Can International Students Study Online?

You can study online as an international student in Australia. However, two-thirds of your course must involve face-to-face classes. The international student visa limits how much online study you can do while residing in Australia.

How Much Online Study Can I Do While in Australia?

As an international student living in Australia, you are expected to attend most of your classes at a university or college campus.

  • At least two out of every three credit points for your registered studies must be for on-campus classes.
  • In any given study period or semester, at least one of your units must involve face-to-face attendance.

The same rules apply to university degrees as well as vocational education and training (VET) certificates and diplomas.

International Student Visa Requirements

If you hold an international student visa, the rules for online study are set by the Australian Government. According to the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018:

8.18           A registered provider must not deliver a course exclusively by online or distance learning to an overseas student.

8.19           A registered provider must not deliver more than one-third of the units (or equivalent) of a higher education or VET course by online or distance learning to an overseas student.

8.20           A registered provider must ensure that in each compulsory study period for a course, the overseas student is studying at least one unit that is not by distance or online learning, unless the student is completing the last unit of their course.

~ Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000

What is Meant by “Studying Online”?

“Studying online” or “online learning” or “distance learning” is where the teacher and the student from abroad communicate through digital media, technology-based tools and information technology networks, such as an online study portal. The international student does not have to attend scheduled classes at a campus or maintain contact hours. It’s a popular study mode offered for a growing variety of subjects.

For the purposes of the visa requirements, international students don’t have to worry about online lectures, tutorials or study resources that merely supplement scheduled classes or contact hours. Despite the supplementary online components, a unit may still count as one requiring physical attendance if there is an ongoing face-to-face element.

Distance learning is off-campus study for which the person on a student visa can avoid physically attending regular tuition for the course on the provider’s campus. The student can avoid regularly attending classes in person.

Study Online While Attending a Campus

You can study online even while enrolled in a unit that requires physical attendance. You can do this by attending compulsory classes while participating in other classes online.

Australian universities, for example, generally don’t check attendance at lectures by the professor who is teaching the subject. In that sense, lectures are rarely “compulsory”. You can study in the online mode if the lectures are recorded and made available to students.

Attendance is, however, usually noted at tutorials. These are classes that are commonly conducted by a support instructor, such as a doctoral student.

Depending on the field of study, tutorials may consist of as little as 1-2 hours per week for each unit. A full-time study load is normally 4 units per semester. Therefore, you could potentially study full-time as an on-campus student while physically attending only 4-8 hours of classes each week.

Universities Offering Both Online and On-Campus Options

If you are keen to study online as much as possible, you may benefit from attending an Australian university that offers most units in both online and face-to-face modes. That way, you can limit the number of study hours for which you physically have to get to a class. You can also potentially return home part-way through a program and finish via 100% online study.

Lerna Courses has a list of the top online universities. Check out the list to see the best available course options for you.

Note that, in Australia, online study is most strongly supported in regional centres. So, instead of going to Sydney or Melbourne, you may be better off studying in a cheaper city such as Albury-Wodonga, Armidale, Ballarat, Bendigo, Hobart, Toowoomba or Wagga Wagga.