General Education

UNSW requires that undergraduate students undertake General Education as an integral part of studies of their degree. The University believes that a general education complements the more specialised learning undertaken in as student's chosen field of study and contributes to the flexibility which graduates are increasingly required to demonstrate.

Single degrees versus combined degrees 

There will be no general exemptions for students enrolled in single degree programs. As a general rule, students enrolled in combined undergraduate programs leading to the award of two degrees, each in a different faculty, meet their General Education requirements. Note - variation to the General Education requirement in some combined programs may have been approved, and students should always check their program requirements in the handbook.

General Education courses

General Education courses must be offered by a Faculty that is not the Engineering Faculty, and General Education cannot be related to core courses in your program.

Click to display a list of General Education Courses: here 

The Enrolment process

Students enrol in General Education courses through myUNSW ( the web interface to the University's student information system, in the same way that they enrol in other courses.
Before nominating the General Education courses they wish to take, students should ensure that they are familiar with:

  • the relevant faculty and program policy and procedures for General Education including approval requirements, as set out in this Handbook and additional faculty program policy and enrolment information.
  • the General Education course timetable, which includes lecture and tutorial times and the campus on which the course is taught.
  • how many General Education courses (or General Education units of credit) they have completed, and how many they are still required to complete.
  • their own timetable, including times which they have available to take General Education courses.
  • where a course is offered in more than one class (that is, the course is streamed and students must register for a particular stream), students must ensure that they enrol into the correct class using myUNSW.

Students will be able to vary their enrolment in General Education courses, subject to places in other courses being available. Course enrolment variations will be conducted through myUNSW.
Students who are unable to enrol through myUNSW should contact their faculty or program office regarding alternative enrolment arrangements.

Quotas and preferences

General Education courses may have enrolment quotas set for both overall course enrolments and for each faculty. Although these quotas are flexible, students may be unable to enrol in a particular course because it is already full. In these cases, students may attempt to enrol in the class at a later time, as places may become available.

To increase the chances of enrolment in first preference courses, the University will generally try to allocate enrolment appointment times to students who have progressed furthest in their degree program, before students in earlier stages of their program. This means that if a student misses out on admission to a course in one year, they are more likely to be successful in subsequent years, as they gain more senior status in their program.

Alternative mode courses

Most General Education courses (with GEN prefix) will be offered in the format of one lecture and one tutorial per week. However, in developing courses for the General Education program a number of faculties have put forward courses that can be completed in a more intensive mode - either over a summer session, or in some other non-standard arrangement. Some approved courses will be offered in an open learning or distance learning format, supported by electronic delivery techniques. It is hoped that the choice of delivery mode will increase in response to student preferences and the course evaluation process.

Campus at which courses are taught

General Education courses are taught at Kensington as well as the Paddington (Faculty of the College of Fine Arts) campus. Students may enrol in courses offered on either campus provided the courses have been approved as part of their General Education requirement.

Separate arrangements are in place for students of the Australian Defence Force Academy and of the Australian Taxation Studies Program. Students in these programs should consult their faculty for information on courses and venues.

Units of Credit, Fees & Charges and General Education

The University's academic structure is based on 'units of credit'. A full-time enrolment for is defined as 48 units of credit across the academic year (18 per term). A course will have the same unit of credit value and generate the same load for student contribution charges and tuition fees irrespective of the program or stage in which it is taken. All courses are measured in whole units of credit. 

The normal workload expectations are approximately 25 hours per term for each unit of credit, including class contact hours, other learning activities, preparation, and time spent on all assessable work. Every course in the University has a unit of credit value, with program requirements defined, in part, in terms of the completion of a specified number of units of credit. The most important thing to remember about units of credit and General Education is that, because the General Education Program is an integral component of each undergraduate degree program at UNSW, units of credit earned for General Education are not additional to program requirements, but rather are a required part of each program. For the same reason, students do not pay extra for undertaking General Education courses.

Student contribution charges and tuition fees are based on the student's total study load, taking into account the discipline grouping of the unit of study. Student load is calculated on the sum of the units of credit of all courses undertaken (including General Education courses) as a proportion of the specific full-time total (48 units of credit) for the particular stage of the program. Contact your Program Authority if you have any further questions regarding General Education courses.

Objectives of the General Education Program

The following objectives were approved by the Council of the University in December 1994 (Minor changes were approved by Council in 2005):

  1. To provide a learning environment in which students acquire, develop, and deploy skills of rational thought and critical analysis.
  2. To enable students to evaluate arguments and information.
  3. To empower students to systematically challenge received traditions of knowledge, beliefs and values.
  4. To enable students to acquire skills and competencies, including appropriate written and spoken communication skills.
  5. To ensure that students examine the purposes and consequences of their education and experience at University, and to foster acceptance of professional and ethical action and the social responsibility of graduates.
  6. To foster among students the competence and the confidence to contribute creatively and responsibly to the development of their society.
  7. To provide structured opportunities for students from disparate disciplines to interact cooperatively within a learning situation.
  8. To provide opportunities for students to explore discipline and paradigm bases other than those of their professional or major disciplinary specialization through non-specialist courses offered in those other areas.
  9. To provide an environment in which students are able to experience the benefits of moving beyond the knowledge boundaries of a single discipline and explore cross and interdisciplinary connections, and cross-cultural contexts.
  10. To provide a learning environment and teaching methodology in which students can bring the approaches of a number of disciplines to bear on a complex problem or issue.

General Education Requirements

(a) The basic General Education Requirements are the same for students in all single degree programs or concurrent degree programs drawn from one Faculty:

  • Students must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 12 units of credit (UoC) in General Education courses or their equivalent taken from outside the home Faculty (unless otherwise entitled to exemption or special requirements.
  • The University’s General Education Requirements are in addition to any core course requirement associated with the program or streams within the program
  • Faculties retain the authority to direct students against taking certain courses from outside the home faculty as General Education if it is the Faculty’s view that these courses substantially overlap with courses in the primary single or concurrent degree program.

(b) Concurrent degree programs drawn from two Faculties are deemed to have met the University’s General Education requirements;

(c) Concurrent degree programs that include the Bachelor of Education are deemed to have met the University’s General Education requirements;

Restrictions and students' choices 
In order to ensure that students have the maximum amount of choice possible in the courses that can be taken to fulfill the General Education requirement, all programs have agreed to allow students to select either:

  • courses that were developed especially for the General Education Program (these have the course identifier that begins with GEN);
  • a limited number of 'mainstream' courses that are offered in the degree programs of other faculties.

However, certain restrictions apply to students' choices: 

Effective from Semester 2, 2008: to meet their 12 units of credit General Education requirement, students may take up to 12 units of General Education, or courses substituted for General Education, from any faculty or faculties, other than the faculty that is the authority for the program in which the student is enrolled. ADFA students must take courses from outside their home discipline cluster.

The following rules will apply: 

(a) Where students have been granted advanced standing in any program, any remaining General Education requirements in those programs must be met from courses offered in a faculty other than the faculty which is the program authority for the program in which the student is enrolled. 

(b) In programs that have a partial exemption from General Education, the remaining General Education courses must be taken in faculties other than the faculty that is the program authority for the program in which the student is enrolled.

Faculties must identify any of their mainstream courses which overlap substantially with the General Education courses offered within that faculty and must stipulate that students who have completed or are completing these mainstream overlapping courses are excluded from enrolment in the related General Education course.

  • the program requirements for each faculty which relate to the undergraduate degree programs offered by that faculty, may in some cases limit the number or type of 'mainstream' courses a student may include in the total number of courses necessary to complete their General Education requirement, and
  • students' first choices cannot be guaranteed, as students in later program stages will be given preference over those in earlier stages; quotas may be set for different faculties and courses. Courses with insufficient enrolments will be cancelled by 31 January (for Session 1 courses) and 27 June (for Session 2 courses). Staff leave means that not all courses are necessarily offered each session or year.

Exemption from Part or All of the General Education Program

Students enrolling in combined programs
As a general rule, students enrolled in combined undergraduate programs leading to the award of two degrees, each in a different faculty, meet their General Education requirements.
Variation to the General Education requirement in some combined programs may have been approved. Students enrolled in combined programs should check their General Education requirements with their faculty or program office. 

There will be no general exemptions for students enrolled in single degree programs.

Special student exemptions
Students transferring from one faculty to another at UNSW, or from another higher education/tertiary institution, who believe that their prior learning and/or qualification satisfies the University's General Education objectives are eligible to seek exemption from all, or part of the UNSW General Education requirements.
Applicants for exemption must supply full written justification for their request, plus appropriate documentation, showing how they have satisfied the GE objectives (see above). Applications will be considered on a case by case, and course by course basis by the faculty, which will make a determination and notify the student accordingly. The faculty's yardsticks will be:

  • the extent to which the courses nominated for exemption satisfy sufficient GE objectives (i.e. cooperative interaction with students in other disciplines, most importantly; skills/competencies complementary to the major discipline area; social and ethical responsibility and development; empowerment to challenge traditional knowledge/paradigms);

  • the extent to which the previous program is different in paradigm and content to that in which the student is presently enrolled;

  • the length of previous study undertaken.

In all cases, the onus is on the student to present a written justification.

Note: Life experience and/or mature age entry are not grounds for exemption. Practical experience/industry placement is not grounds for exemption.

Students with an identified need may substitute approved academic English courses for up to 6 units of General Education.

Co-requisites and exclusions
The Committee on Education will determine co-requisites and exclusions as and when necessary.