New Academic Calendar - UNSW3+

UNSW is moving to a new academic calendar model from 2019, consisting of three normal terms each with ten weeks teaching, and an optional five-week summer term. The new academic calendar is called UNSW3+.

The UNSW Model

Why is UNSW adopting a new academic calendar?

A key priority of UNSW’s 2025 Strategy is the development of the Scientia Educational Experience. The Scientia Educational Experience aims to give students an opportunity to personalise and tailor their university experience, and provide graduates with the attributes necessary for success in the 21st century. The development of the UNSW3+ Academic Calendar is the first step in this process.

UNSW3+ will offer:

  • Integration of opportunities into the UNSW experience, better preparing students for the work environment.
  • Alignment with Northern Hemisphere university calendars, creating flexibility for more global experiences.
  • Flexibility to spread study load over the course of the year.
  • More time in each term to devote to each course, improving depth of understanding.
  • The ability for UNSW to grow over the next ten years.
  • A more vibrant campus life through greater optimisation of the facilities.

UNSW is also investing over $75m in education through the Inspired Learning initiative. This investment will improve the educational experience and help UNSW to join the elite rank of global universities.

Student engagement

How UNSW engaged with students with UNSW3+

2025 Strategy – The 2025 Strategy document released in October 2015 indicated the intention of UNSW to put forward a trimester calendar proposal for discussion with staff and students. Since then UNSW has been investigating and engaging on a variety of different alternative calendar options for UNSW as part of this proposal.

Student survey – UNSW conducted a comprehensive student survey to measure preferences as to different calendar models, with more than 5,000 responses received.

While there was some support for the current semester calendar model, 63% of respondents preferred a calendar model different to that currently in use. Of those who preferred an alternative model, the UNSW3+ model was most popular.

Feedback received from the survey included that a reasonable length summer holiday was important, as was the capacity to spread study load over the year, and the possibility to complete studies earlier than under the current model. Postgraduate students were particularly keen on an additional study term. One thing that was clear is that there was no single calendar model that would suit the needs of all students.

Student leaders – In addition to the first student survey, engagement has occurred with student leaders through a number of forums and meetings:

  • Student Representative Council
  • Academic Board
  • University Academic Programs Committee
  • Postgraduate Council
  • UNSW Council

Online – Information on the different calendar models under consideration and the headline results of the student survey has been available on the Current Students website since September 2016, and regular enquiries have been received and responded to.

Student focus groups – 12 student focus groups have been held. The focus groups included a mixture of domestic undergraduate and postgraduate, as well as international students. The focus groups discussed the features UNSW3+ and the other models that were considered, ongoing student engagement, student transition to UNSW3+ in 2019, and extracurricular experiences that students would like UNSW to offer with UNSW3+. The key outcomes of the focus groups were that students were concerned about the potential impact on internships, part time work and the availability of courses, however participants were generally supportive of the change.

On campus – ARC hosted a UNSW3+ Q&A session for students on the Library Lawn, attended by Professor Merlin Crossley (DVC Education), as well as a panel of UNSW academics and professional staff. The session was hosted by Aislinn Stein-Magee (SRC Education Officer), who asked the panelists a series of questions that had been posed by students online in the lead up to the event. The session was broadcast to all students on the UNSW radio station; Blitz radio. Approximately 250 students attended the event. The key concerns raised by students were workload, internships and education quality.

Ongoing – UNSW is conducting further engagement during the remainder of 2016 through a second student survey and online engagement. This page will be updated frequently to reflect the ongoing engagement.

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Key features

Key features of the new UNSW3+ model


The UNSW3+ Model enables student flexibility by offering pathways that students may choose to enhance their program, for example:

  • The normal load student: A student that chooses to follow a normal load of eight courses per year, with options to take nine courses per year for some programs to fast track graduation
  • The Term 3 intake student: A student that chooses to commence their program in Term 3, for which the start dates are aligned with the Northern Hemisphere school calendar
  • The experiences student: A student that chooses to enhance their program by using one or more terms to undertake an internship, international exchange, research experience or university experience. This is expected to become the most popular pathway.
  • The early finisher: A student who overloads (three courses every term), to finish one term early in September of final year.

Student flexibility pathways illustration

Vary load– Students will have flexibility to vary their load throughout the year. This would help students better manage their commitments outside of university. A normal load for students would still be 8 x 6 unit of credit courses over the course of the year, but students would be able to spread their subjects out over three terms (or four if they wanted to undertake study in summer term). A full-time load is 75% of a normal load, so to retain full-time status under the UNSW3+ model, students would need to complete six subjects over the course of the year, with at least one enrolment in each of the three normal terms (Terms 1, 2 and 3).


Study and Teaching Time

Study hours – In the UNSW3+ Model, students will undertake three courses per term, rather than four subjects per semester at present, so there will be approximately 10% fewer study hours per week.

12 weeks of course work in 10 weeks = 120% of current weekly workload

3 courses instead of 4 = 120% x ¾ = 90% of current weekly workload

Weekly content – UNSW courses will retain the same curriculum with weekly contact hours increasing for each course to get through the same content, and same total contact hours in 10 weeks.

Depth – Students will have more time in each term to devote to each course, improving the depth of understanding from their formal studies. This will help to create more well-rounded graduates that are better prepared to enter the workforce. Courses will be adjusted to fit 10 week terms, with the same content and total number of contact hours per course as today.


Summer Term

Intensive – The summer term would be five weeks and offer short, optional intensive courses with limited offerings. The courses available would depend on what individual Faculties and Schools decide to offer, as occurs now with the current calendar model. Students would not be required to study in summer, and if they chose not to study, they would still have a nine-week summer break.



Personalisation – In parallel with the new calendar a number of innovative on-line courses are being developed through the Inspired Learning initiative to UNSW3+ provide even greater flexibility and personalisation of learning.



2019 - The UNSW3+ academic calendar will commence in 2019. The processes and procedures needed to implement the change will need to be worked through in the 2017 and 2018. The groundwork for implementation of the UNSW3+ Model will begin in 2017. For students who will still be studying in 2019, transition plans will be provided before 2018 enrollment.


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Things you asked to know more about

More information on answers to common questions

Working harder

Study load – Students would typically enrol in three courses per term, rather than four per semester at present. This will reduce burdens associated with juggling multiple subjects and exams:

  • Students would be expected to have 10% fewer contact hours per week for a load of three courses, compared with four courses today.
  • Students should develop a greater understanding of their course content as they will have more time to devote to each course, and have fewer competing demands from other courses.
  • Students would be able to decrease their study load during each term to balance their commitments outside of university.

Assessment – Students will have a maximum of three exams per term, lightening the overall revision load. Students will have a lower assignment load for three courses instead of four.

Part time – For students that are studying part time in the current calendar due to other commitments, it may be possible to meet the definition of a full-time student in the UNSW3+ model, with an enrolment pattern of two courses per term. This would be slightly (20%) more intense than today, but those students could then receive full-time student benefits. This could help students that work part-time, have dependents, those that find full-time study too stressful, etc.

Course quality

Contact hours – Students will have the same number of contact hours per course per term as they do in the current academic calendar, so they will be studying each course more intensively:

  • As students study three courses each term instead of four, they will have fewer contact hours per week, so more time to absorb materials for each course.
  • More classes will be run for each course in each week, so the same number of contact hours are retained for each course. This will allow you to cover all the same content with your teachers.
  • For example, a course with five contact hours per week now (60 hours total) would have six hours per week in UNSW3+ (60 hours total).
  • Students will undertake the same number of courses per program as today.
  • The graduate outcomes of each course and program will remain unchanged.

Less time for holidays

Timing – The length of the summer holiday break will reduce from 14 weeks to nine weeks. Mid-year breaks are still four weeks, but will be in two blocks of two weeks instead of a four-week block.

Opportunities – UNSW's goal is to provide a better educational experience to our students:

  • The new calendar will provide students with more opportunities to enhance their graduate attributes, including more internships, exchange, and other extra-curricular experiences.
  • Students would be expected to have 10% fewer contact hours per week for a load of three courses, compared with four courses today. The lower weekly study load will give students more time to work throughout the year, placing less pressure on part-time work in the holiday breaks.
  • Students would also have the opportunity to lower their load in a term whilst still retaining full-time student status. This would allow them to take on more part-time work during times of the year that suits them.

Internship Opportunities

Existing internships – UNSW3+ will not mean the end of current internship opportunities and will facilitate more students completing an internship as part of their degree. We are looking at current internship programs to ensure that students do not lose any of the opportunities that currently exist.

New internships – Students that choose to take up to nine courses per year will create space in their program to use a term for an internship without delaying graduation:

  • Students would complete a preparatory course, short intensive course or online course during this term and hence be able to retain their student benefits. We think this will result in more students taking internships and being better prepared to enter the workforce upon graduating.
  • Students taking an internship during Term 1, Term 2 or Term 3 would face less competition for internship places against other Australian university students who don’t have the flexibility to take an internship outside of summer.
  • Many companies close or slow down over the summer break. Mid-year internships will give students more opportunities to complete more meaningful internships.
  • Term 2 is aligned with Northern Hemisphere summer internships.

Student Exchange

Global opportunities – Universities throughout the world use a large variety of calendars, so the impact would vary depending on each institution, but the majority of our university partners in the northern hemisphere have starting dates aligned to the UNSW3+ Model.  The net impact should be a better alignment with our partners and greater flexibility for International Exchange:

  • The UNSW3+ model is aligned with northern hemisphere university calendar start dates, so that students are more easily able to fit an exchange into their program.
  • As students have the option to take up to nine courses per year, double degree students are able to fit an exchange into their program without delaying graduation. This is difficult for double degree students now because they cannot undertake general education courses

Course fees, student benefits and visas

Course fees – Course fees would not be affected by UNSW3+.

Full-time load –  The normal full-time study load would continue to be eight courses per year and the minimum full-time study load would continue to be six courses per year.

Centrelink – To retain full-time student status under the UNSW3+ calendar model for the purposes of Centrelink, Austudy or other government support, students would need to be enrolled in at least six subjects per year, as is the case under the current semester calendar. Students would need to enrol in at least one subject in each of the three normal terms (Term 1, 2 and 3), and six over the course of the year (Terms 1 to 3) to retain full time status. For students enrolling in less than a full year, it is expected that students would need to enrol in a minimum of two courses per term in order to maintain full time student status.

Scholarships – Scholarship payments would be aligned with the new term dates, but the value of UNSW scholarships paid over a year would not change. Those on external scholarships (Commonwealth Government, external industry scholarships) should not be affected so long as students maintain their full-time status. The value and length of scholarships should not change under UNSW3+.

International Students – Visa requirements will not change, as all programs would be completed within the same time as current. However, some programs such as double majors may be able to finish slightly earlier. Students would still need to maintain full-time status as described above.

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