Art and design schools in Australia

Australia is fortunate to have a large number of art and design schools relative to its population. The schools are dispersed across our extraordinary landmass - a nation diverse in terms of climate, geography, demography, lifestyle and costs of living.

In writing this introduction to our dual-sector arts education system, I’ll describe some of the strengths and qualities that make our art and design schools special. All Australian art and design schools have comprehensive websites that detail the qualities and benefits of their schools and programmes. Visit these sites and make direct contact with each school - ask questions, establish relationships.

an artist painting on a sunny day

“The major Australian schools’ programmes are amongst the best in the world”

The majority of Australia’s well-known art and design schools are situated within the university sector; at present there are 28 university art and design schools. Each of these offers bachelor degree programmes with options to specialise in studio (painting, sculpture, ceramics, glass, printmaking, digital media and so on).

Some offer a number of undergraduate programme options, and most complement these with postgraduate programmes - coursework (professionally oriented graduate certificate, graduate diploma and master’s programmes) and research higher degrees (academically oriented master’s and doctoral programmes). Australia has been a world leader in the development of doctoral programmes in art and design studio practice. The major Australian schools’ programmes are amongst the best in the world.

Complementing the university-based schools are programmes in a national Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, usually housed within colleges of Technical and Further Education (TAFE). In Tasmania, VET course are offered through the Tasmanian Polytechnic.

TAFE programmes are usually at certificate, diploma and advanced diploma level; however several TAFE schools now offer bachelor degree programmes. Australia also has a number of private art and design schools that offer degree programmes; these are based in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. TAFE programmes emphasise technical skills development, whilst university schools focus on conceptual skills development as defining characteristics of their programmes.

There is a developing trend in Australia to draw these two closer together; RMIT University in Melbourne has an example of a cross-sector art school and developments in Tasmania are promoting more integration of technical and conceptual skills within programmes offered by the two tertiary education systems. Tasmania’s two major cities, Hobart and Launceston, have co-located and integrated university and polytechnic visual arts programmes to strike a complementary balance between technical and conceptual skills development.

Australia’s major and more specialised art and design schools are located within the major capital cities of Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane; Perth and Hobart have smaller schools. These cities have significant cultural facilities and infrastructure (art museums, commercial galleries and government-funded art and design spaces and agencies) that support speculative exhibitions and arts programmes that benefit students and artists. However, the higher costs of living and the side effects of major city population densities encourage some people to consider smaller, lower cost centres.

The nation’s major regional centres of Darwin, Wollongong, Newcastle and Ballarat have substantial interdisciplinary schools encompassing the broad visual and performing arts disciplines. Launceston, Townsville, Towoomba, Lismore, Wagga Wagga, Penrith, Geelong and Bendigo all have smaller multi-disciplinary creative arts programmes. The climatic diversity of these cities is extreme; tropical in the north to temperate coolness in the south, with associated outdoor activities that rival anything available elsewhere in the world. Australia is clean, safe and tolerant, with cultural diversity that has informed social customs and lifestyle.

An art studio in a typical university or art college setting

“Visual Communication continues to grow as an area of interest and demand in several of the schools”

In deciding which school to study at, a range of considerations become important, as well as the standing of the particular school and university. Some schools have acknowledged strengths in specialist areas: for example, Adelaide Centre for the Arts and the South Australian School of Art, Architecture and Design are both located near to the Jam Factory Craft and Design Centre, and both have a full range of traditional craft and design disciplines, which affords students interested in the crafts and design access to an exceptionally rich field of practice. It is important to consider the media you’d like to work with as, for example, glass and textiles are only taught in four or five of the 28 university schools. The College of Fine Arts at University of New South Wales is particularly strong in digital art research.

Most Australian schools offer courses with strengths in contemporary digital media and also maintain the more traditional disciplines of painting, printmaking, sculpture and drawing. Visual Communication continues to grow as an area of interest and demand in several of the schools.

When making an application to an Australian art and design school, ensure that you provide all the relevant information needed to assist your capacity to win a position within the school of your choice.


  • Your academic record (ideally with a guide to the coding and abbreviations used in transcripts)
  • Details of your English language writing, reading and speaking skills (an example essay is often very useful)
  • A comprehensive up-to-date curriculum vitae
  • Digital or photographic images of your creative work, including a list with the titles, materials, dates and sizes of work (it is also useful for you to write a few sentences about the work – what themes and ideas motivated you)
  • And make sure that any and all technological material you provide works on both PC and Macintosh platforms
  • It can help schools appraise your application if you provide a brief outline of your reasons for study at an Australian art or design school

Researching the school, university or college and the cities in which they’re located is critical to deciding which Australian art or design is right for you. Most Australian art and design schools are members of the nation’s peak body, Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools, which I chair. Our website - - has links to all the Australian art and design schools.

Professor Noel Frankham
Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools