It now costs $262,000 for an Australian degree

Australia has been an attractive study destination for many university students because it is nearer to Singapore than Britain or the United States.

It used to cost less too. But this is no longer so.

A check by The Sunday Times on the cost of pursuing a university degree overseas found Australia now costs more than either the US or Britain.

For a non-medical, four-year degree in Australia, the total cost can add up to $262,352.

That put it well ahead of the US, with an average of $217,016, and Britain, at $141,291. Those going to Germany for a degree will need $64,666 and a China degree costs $57,287.

Australia has long been a popular destination for Singaporean students. In 2011, there were nearly 10,000 studying in Australia - more than twice the 4,500 in the US and 4,840 in Britain.

A key reason for the pricier Australian degree is the country's strong currency.

Apart from a brief plunge during the 2008 financial crisis when its dollar hit S$1.10, the currency has been stubbornly high, although it has weakened recently.

The Australian dollar was at S$1.35 in February but traded at about S$1.22 last Friday.

On the other hand, the greenback and sterling have been battered in the global financial crisis, eroding the comparative cost advantage that an Australian education used to have.

Living costs in Australia have also risen in recent years.

Official estimates show the annual tuition fee for a degree in Australia can range from A$14,000 to A$35,000 (S$17,000 to S$42,700).

Prospective students are now also required to show that they have A$18,610 a year to meet basic living costs as stipulated by visa requirements.

But undergraduate Alvin Lim, who is at Melbourne University, said the official amount is quite a generous estimate. He spends an average of A$1,000 or less each month, or about A$12,000 a year.

"The cost of living in Australia is definitely high, and it is not helped by the high dollar, but most students offset this by working part-time. I'm looking to do some casual employment at a sushi bar this winter. That could earn me up to A$20 per hour."

Dr Timothy Chan, director, academic at SIM Global Education, said assuming the academic standard of the programmes among choices in different countries is comparable, going to Britain now looks a better option in terms of cost than a couple of years ago.

He noted, however, that students must also factor in the cost of return air tickets, the duration of the programme and the total payable tuition fees.

"Equally important are intangible factors such as proximity from home, accessibility, culture and even weather of the country," he said.

"For example, Perth and Singapore are in the same time zone. If one prefers a white Christmas and doesn't mind a harsh winter, then Britain and the US will offer better choices."

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