Skip to main content
Start of main content

Future study

The difference between higher education and VET

This article appears in: Balance work, life and study, Changing careers, High school to uni, Online study
Male student wearing high-vis clothing sitting at a desk in a classroom

Considering your tertiary study options? You’ve probably come across a range of course options. In Australia, tertiary study falls into two categories: Higher Education and Vocational Education and Training (VET, also known as TAFE). The type of study you choose will depend on your career goals.

Before you dive in to comparing your options, remember this: in most industries, there are different levels of jobs which call for different types of qualifications.

Some jobs may require a higher education degree, some will require a VET qualification, some will need both, and others will accept either.

If you know what industry you’re interested in, think about the types of job you might like to do and then work backwards to determine what kind of tertiary course might be suitable.

At CDU, you can study either. We offer more than 300 vocational training courses and higher education degrees. Explore courses

Higher education versus vocational education

This handy table helps to unpack the difference.

 Higher EducationVET
Course types

Higher education diplomas

Undergraduate degrees

Postgraduate certificates and degrees

Certificates I, II, III, IV and Diploma
Course duration

Undergraduate degrees are usually 3 to 5 years full time or the equivalent part time.

Postgraduate study is  usually 1 to 3 years full time, or the equivalent part time.

6 months to 3 years, depending on your course

Read more: How to choose between a Certificate I, II, III, IV or Diploma

Type of learningMostly theory-based  learning and some courses include practical elements (for example, clinical teaching blocks, laboratory practical work, clinical placements or industry experience units)

An equal split between theory-based learning and hands-on, skills-based training.

The skills-based training usually takes place in simulated workplace environments.

Depending on your course, you may be required to do work placements.


Usually more of a research element. You’re likely to write exams, essays, reports and research papers.

If you complete a practical placement, you’ll also be assessed on your ability to complete the tasks set.

You’ll usually be graded on a scale from fail to high distinction.

Depending on your course, assessments may be a combination of practical and written tests, where you’ll be asked to demonstrate that you’re competent at your new skills. These may happen during or at the end of each unit or subject.

You’ll usually be graded on competency (whether or not you can execute the task).  


Fees are calculated by subject (known as units at university) and vary for domestic and international students.

Read more: How much does a uni degree cost?

Fees will vary depending on a number of factors.

Because VET courses are usually shorter than higher education degrees, they typically cost less.

Read more: How much does a VET certificate or diploma cost?

Application processes

Depending on your circumstances, you can apply via an admissions centre (such as SATAC) or direct to the university.

Learn more: How to apply for undergraduate courses at CDU

Learn more: How to apply for postgraduate courses at CDU




Depending on your course, you can apply online, in person or over the phone with the VET institution.

If you want to do an apprenticeship, you will need to secure your apprenticeship first and then discuss training courses with your employer.

Learn more: How to apply for VET courses at CDU

Learn more: How to apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship

Entry requirements

Entry requirements vary by course, but for an undergraduate degree you’ll typically need to hold an ATAR, Certificate IV, prior university-level study, or have completed a bridging program or a Skills for Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT).

Depending on your course, there may also be extra entry requirements.

Learn more: Undergraduate entry requirements at CDU

For postgraduate study, you’ll need to hold an undergraduate degree.

Learn more: Postgraduate entry requirements at CDU

Most certificate courses do not have specific entry requirements and you could be eligible for admission even if you haven’t completed year 12 or received an ATAR.

For a Diploma, you’ll usually need to hold a Certificate IV, year 12 qualification or relevant experience.

For all VET courses, you will need to have satisfactory English literacy and numeracy skills and you may need to attend an interview to determine your suitability for a course.

Learn more: VET entry requirements at CDU



Study mode

Depending on your course, you can study online, on campus, part time or full time.

You may also need to complete a practical placement.

Because most VET courses are skills-based, you’ll probably have to attend in-person classes for hands-on learning.

Online learning is available for some courses and units.

Depending on your course, you can study full time or part time.

Best for

People who want to:

  • develop the depth and breadth of their knowledge.
  • work in fields that require a degree to be accredited (for example, lawyers, doctors and chartered accountants)
  • further their career by developing deep knowledge of a particular subject area by studying a postgraduate qualification

People who want to:

  • gain specific, practical skills for the workplace
  • join or re-join the workforce
  • move into a new skills-based career
  • gain additional skills for their career, without having to commit to a full degree
  • use a VET qualification to gain entry to a higher education degree.

Ready to take the next step? At CDU, you can choose from more than 300 university degrees and VET qualifications, as well as a free Tertiary Enabling Program. Explore courses

Explore 300+ courses

Certificates, diplomas and degrees

Related Articles

  • Law students in moot court

    5 true crime careers

    From sensationalist newspaper coverage of crime to podcasts, documentaries, novels and films, humans have long been fascinated by the macabre. When it comes to turning your fascination into a career, the options extend far beyond the detectives shown on your favourite series. These five jobs allow you to follow your unique interests at uni while still pursuing a career interwoven with the criminal justice system.

    Read more about 5 true crime careers
  • Stock image representing change showing person about to dive into a pool

    How you can change careers entirely in just 2 years

    Already hold an undergraduate degree? You may be able to change careers faster than you think. And you'll open up opportunities to work in some of today's most in-demand jobs.

    Read more about How you can change careers entirely in just 2 years
  • CDU Nursing student Karita McCarthy during pracs

    It wasn’t easy returning to school as a mature student for Karita

    You might look at a list of Karita McCarthy’s recent accomplishments and think that studying comes naturally to her. As a Bachelor of Nursing student at CDU, Karita has certainly had a string of successes. But it wasn’t always that way...

    Read more about It wasn’t easy returning to school as a mature student for Karita
Back to top