Distance and online education

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 any of the following:

  • the Open Training and Education Network (OTEN)
  • Open Universities Australia (OUA)
  • an Australian university
  • TAFE
  • a private provider
  • 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. Students must study at least 75% of the full time study load to get a payment.

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. That means, her course takes 10 weeks with 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.

Lily has to study at least 15 hours a week to reach the 75% of the full time study load rule to get a payment.

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

Example 2 - credit point weightings system

Nick’s institution uses a credit point weighting system. This means Nick needs to work out if his 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 has to study at least 375 credit points to reach the 75% study load rule to get a payment.

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

120 + 120 + 100 = 340 credit points

This is less than 375 credit points, Nick doesn’t meet the 75% study load rule. 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 and Service 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 may check with your institution to see if you submit your assignments.


Tom has to complete 10 assignments over 40 weeks for his course. 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. He should do this once 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 both:

  • enrol in an approved course
  • do at least 75 % of the equivalent full time study load (EFTSL).

OTEN will generally only enrol you in 1 or 2 units at a time. It measures the units in hours.


Rowena is full time with OTEN and does 16 hours of course work per week.

Rowena enrols in 1 unit that normally takes 48 hours to complete.

48 hours ÷ 16 hours = 3 weeks

This means Rowena needs to complete the unit within 3 weeks. She’ll need to start the next unit to keep her payment.

OTEN provides a flexible course model to encourage you to complete courses at your own pace. OTEN doesn’t have penalties for not completing work. Your payment may stop if you don’t complete your study in the time it should take to do the course full time.

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 subjects normally have a credit weighting of 0.125 equivalent full time study load (EFTSL).

Some OUA courses have 4 study periods of 13 weeks. If this is your course, you must do at least 2 single or 1 double subject 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. They had 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. To keep getting Youth Allowance Ben needs to either:

  • study 0.375 EFTSL in each study period
  • 0.750 EFTSL if he enrols for the whole year, at the start of the year.

Page last updated: 8 November 2019