Distance and online education for tertiary and secondary students

If you study by distance education, you need to do an approved course with an approved institution.

Distance education and eligibility

You may be a distance education student if you don't study on campus or have face to face classes.

Distance education courses are online, by correspondence, or both. You can study these courses through:

  • the Open Training and Education Network (OTEN)
  • Open Universities Australia (OUA)
  • an Australian university
  • TAFE
  • a private provider, or
  • a secondary school

Eligibility for student payments is the same whether you study through distance education or on campus. You must have a full time study load to get Youth Allowance, Austudy or ABSTUDY Living Allowance.

Study loads

Each institution measures study loads differently. You need to check your institution's website or handbook to find what they consider a full time study load. Study loads for distance education courses use a unit weighting measurement or the total hours for your course.

Example 1 - total hours

Lily’s institution told her the course she’s studying needs 200 hours to complete. A full time study load at her institution is 20 hours per week. Therefore, her course would take 10 weeks to complete if she has a full time study load: 200 ÷ 20 = 10.

We assess Lily’s student payment on these hours - not how many hours she actually spends studying.

Students must study at least 75% of the full time study load to get a payment. For Lily, that’s 15 hours a week.

If Lily needs more than 10 weeks to complete her course, she’ll need to meet the allowable time rules, or reasonable time rules for ABSTUDY. Read about allowable time for study while getting Youth Allowance or allowable time while getting Austudy.

Example 2 - credit point weightings system

If your institution uses a credit point weightings system, you need to work out if your units add up to a full time study load.

Nick’s institution considers 500 credit points as a full time study load for a semester. Nick needs to study at least 375 credit points to meet the 75% study load requirement to get his student payment.

In semester 1, Nick is studying 3 units. 2 of these units have a weighting of 120 credit points each and 1 unit has a weighting of 100 credit points.

120 + 120 + 100 = 340 credit points

As this is less than 375 credit points, Nick doesn’t meet the 75% study load requirement. Nick must tell us about this as soon as possible to avoid a debt. There may be another payment for Nick. He should check our Payment Finder.

Submission of assignments

Some institutions need you to submit a certain number of assignments within a set period.

Many distance education courses are self-paced. But, to keep your student payment, you must show you’re progressing through your course in a satisfactory timeframe. We’ll check with your institution to see if you submit your assignments.


Tom’s course has 10 assignments to complete over 40 weeks. He needs to submit one every 4 weeks. Tom gets a student payment from us. After 12 weeks of study, Tom didn’t submit any assignments.

To avoid a debt, Tom needs to contact us as soon as he decides he’s withdrawing or is unlikely to complete his course in the timeframe. Tom may need to pay back the student payment he got from us

Open Training and Education Network (OTEN)

To get a student payment while studying through OTEN, you must enrol in an approved course and do an equivalent full time study load (EFTSL). OTEN will generally only enrol you in 1 or 2 units at a time and measures the units in hours.

You’re full time with OTEN if you’re doing 16 hours of course work per week.

For example, if you enrol in 1 unit that normally takes 48 hours of course work to complete, you must finish the unit within 3 weeks of starting it: 48 hours ÷ 16 hours = 3 weeks.

OTEN provides a flexible course model to encourage you to complete courses at your own pace with no penalty for not completing work. However, if you’re getting a payment from us, you should complete your study in the normal time it takes to complete the course. In the example above, you’d need to finish your unit within 3 weeks and start the next unit.

Open Universities Australia (OUA)

OUA have many different types of courses. Generally courses at OUA have a full time study load of 2 subjects per study period or session. Single units normally have a credit weighting of 0.125 equivalent full time study load (EFTSL).

Some OUA courses have 4 normal study periods of 13 weeks. If this is your course, you must do at least 2 single or 1 double open learning unit in any study period. This should be 0.250 EFTSL.

If you’re studying an OUA course which has 2 normal semesters, you must be studying at least 0.750 EFTSL. You must be studying full time to get your payment.

Example 1

John is doing a bachelor course through OUA and wants to get Austudy. John enrols in 2 study periods and is studying 0.250 EFTSL in each study period. John is a full time student for Austudy for the 2 study periods.

Example 2

Alice is getting Youth Allowance and doing a bachelor course through OUA. Alice enrolled in 2 single open learning units, with a combined credit weighting of 0.250 EFTSL, in a single study period. Alice decides half way through the study period to stop studying 1 of the units. Her study load reduces to 0.125 EFTSL. Alice has no special circumstances stopping her from completing the unit. Alice needs to tell us about this change or she may need to pay back her Youth Allowance.

Example 3

Ben is getting Youth Allowance and doing a bachelor course through OUA. The course only has 2 normal semesters for Ben to enrol in. This is different to some other courses which have 4 study periods. Ben needs to study 0.375 EFTSL in each study period, or 0.7500 EFTSL if he enrols for the whole year, to continue getting Youth Allowance.

Page last updated: 27 February 2017

This information was printed Tuesday 28 March 2017 from humanservices.gov.au/customer/enablers/distance-and-online-education-tertiary-and-secondary-students It may not include all of the relevant information on this topic. Please consider any relevant site notices at humanservices.gov.au/siteinformation when using this material.