The difference between university & vocational study

In Australia, there are two main types of education pathways available for students to choose from – university and vocational education and training (VET). While both pathways provide education and training, there are differences in the focus, level, duration, entry requirements and career outcomes.


Career and Study Focus

University education is primarily focused on academic and theoretical knowledge, with a broad range of subjects and disciplines available to study. Students are encouraged to develop critical thinking and analytical skills to enable them to become experts in their chosen fields. Examples of popular university courses in Australia include Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Laws, and Bachelor of Business.

In contrast, VET education focuses on the development of practical skills required for specific vocations or occupations. Students are trained in specific skills, such as welding, automotive repairs, cooking or hairdressing, and are provided with hands-on training in a simulated work environment. Examples of VET courses in Australia include Certificate III in Hairdressing, Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery, Diploma of Nursing, and Certificate III in Plumbing.


Study Level

The level of study offered by universities is generally higher than VET education. Universities offer a range of undergraduate degrees, postgraduate degrees and research-based doctoral programs, with a focus on research and innovation. Graduates of university programs are awarded with qualifications such as Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master of Business Administration, and Doctor of Philosophy.

In contrast, VET education provides students with lower-level qualifications, such as certificates, diplomas and advanced diplomas. These courses are designed to provide students with the practical skills and knowledge required for specific job roles. Examples of VET qualifications in Australia include Certificate III in Fitness, Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care, Certificate IV in Building and Construction, and Advanced Diploma of Hospitality Management.


Study Duration

The duration of university programs is longer than VET education, with undergraduate programs typically lasting between 3-4 years and postgraduate programs taking between 1-2 years. 

VET education courses vary in length, with some courses only taking a few weeks or months to complete, while others take several years. Certificate III qualifications usually take around 12-18 months to complete, while diplomas and advanced diplomas typically take between 1-2 years.


Entry requirements

University entry requirements are generally higher than those of VET courses. For undergraduate programs, students usually require a Year 12 qualification or equivalent, and are required to meet a minimum Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) score. For postgraduate programs, students usually require an undergraduate degree in a related field, as well as a high grade point average (GPA) or equivalent.

VET education entry requirements vary depending on the level of qualification. Certificate III and IV qualifications generally require a Year 10 qualification or equivalent, while diploma and advanced diploma courses often require students to have completed a Certificate III or IV course, or to have relevant work experience.


Career Outcomes

The career outcomes for graduates of university programs are often focused on professional roles in a range of industries, including healthcare, education, law, engineering, finance, and the arts. Examples of careers include doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, teachers, and accountants.

The career outcomes for graduates of VET courses are generally focused on specific industries and occupations, including trades, hospitality, childcare, and community services. Examples of careers include chefs, hairdressers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and aged care workers.


In conclusion, both university and VET education offer students different pathways to achieve their desired career outcomes.The main difference between university and vocational study is the focus on theory versus practical skills. University study is designed to provide students with a broad understanding of a subject, while vocational study is focused on providing specific skills and knowledge for a particular occupation.

Still not sure which pathway to pick? Start with understanding yourself and your career preferences by using a platform such as My Careers, to determine the associated study path to your dream career.