Transfer Credit

Relating to Australian universities

On the basis of their accreditation, many private colleges in Australia offer the credit for the first part of a government university degree through recognition arrangements. The general trend is for these schools to cater for the needs of full-fee paying international students, who are not eligible for Australian government financial assistance. The situation is analogous to US colleges that grant an Associate Degree for the first two years of undergraduate study.

Universities seldom, if ever, accept studies that are of a purely vocational nature or below Diploma level.

ACAS can arrange transfer credit with major Australian government universities, but only if there are sufficient numbers of students.

When it comes to transfer credit, academia has two laws. First, nothing is recognized by everybody. Second, nothing is recognized for all purposes.

In Australia, each university is autonomous and is not obliged to give full recognition (or even to accept) transfer credit from any other institution. Many universities like to have prior recognition arrangements in place beforehand for transferring credit, while others only consider transfer credit on a case-by-case basis.

No matter where they are, all higher education institutions have limits on the amount of transfer credit they accept, and some prefer not to accept it at all. Similarly, all institutions only accept credit that is compatible with the requirements of their programs, although many universities have some free-choice options. In turn, membership requirements for professional organizations often affect university programs.

The Australian education system

Australia has a federal system of government, so each state has its own parliament. There is of course also a federal parliament. Education is run by the states, so each state has its own protocols. But the states usually work together, and the federal government has some control by providing conditions to federal funding.

There are three sectors:

  1. Schools, which go up to the end of high school.
  2. Training institutions (including some universities), with programs leading to certificates, Diploma, Advanced Diploma, Graduate Certificates, and Graduate Diploma qualifications. They are accredited through government departments established for that purpose.
  3. Higher education (which includes all universities and some other institutions), with programs leading to Diploma, Advanced Diploma, Bachelor, Graduate Diploma, Master and doctoral qualifications. Each government university is incorporated through its own separate Act of parliament and is self-accrediting (i.e. has the legal power to give accreditation), but must comply with government guidelines to get funding. An increasing number of other higher education institutions are accredited by a government accreditor.

There are anomalies in the system, for example:

  • Training qualifications overlap with higher education qualifications.
  • Training sector institutions can issue graduate qualifications but not Bachelor degrees.
  • Higher education institutions can set their own rules about what they will or won't recognize from each other or the training sector.
  • Higher education institutions can define their degrees differently from institution to institution. Masters degrees vary greatly, even within institutions.
  • An Advanced Diploma graduate can either do more to get a regular Bachelor degree or go straight to graduate studies.

ACAS is accredited in the training sector. Outside the self-accrediting universities, higher education accreditation has only been generally available since 2004, although one college previously got it as an "administrative ruling" without a legislative basis.

British Commonwealth and North American systems

The main difference in the English-speaking western world is the difference between the British Commonwealth and North American degree systems. (European countries also have their own systems.)

The British Commonwealth degree system mainly refers to the systems of the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, although Malaysia and Singapore could also be included. The system is neither static nor uniform; even the English and Scottish systems were once very different. Important differences from the North American system are the 3-year Bachelor degree and the requirements for admission to doctoral programs.

North American degree systems refer to the system in the USA and Canada. In fact, their system grew out of part of the English system but evolved separately.

Many North American colleges don't readily accept many British Commonwealth 3-year Bachelor degrees as equivalent to their 4-year bachelor degrees, although this is starting to change. They are (or at least appear to be) quite different qualifications, and British Commonwealth Bachelor degrees have in the past been more academic and specialized that their US counterparts. However, US colleges will normally recognize accredited four-year British Commonwealth Bachelor degrees.

The reverse also tends to be true. In the past, many British Commonwealth institutions haven't accepted US Bachelor degrees as being equivalent to their own, although this is decreasing with the improved credibility of major North American institutions. The rule of thumb was once that a US Master degree was equivalent to good Australian Bachelor work, and some US doctoral programs are still no more than Masters work here.

To resolve the three-four years divide:

  • Some Australian institutions require North American applicants to have comleted one year of North American university for admission to their Bachelor degrees
  • One Australian institution deliberately changed its courses to resemble the North American degree system.
  • Some US institutions recognize three-year bachelor degrees as equivalent to their four-year degrees.
  • Some US institutions recognize Australian high school (at university admission standard) as the first year of US college.

North American colleges will also often accept a British Commonwealth Bachelor with Honours degree as equivalent to their four-year degree. However, some Honours degrees are half-way or two-thirds way through a Masters degree, so British Commonwealth students often lose out by moving to many North American institutions. They would be better off either finishing the Masters degree in the British Commonwealth system or seeking direct admission to a higher degree by research, including a Ph.D program. (The Masters degree travels fairly well and the Ph.D. degree travels very well anywhere.)

Getting international recognition for Australian training sector qualifications

Almost all other nations around the world recognize government-recognized Australian qualifications, although professional licensing requirements and credit transfer arrangements vary greatly.

Unlike the US, an Australian institution does not need to be recognized as officially degree-granting or accredited in the higher education sector to grant credit that can be transferred to a degree. As the program is fully government-accredited and can be credited towards degree requirements without further review, it should not be considered to be non-credit.

Australian training sector qualifications are well recognized anywhere in the world as training qualifications. Training is a major Australian export.

Generally, however, Australian training sector qualifications usually need prior agreement to transfer easily into higher education programs. This is especially true of the US where accreditors and recognition consultants deliberately make it difficult. Consequently, an international student with a higher award from the Australian training sector would normally be better advised to pursue a pathway direct to an Australian Masters degree.

That is, if you don't want to get caught in the crossfire, the Masters degree is a better point of cross-Atlantic equivalence than the Bachelor degree.

Some individual ACAS Graduate Diploma graduates have already been accepted as Master equivalents for purposes of continuing to a higher degree and for teaching in higher education.


Two scenarios compared

Transfer between degree programs. For students of a degree program to transfer credit into another specific degree program normally depends on:

  • What units they did, that is, how equivalent their units are to the units they want to be credited with in the other institution
  • How well they did.
  • What degree program they want to get into (Programs may have different structures of required units, majors, minors, streams, etc.)
  • Any limits to the amount of transferable credit (Students must usually complete at least the full, final year in the institution issuing the degree.)
  • Other non-academic requirements, which may vary between institutions.

It is normal for students to lose some credit for no other reason than they move to another institution.

Transfer from a higher training award to a degree program. If graduates of a training sector program intend to go on to a higher education degree program, admission generally depends on:

  • Other non-academic requirements
  • What qualification they received
  • How well they did in it
  • What degree program they want to get into
  • How equivalent their degree program is to the studies already done
  • The negotiation process
  • If their assessments had graded assessment and they had good grades (not just competent/not yet competent)
  • Good research

The last one has much to do with academic merit, although higher education bodies generally want to know that you subscribe to their culture and philosophy of education. The agreement should be made before any particular student wishes to apply.

Generally speaking, the higher education institution is more inclined to enter into a fair agreement if they perceive that:

  • they'd get a lot of very good students who would do well in their programs
  • they'd get financial gain (i.e. fee-paying students or perhaps extra funding)
  • they really needed them (i.e. there were vacant places in the program)
  • whether it would maintain the prestige of their institution, especially in comparison to other institutions.