Best Australian universities for allied health degrees

Choosing a university can be challenging, so we’ve created a handy guide to help you take the first step to becoming an allied health professional.

Considering a career in allied health, perhaps as an occupational therapistphysiotherapistexercise physiologistspeech pathologist, or Positive Behaviour Support practitioner?

With a focus on helping people enjoy a better quality of life, a career in allied health can be incredibly rewarding. It can also offer good employment opportunities thanks to the growing demand for clinicians in Australia – and a good work-life balance too. The greater awareness of the benefits of healthy workplaces continues to motivate many allied health companies to provide more flexibility and supportive environments for their clinicians.

As many of our clinicians have found, working in allied health comes with plenty of variety (“no two days are the same!”) and support and guidance from their senior clinicians and teammates. They also enjoy collaborating with their colleagues in different disciplines, such as occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech pathology, within multidisciplinary teams to create comprehensive therapy programs to help participants achieve their goals their way.

What qualifications and registrations do I need to practice as an allied health clinician?

To practice as an occupational therapist (OT), physiotherapist, speech pathologist, Positive Behaviour Support practitioner or exercise physiologist in Australia, you need to complete a university degree and for some disciplines, one that meets their approval to gain registration or accreditation.

Occupational therapy

To practice as an occupational therapist, you need to complete a four-year undergraduate degree or a two-year postgraduate master’s degree approved by the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia and meet the Board’s other standards to gain registration. Explore the comprehensive list of approved universities and degrees available.

Physiotherapy

To practice as a physiotherapist, you need to complete a minimum four-year undergraduate degree or two-year postgraduate master’s degree approved by the Physiotherapy Board of Australia and meet the Boards other standards to gain registration.

Speech pathology

To become a speech pathologist, there are three main tertiary study ‘paths’: an undergraduate bachelor’s degree in speech pathology (usually four years in duration), or a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as Science and Health Sciences, followed by a master’s degree in speech pathology, or a bachelor’s degree is in Arts, Science, Education or other Health Sciences followed by a Graduate Entry Master (GEM). Some universities offer Honours as part of the bachelor’s degree, for example, Bachelor of Speech Pathology (honours).

Universities must meet Speech Pathology Australia’s requirements, to ensure that graduating students have the necessary skills and knowledge to work as speech pathologists.

Positive Behaviour Support

To become a Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) practitioner, you require specialist skills and training in PBS and a relevant university qualification, a requirement of some insurers for gaining professional indemnity insurance and by the NDIS if you choose to work with NDIS-funded participants. Relevant university bachelor’s degrees include Bachelor of Social Sciences, Bachelor of Psychology, and bachelor’s degrees in behaviour science like Swinburne University of Technology’s Bachelor’s degree, Social Science.

Behaviour Support Practitioners Australia provides a handy list of PBS-related qualifications including a four-year full-time undergraduate Bachelor of Disability and Developmental Education at Flinders University, and post-graduate certificate courses and master’s degrees, which require an undergraduate degree for entry. Find out more about the requirements to practice as a Positive Behaviour Support practitioner in Australia

Exercise physiology

To become an exercise physiologist and gain accreditation from Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA), you need to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in exercise science or exercise physiology or a three-year undergraduate exercise science degree plus a postgraduate master’s degree in Exercise Physiology. All courses need to be approved by ESSA.

Which Australian universities are the ‘best’ for allied health degrees?

In Australia, we’re fortunate to have a wide choice of high-standard universities, however more choice can make your decision more challenging. And chances are, as soon as you mention you’re trying to choose a uni, your friends, siblings, and parents may provide so much well-meaning advice that you’ll soon experience choice paralysis.

The ‘best’ or right university for you the one that meets your personal needs while also preparing you well for your chosen allied health career by giving you the necessary competencies to practice and gain registration or accreditation from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) or your discipline’s professional association, which certifies qualifications, sets and maintains standards and oversees professional development.

Personal needs, preferences, and other considerations

As university will become a big part of your life for many years, making a list of your personal needs and preferences can help you create a short list of prospective universities or choose ‘the one’.

Personal considerations when choosing a university can include

  • Location and accessibility
  • Availability and affordability of student accommodation
  • Campus life
  • Extracurricular opportunities such as special programs, study abroad, sporting teams, and societies and clubs, scholarships, and student amenities (which usually come with an annual fee).

Cost may also be a consideration and prices vary between courses and universities and are higher for international students. You can discover course fees on each university’s website (some make it easy, while others will have you drawing on your math skills to calculate!).

‘Academic’ considerations

‘Academic’ considerations are those related to gaining competency in your chosen allied health discipline and can include tuition quality (ie. the knowledge and experience of the teaching staff such as lecturers and tutors), learning resources, course topics, structure and delivery, placement opportunities and hours, and student academic and wellbeing support.

Taking an online tour of each university’s website is one way to check out these important ‘qualities’ and university Open Days enable you to check out the teaching staff, campus, and extracurricular offerings and get some advice on your degree and how it’s delivered from staff, current students and recent graduates. Asking a third or fourth-year student what the teachers are like and what they like about their course can reveal insights you’ll rarely find online, however keep in mind that each person’s responses are subjective.

As you probably know from your school experience, teachers can have considerable influence on anyone’s learning experience. University is the same, and your teachers, tutors, and lecturers can influence what you learn, how well you learn and master new skills, and your outlook on your chosen discipline.

In addition to Open Days, where there are often opportunities to meet teachers or hear them present talks, you can find out about each university’s teaching staff and course ‘creators’ on their website.

For example, Flinders University, which offers bachelors’ degrees in physiotherapy, speech pathology and occupational therapy, has online staff profiles that provide each staff member’s qualifications, experience, special interests, research, current and past projects, awards, achievements and more. Professor Lucy Lewis is just one staff member featured and you can discover that as the university’s academic lead for physiotherapy, she is interested in investigating ways to ‘help children and adults to sit less and move more to improve their health’

Here are some handy links to staff profiles at some of Australian universities that offer allied health degrees:

Deakin University

Australian National University

Queensland University of Technology

The University of Sydney

The University of Melbourne

The University of Adelaide

The University of Newcastle

Flinders University

The University of Western Australia

Monash University

The University of Queensland

Griffith University

Now let’s talk University Rankings

Universities are ranked on a variety of factors, including student satisfaction, course engagement, graduate employment (‘employability’) outcomes and salaries, research ‘performance’, and even sustainability.

There are several rankings that can be viewed online, including QS World University Rankings, The Good Universities Guide, Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT), the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), and Times Higher Education World University Rankings – all of which include universities in Australia.

The Good Universities Guide rates Australia’s universities based on ‘student-relevant’ criteria including graduate employment rates and salaries, teaching quality, and learning resources.

For learner engagement in health sciences degrees, Bond University, James Cook University, University of the Sunshine Coast, Monash University and Flinders University are ranked in the top 5. 

For skills development, James Cook University, Edith Cowan University, University of Southern Queensland, Bond University, and University of the Sunshine Coast are in the top 5.

The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) are government-endorsed surveys of higher education providers and include surveys on student experience, graduate outcomes, and employer satisfaction. For example, in 2022, QILT’s Employer Satisfaction survey ranked Curtin University, The University of Sydney and La Trobe University in the top 3.

QS World University Rankings rank universities in Australia and around the world each year on employability of graduates, facilities, program quality, learning experience, research, inclusiveness, diversity, social responsibility and more.

According to QS, the top 10 universities in Australia for Life Sciences and Medicine (which includes some Allied Health degrees) in 2023 are

  1. The University of Melbourne  
  2. The University of Sydney  
  3. The University of Queensland  
  4. Monash University  
  5. The University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney) 
  6. The University of Western Australia  
  7. The University of Adelaide  
  8. Australian National University (ANU) Canberra  
  9. The University of Newcastle 
  10.  Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane 

According to another university ranking site, EduRank, the 2023 top 10 Australian universities for occupational therapy, based on their research performance and search sites views, which reveal a university’s ‘non-academic’ prominence, are –

  1. The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane 
  2. The University of Sydney
  3. La Trobe University, Melbourne
  4. University of Melbourne
  5. Monash University
  6. University of New South Wales, Sydney
  7. University of South Australia, Adelaide
  8. Flinders University, Adelaide
  9. Griffith University, Brisbane
  10. University of Australia

And EduRank’s 2023 top 10 Australian universities for physiotherapy are:

  1. The University of Sydney
  2. The University of Queensland
  3. The University of Melbourne
  4. University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney
  5. Monash University, Clayton, Victoria
  6. University of Western Australia, Crawley
  7. La Trobe University, Melbourne
  8. Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria
  9. Curtin University, Perth
  10. University of South Australia, Adelaide

Three ‘warnings’ about university rankings

  • While a high ranking bolsters a university’s reputation and prestige, it can make it more in demand and therefore more difficult to get in to (with higher ATAR and other academic entry requirements).
  • Basing your choice on rankings alone may result in overlooking lower-ranked universities that are better suited to your personal needs or are highly regarded by allied health employers and regulating bodies.
  • Many rankings rate universities based on all their degrees or lump their degrees into groups, like Health Sciences, making the ranking less relevant to your chosen degree.

According to Better Rehab Head of Talent, Karen McCormack, the university is just one consideration when the company is recruiting graduates for its industry leading Graduate Program.

“The university you went to isn’t the only factor we consider when recruiting clinicians. We also consider an applicant’s location and duration of placements, references and feedback from their teachers and placement or volunteer supervisors, and the reasons they chose to work in allied health, particularly in the disability community space. Everyone is unique and a passion for helping participants live a better quality of life is an essential criterion for working at Better Rehab,” explains Karen.

Placements are a vital consideration in university choice

Placements are when you are placed into an allied health practice for a short time during your university course. At many unis, placements are ‘embedded’ into your course, at set times during the academic year.

“Placements are vital for broadening your knowledge and skills in your chosen discipline, boosting your confidence in your abilities, and gaining accreditation or registration with the relevant authority, like ESSA and the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia,” explains Karen.

For example, according to ESSA, Exercise Physiologist graduates needs to have completed at least 500 hours of practical experience to be considered for accreditation, and OT graduates need a minimum of 1,000 hours of placements to gain registration with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and become a member of Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA).

Placements enable students to

  • Learn from experienced clinicians
  • Gain real-world ‘a day in the life’ insights into working as a clinician
  • See how your discipline’s theories and therapies work in practice
  • Gain hands-on experience in your discipline (under the supervision of qualified clinicians)
  • Provide insights that will help you choose where you would like to have your graduate program and practice after graduation (community or hospital settings)
  • Develop professional links
  • Gain an advantage in securing employment or graduate placements

“As many allied health roles are hands-on, placements are vital for students to gain practical skills and a broader understanding of what it really means to work one-on-one with a NDIS participant or patient and also within a multidisciplinary team,” explains Karen, who recommends choosing a university that provides a well-rounded placement experience.

Not all universities organise placements for students, which means you will have to plan ahead for your placement ‘breaks’. The Australian Catholic University (ACU) for example organises placements for its allied health students through its Work Integrated Learning Program (WIL) and all Occupational Therapy students start going on placements in their first semester in their first year. Placements can include city and rural public and private hospitals, private practices, schools, community health services, mental health services, disability services, and aged care, and with the ACU’s partnerships with St Vincent’s Health Network and Macquarie Health Group.

ACU also offers allied health students opportunities to collaborate with industry, community and government departments on consulting and research projects with industry partners. Projects can be online, in the workplace, or as internships.

“ACU goes the extra mile with preparing students for a career in allied health by providing their own on-campus health clinics for practical rotations where they are supervised by experienced clinicians including physiotherapists, OTs, exercise physiologists, and speech pathologists,” says Karen. 

It’s not surprising that the ACU ranks in Karen’s personal top Australian universities for allied health degrees which also includes La Trobe University; Curtin University and the University of Queensland.

University ranking’s just one of many factors to consider

While university rankings provide a valuable insight into the academic stature and resources of various institutions, they are one of many considerations in the decision-making process for aspiring allied health professionals.

As previously mentioned, the university is just one factor Better Rehab’s Head of Talent Karen McCormack takes into account when recruiting clinicians, along with each applicant’s location and duration of placements, references and feedback from teachers and placement or volunteer supervisors, and the reasons they have chosen a career in allied health, particularly in the disability community space.

When choosing university that’s right for you, it’s important to consider how it aligns with your personal needs, learning style, and career aspirations. And the journey doesn’t end at graduation. For those embarking on this rewarding career path, practical experience and continuous learning are crucial for maintaining competency and registration and/or accreditation in your chosen allied health discipline.

Student placements at Better Rehab

For university students seeking to enhance their practical skills and gain real-world experience, Better Rehab offers placements to provide opportunities to apply their academic knowledge and witness first-hand the impact of community allied health services on improving the quality of life for people living with disabilities.

If you’re interested in a student placement with Better Rehab, simply let your placement facilitator know or contact us directly.

Our commitment to nurturing the next generation of allied health professionals is unwavering, and we look forward to guiding and working alongside you from day one, whether it’s in your placement with us, as a graduate in our industry leading Graduate Program, or as an experienced clinician working within one of our multidisciplinary teams around Australia.

For more articles, head back to our content hub

Scroll to Top