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Key facts for international students in Sydney

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Sydney is a welcoming, diverse and multicultural city. It may be known for its stunning panoramic view of the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge, but it has much more to offer. As Australia’s financial and economic hub it is also home to a lively lifestyle, fantastic beaches and many green spaces.

In fact it is ranked as one of the 10 most liveable cities by both Mercer and The Economist and made it 13th in the list for the world’s best cities for international students in 2017, according to QS Best Student cities. With 30% of its population born overseas, the city is used to welcoming new international people and cultures.

If you like walking around in flip-flops (or “thongs” as the Aussies say) most of the year, you’ll love Sydney’s lifestyle with plenty of sea, sun, sand and surf. It also makes a perfect base to travel Australia’s East coast and the barrier reef.

Why study in Sydney?

Quality education & research and excellent job prospects

Two of Sydney’s universities rank among the top 50 universities world wide, following QS University rankings in 2017. The University of Sydney ranked in second place in Australia and 28th for Asia’s most innovative universities, renowned for its world-class research output, passionate teachers and industry partnerships. A degree from Sydney is trusted and offers excellent job prospects!
In fact, the Australian education system is anxious to maintain its international reputation, applying high educational standards to its globally recognized institutions.

Best student life

236 days of sunshine a year with long sizzling summers and mild winters; and the proximity to beaches like Bondi or Manly are hard to beat. The city offers a high quality of life and is hugely popular among students. There’s lots to discover: Sydney’s museums and attractions, the best shopping in Australia and city markets, its welcoming social scene, clubs, societies and entertainment venues, as well as sporting facilities such as surfing, the outdoors etc. Why not hang out at Bohemian cafes, vintage shops or foodie festivals? And after finishing your degree, you could apply for a work and travel visa to discover the rest of the country and its wildlife experience.

The academic environment in Sydney

Sydney is home to five universities with global reputation and attracts over 35,000 international students to live and study there. Nationalities include China, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, Brazil and Malaysia.

Australian students are encouraged to study independently and be responsible for completing their readings and research within the deadlines; but tutors will usually help you to adapt. Generally the students and academics maintain a more casual and respectful attitude on a first name basis. And students are welcome to challenge lecturers and tutors in tutorial discussions, which often will be part of your final mark.

English Language requirements

The teaching language will be in English and you’ll need to provide proof of your English proficiency as part of the application process. You can do so in a number of ways; check with the university of your choice:

  • Take a language skills test for example IELTS, TOEFL or Cambridge certificate. It’s best to check in advance which certificates are accepted by the university of your choice.
  • Completing the university’s pre-session English language course
  • Provide proof of secondary or tertiary qualifications to confirm your level of English

Sydney’s main universities

University of Sydney

Founded in 1850, it’s now Australia’s first and most prestigious university and among the country’s top three universities, ranking 46th in the QS World University Rankings 2016. It is a world leading public research and teaching university and home to over 50,000 students, as well as 3,000 staff across 16 faculties excelling in the humanities and social sciences, engineering and technology. Sydney offers 400 areas of study and over 200 clubs and societies to its students, both inside and outside the classroom. About 29% are international students. Did you know that it’s known for its beautiful sandstone buildings?

On top of that, there are at least five Nobel and two Crafoord laureates associated with the University of Sydney, as well as six prime ministers and 24 justices of the High Court of Australia. To find out more about their programs, check out their website.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW)

Regarded as one of the country’s leading universities, it ranked globally among the top 50 worldwide in the QS University Rankings 2016 – with excellent results in accounting and finance, law, and civil and structural engineering.

Established in 1949, the UNSW is a founding member of several academic networks, such as the Group of Eight leading Australian universities, Universitas 21, the Association of Pacific Rim Universities, and the Global Alliance of Technological Universities. It focuses on critical areas from renewable energies and climate change to lifesaving medical treatments such as cancer research, as well as breakthrough technologies and social sciences. UNSW supports international exchange and research partnerships with 200 universities all around the world. To date, its researchers are renowned for their work in solar power, HIV treatment as well as quantum computing.
There are more than 50,000 students of which over 25% are international students from almost 130 countries. For admissions don’t hesitate to find out more directly on their website.

University of Technology Sydney (UTS)

Founded in 1988 it is a young, dynamic and innovative university, however, its origins date back to the 1870’s. UTS has a vibrant community of 40,000 students with more than 11,000 international students from 120 countries. It offers 130 undergraduate and 210 postgraduate courses in architecture, business, built environment, design, communication, education, engineering, information technology, international studies, law, midwifery, nursing, pharmacy and science.

As one of the country’s leading universities of technology, the UTS is part of the Australian Technology Network of universities: a group of five innovative and enterprising universities, focused on working with industry, government and real-world research to deliver practical and professional courses. If this catches your interest, check out the UTS website.

Macquarie University

Just over 50 years young, Macquarie is one of Australia’s best universities and ranks among the top 2% worldwide, following the QS university ranking. 40,000 students including 24% international students from over 120 countries attend 5 faculties, the Macquarie University Hospital and Macquarie Graduate School of Management. Renowned for their expertise in areas like business, health and medical sciences, Macquarie also ranks among the top 100 institutions in accounting and finance; Earth and marine sciences; communication, cultural and media; education; English language and literature; linguistics and psychology; geography and law.

More than AU$1 billion has recently been invested in Macquarie facilities and infrastructure and it also offers generous scholarship programs on their website.

Western Sydney University (UWS)

UWS may have only been founded in 1989, but it has a heritage of antecedent institutions of over 200 years. And following the Times Higher Education research, it ranks among the top 3% of universities worldwide. Western Sydney University is home to over 44,000 students of which about 13% are international students. Its six campuses each have a distinctive character and promote small class sizes. Students can study in the fields of arts and humanities, engineering and built environment, information technology and computing, health science, nursing and midwifery, psychology, science and social science.

Its reputation for research reflects in its ranking as one of the best universities in the country, with more than 80% of its research “at or above world standard” in the Excellence in Research for Australia program. For admissions check the Western Sydney University website.

Entry conditions

International students are required to meet the same minimum academic entry conditions as Australia residents, i.e. hold a recognized secondary (high school) qualification such as A-levels or equivalent, and proof of a good command of English. Certain courses may have special or higher entry requirements, minimum entry marks or grades, or require ability tests. As selection procedures and requirements depend on the university and programme of study, it’s best to check with the university of your choice.

You must obtain a student visa unless you hold another visa that allows you to study. Check with the embassy or Australian consulate in your home country and the Australian immigration office. Alternatively a representative of your university of choice may be able to help prepare your student visa application. You will need the university confirmation of enrolment in order to apply for the visa. So make sure to apply right after you received the university offer as it can take several weeks to process your visa application. Note that changing your course level of education after the visa application may result in the visa being cancelled.

Be aware that overseas Student Health Cover is compulsory for student visa holders.

Exchange programs and scholarships

Most universities offer university specific scholarships, awards and international student loan schemes. So make sure to check with the university of your choice.

Educational institutions, the Australian government as well as public and private organizations offer a number of scholarships such as the Australia Awards, International Postgraduate Research Scholarships or Australia APEC Women in Research Fellowship that are available for international students.

Living in Sydney

Cost of living in Sydney

Tuition fees and substantial living costs in Sydney are relatively high and even the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will ask prospective international students to have access to at least AUS$19,830 a year to cover their living costs – excluding tuition fees. Estimated living expenses are around AUS$18,000 to AUS$25,000 per academic year. Tuition fees vary depending on the university and degree program; however, the above-mentioned universities average between AUS$ 23,000 and AUS$35,000 per year. Therefore it’s best to check directly with the university for study costs of particular courses.

Though it’s easy to see why thousands of international students find a way to cover their costs and experience Sydney lifestyle. Working during your studies is encouraged and the student visa allows you to work up to 20 hours per week.

Student housing

Most universities offer student accommodation in a studio or shared apartment, some of which may be off campus or even include meals. Prices range between AUS$ 130 and AUS$650 per week. Other options are independent student housing, homestay (AUS$ 195-500 per week), private rental (AUS$350 - AUS$570 per week) or flat share (AUS$300 - AUS$400 per week). Flatmates and Flatmate Finders are popular sites to find shared accommodation.

What to do

Sydney is a vibrant and easy-going city with a diverse nightlife of clubs, great pubs and bars around Woolloomooloo, Darling Harbour to King’s Cross, Oxford street and the Rocks. Darlinghurst and Surry Hills are also well-endowed with bars. Beachside pubs in Coogee and Bondi offer a great view over the sea, not to forget its wide sandy beaches. Make sure to discover Sydney’s northern beaches as well, Manly Beach being its most popular.

There is a variety of cultural festivals and events to celebrate food, music, film, arts and comedy as well as annual celebrations like Australia day, Chinese New Year or the renowned Vivid light festival with light installations and projections across the city.

It’s not just about bars and hanging out at the beach. Check out Sydney’s coastal walks from Bondi to Coogee with Australia's largest outdoor sculpture exhibit, "Sculpture by the Sea"; or from Manly beach to Sydney Harbour bridge via Spit. The Blue mountains or the nature park and beaches in North Sydney make other popular day trips.

Local meals you should taste at least once

You’ll probably hear a lot about the famous bush food and think you’d really have to try damper, crocodile, kangaroo or even Witchetty grubs (which are probably just for tourists, if at all). But you definitely mustn’t miss a good Aussie BBQ, hamburger with beetroot, fish’n chips by the sea, Vegemite or Barramundi fish! There’s also a lot of influence from Asia such as traditional Chinese food. And make sure to check out the local wines from the Hunter Valley region, and of course Sydney Fish Market – it’s the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the world's 3rd largest fish market!

Oh, and no one in Australia drinks Fosters beer. ;) That’s just for tourists and export.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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See also

Australia has a number of higher education institutions for potential international students to choose from. Many students choose to live on campus.
Expats with children in Australia will find a number of day care centres and nannies to choose from. Depending on the state, pre-schooling may be free.
Due to its size, you can spend your free time visiting other parts of Australia. However, there are many leisure activities within the major cities.

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