How Studying in Australia Differs From the UK | Top Universities

How Studying in Australia Differs From the UK

By Jessica Lee Cole

Updated April 8, 2021 Updated April 8, 2021

Hi, I'm Jess. I recently graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in BSc (Hons) Ecology and Environment with a study abroad year. I spent my year abroad studying in Adelaide, Australia at the University of Adelaide, and despite the cultural similarities between the UK and Australia, I found myself experiencing some mini-culture shocks. Read on to find out what adjustments I had to get used to during the transition from studying in the UK to studying down under…both good and bad!

General settings

University of Adelaide

The University of Adelaide

Of course, there’s a lot more sunshine in Australia. And I found that it’s so much easier to get out of bed and actually go to uni when it isn't raining every day! Other than that, the settings were very similar. Looks like a university, is a university.

The grading system




Percentage (%)


Percentage (%)

High Distinction (HD)


First Class (1)


Distinction (D)


Upper Second Class (2:1)


Credit (C )


Lower Second Class (2:2)


Pass (P)


Third (3)


Fail (F)


Fail (F)


The main thing that was difficult to get used to was the different grading system. Honestly, I didn't get used to it. An old dog chooses not to learn new tricks. I would get 65 percent in Aus and be pretty pleased with myself, because that’s a pretty good grade back home, but in Aus it's a scrape above a pass! I will admit that I didn't try super hard in Australia, I was more focused on making the most of my time there and doing just well enough to pass.

First-year courses are hard

I did a mixture of courses from all of the undergraduate year-levels during my year abroad - because I didn't want my year to be too hard and I was dipping into subjects I hadn't done before. But, boy, was I surprised when the first-year courses weren’t the walk in the park I expected - they make the first-year courses difficult! This is done so that anyone who is going to drop out does so at the start. So they don't waste their time and money. At home, the courses, supposedly, get progressively harder or you get smarter - you decide.

'Honors' means another year at uni


Jess Cole

(That's me!)

I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in three years (four, if you count the one in Australia). But in Australia, if you want Honors, you have to stay on for another year of uni. In which, you work on your thesis project and submit a dissertation, much like what I did in my final year of uni. The Aussie way is probably a much more chill way to do it, because I can tell you writing a dissertation is not fun! Especially when you have to do it as well as your other courses and prepare for exams. But then you also have to spend more of your life at uni. It's six of one and half a dozen of the other, really.

Hurdle requirements

Another thing I discovered from my year abroad in Australia (that I hadn’t encountered in the UK) was the idea of a ‘hurdle requirement’, which is something that you must complete in order to pass the course. For one of my courses in Adelaide, this requirement was a minimum seminar attendance. I found this out the hard way. Of course, you're supposed to go to your classes - that's the whole point of uni. But I have never failed a course because I didn't go to my seminars before.

Of course, in the UK seminar attendance in mandatory but there is some leeway. If you miss some, the most that will happen is a strongly worded email and a chance to explain yourself. This is not what happened in one of my courses in Australia - I joined the course late so I had already missed one seminar and then I missed like another one or two. This obviously did not sit well with tutor and he dropped me an email letting me know that I would not be passing the course as attendance (worth 10 percent) was a hurdle requirement, and without it I could not pass the course.

I chose to ignore this fact and continue with the course anyway (my year was pass/fail so it was irrelevant if I failed one course) but when I got my course results I had gotten 70% and not failed? Very strange, sir, very strange. Now, I am sure there are 'grade hurdles' in the UK as well (you know some parts of your course are essential), but I've never ran into one and I can only speak from experience.

Species’ names


So, as I said, I am an ecologist - this means I have to be pretty familiar with a lot of different organisms. Sometimes, I even remember their (species) names! Anyway, I went to Adelaide after my second year of uni - meaning I had spent two whole years kneeling in the English countryside trying to identify grasses and sedges (if you don't know the difference, you're lucky - and should keep it that way).

Many people would say that Australia is very different to the UK in terms of climate and wildlife, and they would be right. So, I really was dropped in at the deep-end, taxonomy-wise, not knowing ANY of the local fauna and flora. For a while I would get a little lost in class discussions and have to ask some of my new friends for descriptions of whatever was being discussed. So, if you do a course equally as environmentally-subjective as mine then you will be at somewhat of a disadvantage in the beginning! But for most other subjects (maths, medicine, law, etc.) you should be grand.

Taught different things

I also noticed, interacting with people on my course, that our curriculums were comprised of different things. Which makes sense, really, being that they are on opposite sides of the globe and very different environmentally. Not hugely, but in discussions you'll notice they will mention things you've not come across and vice versa. Education is contextual, it's going to vary from place to place!

Exam etiquette


The procedure for exams is obviously largely the same. If it ain't broke, don't fix it - amirite?! However, there were a couple of things about the Australian exam approach that caught me off-guard. Normally, at home, you aren't allowed to take anything more than a couple of pens and a water bottle into an exam. I get uncomfortable if I take in a jacket in case they think I'm up to something. It's ingrained into us. And the exams are sat maybe two or three different exam papers in one hall. But in Adelaide, the exams are sat en masse in the biggest sports hall they can muster, and because of this they don't make you leave your stuff in a pile at the back of the hall (it would be an ordeal). So, I walked into my first exam, stressed, with pens in hand - only to be the only one looking for the pile to dump my stuff. I eventually realized that you just put it under your chair?! Honestly, I’m still shocked and perplexed by this - a UK exam invigilator would have a stroke.


Obviously, my experience is limited to the one uni in Australia and the one uni in the UK, but you get the general idea. The basic concept is the same, but there will be some minor adjustments you'll need to make. That isn't to say it's a bad thing - I learned a lot from my trip to Aus, a lot more than what I was taught by the uni. And I think the university's attitude really helped that. When I finished my second year of uni and left for Australia, I was feeling pretty fed up of studying. But the change of scenery, tutors, teaching style etc. really reinvigorated my desire to learn - particularly with trying anthropology and politics for the first time! So, there are differences between uni in Australia and in the UK to get used to - but they aren't insurmountable.

Thanks for reading - if you like the way I write words, there are plenty more on my blog.

This article was originally published in September 2018 . It was last updated in April 2021

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

+ 18 others
saved this article

+ 19 others saved this article

Related Articles Last year

Monthly updates
QS Community
QS Community

Get the latest student and graduate news straight to your inbox.

Sign me up
Course Matching Tool
Course Matching Tool
Course Matching Tool

Use our tool to find your perfect course. Answer a few questions and we will do the rest!

Start Matching
QS Leap
Test Preparations
Test Preparations

Free test prep platform with practice questions and more.

Start Now