal, so that the university can see whether your intended research project is something that they have the resources for and are interested in supervising. Depending on your area of interest, this may lead to an academic inviting you to join a research group or project that is already ongoing, but most PhDs in Australia or New Zealand are approved and undertaken as individual projects.

A student must gain provisional approval or an expression of interest from a Faculty or individual academic before they can submit a formal application for admission. The official representative of Australian and New Zealand universities in the UK and Ireland is Study Options and students based in those countries should apply through them. Unsolicited or speculative PhD applications to Australian and New Zealand universities are usually rejected outright, so this first stage of the process is key.

Establishing contact with a potential supervisor and getting provisional approval for your intended research proposal means identifying the academics that are working in the area that you intend to work in and making direct contact with the relevant individuals. When you approach academic members of staff, it’s important that you communicate your research intent in a concise, well thought-through manner - academic staff will receive a lot of similar requests and are only likely to respond positively to the ones that demonstrate commitment and ability.

Choosing A University

How should you choose which universities to approach? Study Options can provide broad details of Australian and New Zealand universities’ research and particular areas of expertise as a starting point. Study Options also holds annual Open Days in the UK, which offer students the chance to meet representatives from the Australian and New Zealand universities face to face. These are an excellent opportunity to ask questions, but also to get some guidance as to the best way of approaching academics, and pick up Faculty contacts. Full details of the Open Days can be found here.

Many students choose their PhD universities on the basis of the reputation of a particular school, or even an individual academic. We recommend checking academic publications in your field to find out which universities are undertaking work that interests you.

How Long Will it Take?

Most PhD programmes in Australia and New Zealand last for three years. PhDs in both countries are entirely research-based.

How Much Will it Cost?

As an overseas PhD student in Australia you will technically be eligible for tuition fees at the full international rate. These vary, but can be between AU$17,000 and AU$35,000 per year depending on your university and subject area. Don't let this put you off though. In fact relatively few international PhD students in Australia actually pay fees at this rate. Most Australian universities are able to offer funding and scholarship packages including full or partial fee waivers and / or maintenance grants. See below for more information on funding for PhD students in Australia.

In New Zealand, however, the situation is very different. All international PhD students are eligible to pay the same fees as local, New Zealand students, thanks to a New Zealand Government policy intended to attract high-quality researchers into the country. This reduces the fees considerably – students heading to New Zealand for PhD study should expect to pay between NZ$6,000 and NZ$9,000 per year.

Scholarships and Funding

The universities are still the main sources of funding for PhD students, and many do offer generous scholarship schemes for talented international PhD students. Once you have established a conversation with a potential supervisor (see above) it’s also worth asking them for advice on funding – they may know about schemes or one-off pieces of funding for a particular School or project which aren’t being widely publicised.

Both the Australia and the New Zealand governments offer scholarships for international PhD students. Details of these can be found at:

New Zealand: The International Doctoral Research Scholarships

Australia: The Endeavour Awards

What entry qualifications will I need?

Australian and New Zealand universities require PhD applicants to hold the equivalent of an Australian or New Zealand Honours degree in order to apply for PhD study. Please note that in Australia and New Zealand ‘Honours’ is not a class of mark as it is in the UK, but rather a fourth year of study, undertaken after successful completion of a Bachelors degree, and done largely by research. While it may be possible for a student to apply for an Australian or New Zealand PhD straight after doing a three-year UK undergraduate degree, it is unusual – the candidate would have to have excellent marks, be looking to undertake a PhD in a field directly related to their undergraduate degree, and have a considerable amount of research experience within their field. Most successful applicants have either done a four-year undergraduate degree in the UK, or a Bachelors and a Masters qualification.

When do PhDs start, and when should I apply?

Academic terms in Australia and New Zealand start in February and July each year, but PhDs are not bound by the academic calendar and so can be started at any time during the year that’s mutually convenient for you and your supervisor. Because of this there are no set deadlines for academic applications, although if you are applying for a scholarship many of those will have inflexible timeframes so you may need to time everything around your funding applications. The whole process is likely to take anywhere between four and 12 months to organise.

What documents will I need to provide with my application?

All universities will want you to include a completed application form (available from Study Options) plus academic transcripts for each year of your undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications (a transcript is an official list, issued by the university, of the subjects you've studied and the grades you've obtained) as well as your degree completion certificates. Academic references, a copy of your research proposal, copies of correspondence from your supervisor outlining their willingness to supervise your research and a CV will usually also be required.

Will I have to do an interview?

That depends on the university – some academics are happy to communicate entirely by email, others would prefer to speak to you directly – but either way, you won’t be required to actually travel to Australia or New Zealand. If an interview is required, it will be done over the phone or via Skype.

Visas and Immigration

All international students undertaking a PhD in Australia or New Zealand will need to have a student visa for the duration of their studies. More information about applying for a student visa is available from the Departments of Immigration – please see www.immi.gov.au and www.immigration.govt.nz. Please note that in order to fulfil the requirements of a student visa you must study full-time – part-time PhDs as an international student are not an option.

Sarah Nash is Director of Study Options, the official representatives of Australian and New Zealand Universities in the UK & Ireland.

Students in the UK and Ireland can contact Study Options (tel: 020 7353 7200; email info@studyoptions.com). Study Options is a free advice and guidance service for students looking to study in Australia and New Zealand. They can provide information on what courses are available and the universities that offer them as well as practical help with completing and submitting your application and applying for a student visa.  All of their staff have either studied or worked in an Australian or New Zealand university.

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