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PhD Study in Australia - A Guide for 2019

Interested in PhD study 'down under'? Australia has a lot more to offer than sun, sea and sand. With world-class research centres and internationally ranked universities, the country is also a vibrant hub for research and scholarship.

This page provides all the information you need if you're considering an Australian PhD. We've explained how doctoral applications and admissions work, which visa you'll need and what funding might be available.

On this page

PhD opportunities in Australia - what's on offer for 2019?

There's more to postgraduate research than surfing, hiking and great food (sadly). You'll need to know that you're completing your doctorate at an excellent university, with the chance to conduct worthwhile research and earn an internationally respected degree.

Australia ticks all of those boxes, with universities carrying out pioneering work in ecology, renewable energy, antibiotic therapy and more. So, whether you want to study marsupials or medicine, Australia is a place where your PhD could really make a difference. And you can still go surfing too.

Here are a few other reasons to consider an Australian PhD right now:

  • Internationally renowned research - Australia is home to some of the world's leading universities, with six institutions in the global top 100.
  • Unique PhD opportunities - From Marine Biology at the Great Barrier Reef to Anthropology at Ayers Rock, some doctoral research can only be completed in Australia.
  • Generous post-study visas - Australia values its PhD graduates: your doctorate could allow you to live and work in the country for at least four years.
  • No viva - Not keen on the thought of defending your thesis during an oral exam? It's quite common for Australian doctorates to be assessed without the traditional PhD viva voce.

PhD Study in Australia - Key Details
Universities 43
Nobel Prizes 12
Oldest University University of Sydney (1850)
International Students 335,512
PhD Length 3 years
Typical Fees AUD $14,000-37,000 (USD $11,000-29,000)
Academic Year February to November

Australian universities

There are 43 universities in Australia. All of them are publically-funded institutions, supported and accredited by the Australian Government. These institutions are also responsible for carrying out research and training PhD students - like you.

Other higher education institutions in Australia are usually Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutions, focussing on practical and professional training. They offer some postgraduate qualifications at or around Masters-level, but don't award PhDs.

University groups

As in other countries, Australian higher education includes several university associations or 'mission groups'. These bring together similar institutions with shared aims and objectives.

They include:

Don't get too caught up with a university's affiliation when considering PhD opportunities.

A doctorate from a Group of Eight member is an impressive and prestigious qualification, but institutions in other groups offer equally excellent research opportunities in their areas of expertise. Don't forget, after all, that specialism is what PhD study is all about.

Australian university rankings

The strength - and breadth - of Australian research has traditionally been reflected in global league tables. 2019 is no exception, with nine universities in the top 200 according to the latest Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankings.


Top 10 Australian Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
University of Melbourne =32 39 38
Australian National University 49 24 69
University of Sydney =59 42 68
University of Queensland 69 48 55
Monash University =84 =59 91
University of New South Wales =96 45 101-150
University of Western Australia 134 91 93
University of Adelaide =135 114 101-150
University Technology Sydney 196 =160 301-400
James Cook University 201-250 =369 201-300
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Australian university cities

Australia is a large country, but most of its major population centres (and universities) are located on the eastern coast. Of course, once your PhD begins, you'll have opportunities to travel wherever your research takes you.

The following are the main university cities in Australia:

PhD structure

In many ways, PhD research in Australia is much like PhD research in the UK. The weather will probably be a bit nicer (OK, a lot nicer) and your friends may be slightly more jealous. But actually working on your doctorate will be a similar experience to that of students in other popular study destinations.

The Australian PhD is normally a pure research qualification. Some programmes may include taught modules or training units, but these will be focussed on progression and professional development, rather than formal assessment.

You'll spend most of your time working towards an independent doctoral thesis offering a substantial original contribution to knowledge in your field. You'll begin with a literature review, evaluating existing scholarship related to your topic. From there you'll move on to your own original research, analysing source materials, producing experimental results or collecting survey data as appropriate to your subject (and project).

Throughout, you'll have the support of at least one expert supervisor. This will be an academic with experience related to your topic. They'll be a big part of your PhD experience. In fact, Australian supervisors play an important role right from the PhD application stage.

Programme length

In Australia, a full-time PhD normally takes three years. Some students take longer, but this usually depends on registration and funding arrangements.

Part-time PhDs in Australia can take up to six years, but this mode of study isn't normally available to international students. The conditions of an Australian student visa mean that you must study full-time.

Assessment and examination

At the end of your PhD you will submit a written thesis summarising your findings and the evidence for them. This is normally around 100,000 words in length, but may be slightly longer or shorter. In some fields (such as creative arts) your thesis may be accompanied by a practical project or presentation.

Unlike in other countries, there is often no viva voce for an Australian PhD.

A viva is an oral examination, or 'defence', in which examiners interview a candidate and ask questions about their thesis. Australia's relative geographical isolation has historically made it difficult to arrange this. Instead your work will be sent to two or three external examiners with relevant expertise in your field.

Each will receive a copy of your thesis and study it in detail before returning a written report to your university. This process can take several months, but a timeline should be agreed in advance.

Some Australian universities are adopting a more conventional viva, but this usually takes place via online video-conferencing rather than involving a face-to-face interview.

Your PhD result will depend on the recommendation of your examiners. You may be awarded the doctorate without corrections, asked to make changes to your thesis, or (very rarely) denied the PhD.

Fees and funding

The cost of studying a PhD in Australia is relatively high compared to some other destinations, but funding is available from universities and other sources.

PhD fees

As an international student in Australia you'll pay fees at a higher rate. This is because domestic students benefit from state subsidy of public universities through Australian taxation.

The Australian government estimates that typical international PhD fees are between AUD $14,000 and $37,000 (USD $9,900-$26,000) per year. This is the approximate amount you'll pay if you're proposing your own topic, or applying for a project without funding attached.

Remember though that many Australian PhDs will be advertised as pre-funded projects - this is especially likely for Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) topics.

Living costs

The cost of living in Australia will vary depending on your location and lifestyle, but the Australian Government estimates that students will require at least AUD $20,290 (USD $16,000) for each year of their course. This is the amount of money you will need to have available in order to successfully apply for a student visa.

Funding

There's a good chance that you won't pay your full international fees as a PhD student in Australia. This is because funding is readily available from various sources, including university scholarships and government incentives. Many of these are specifically designed to attract students.

The main sources of PhD funding in Australia are:

  • Australian universities will often have their own studentships and funded PhD places available for sufficiently promising students. Some institutions may also have specific funding opportunities for international students. The simplest way to find university scholarships in Australia is to check with universities or browse opportunities here on FindAPhD.
  • Endeavour Scholarships are an international funding scheme run by the Australian Government. They provide up to AUD $272,500 for up to four years of PhD research, including support for fees, maintenance and travel.
  • Research training program funding is available for domestic and international PhD students in Australia. Places are awarded by participating universities according to eligibility criteria set by the Government.

Information on other scholarships and funding opportunities is available on the Australian Government's Study in Australia website.

Applying for a PhD in Australia

The first step for your Australian PhD application should be to contact a prospective supervisor (universities will not normally consider applications from international students who haven't done this).

The person you choose should normally be the lead researcher for a project or research group you wish to join, or an academic with research interests related to the topic you would like to propose.

Once you're found a potential supervisor, you should contact them via email. Try to provide a clear and concise description of your project or interests - and make the relationship to their research obvious.

Once you have an expression of interest from a potential supervisor, you can begin your formal application to the university.

Choosing a PhD supervisor

Not sure how to pick a potential supervisor for your PhD, or how to approach them once you have? Our guide can help.

Admissions requirements

Admission to a PhD in Australia will normally require existing Bachelors and Masters degrees in an appropriate subject. Universities may admit you without a Masters, but this is less likely.

Individual universities will set their own requirements, but you can expect to be asked for some or all of the following:

  • Evidence of your previous qualifications (these may need to be certified by your previous university or universities)
  • A research proposal (if you are putting forward your own PhD topic)
  • A personal statement (this may be required for applications to advertised projects and opportunities)
  • Academic and / or professional references

If you are applying from the UK or Ireland you can use the free Study Options service to receive advice and guidance during your application.

Interviews

It's possible that an Australian university may wish to interview you for a PhD. This is usually a good sign. It means your application is strong and your prospective supervisor thinks you have potential.

Don't worry though - universities won't expect international students to travel all the way to Australia just for an interview. They'll normally be happy to arrange a chat via a video-conferencing platform.

What's happens during a PhD interview?

Your interview for a PhD in Australia will follow a fairly standard format (even if the actual process takes place online). Our guides explain what happens at a PhD interview and look at some of the questions you might be asked.

Application deadlines

A PhD in Australia can start at any point in the academic year. This means that there isn't normally a strict deadline for applications. Universities may prefer you to submit in time for the start of a term, but this isn't always the case.

Exceptions could apply if you are also applying for funding, such as a scholarship. This support will normally run for a specific period and funders may prefer you to start at the beginning of an academic year or term.

Remember that, even if there isn't a deadline, your application will still take time. As a general rule, you should apply at least four months before you hope to start your PhD.

Student visas

Australia has simplified its immigration system and now only offers one visa for international students. This is known as the Student Visa (subclass 500). You'll need this visa to study a Bachelors, Masters or PhD abroad in Australia.

Note that the new Student Visa replaces Australia's Higher Education Sector Visa (subclass 573) and Postgraduate Research Sector Visa (subclass 574). These are no longer available.

Visa requirements

In order to qualify for a visa to study a PhD in Australia you'll normally need to:

  • Be studying full-time - Australia doesn't issue visas to international students on part-time PhDs
  • Have confirmation of enrolment at your university - you'll need to have been accepted to study a PhD in Australia before you can apply for your visa
  • Possess sufficient financial resources to support yourself during your PhD - the Australian Government expects students to have access to at least AUD $20,290 (USD $16,000) per year

Provided you fit all of these criteria you can begin your visa application online.

Language requirements

Australian PhDs are organised and delivered in English and you'll need to have sufficient language skills to communicate and comprehend complex information and ideas during your PhD.

Additional evidence won't normally required if you are a native English speaker (or have completed a previous course of study in English). Otherwise, you may need to provide a language test score along with your visa application.

Most recognised English language tests will be accepted. The score you need will depend on the test you take:


Language tests - minimum scores
IELTS 5.5
TOEFL (paper-based) 527
TOEFL (online) 46
CAE 162
PTE 42

Health insurance

You'll need health insurance to cover the duration of your PhD in Australia. You can obtain this from various providers (including universities) but whichever policy you choose must meet the standards set by Australia's Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) guidelines.

Working during your PhD

You can carry out paid work for up to 40 hours per fortnight whilst researching for a PhD in Australia. No restriction is applied to employment during holiday periods, however, you should check that any work you undertake fits with the requirements of your PhD (and the expectations of your supervisor!).

Fees and processing times

The standard cost of an Australian Student Visa is AUD $560 (USD $435). You may have to pay extra if your visa requires extra processing or if you are bringing additional applicants (such as family members) to Australia with you. The Australian Government provides an online pricing estimator.

Approximately 75% of Student Visas are processed within 25 days, but some applications can take longer.

Next steps

Your time spent studying a PhD abroad in Australia will enhance your CV in other ways. You will have demonstrated adaptability and a willingness to go the extra mile (or perhaps a bit further) to achieve your goals.

Can I work in Australia after my PhD?

An Australian PhD can be a route into longer term employment and residency in Australia, provide you can find a job related to your skills and expertise.

To help you with this Australia offers a Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485). This allows PhD graduates to remain in the country for up to four years, subject to certain conditions. If you find suitable work during this time you may be able to apply to remain for longer.

Find a PhD in Australia

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Australia? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 30/11/2018

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