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Study built environment courses in Australia

Field of Study: Built Environment Course Information

This is a small field as far as student numbers go, but its scope is huge. The term ‘built environment’ refers to everything that is man-made, as opposed to a part of the natural environment. This includes the objects inside our homes and businesses, as well as our buildings, communities and cities.

Built environment is a multidisciplinary field, meaning that it covers a range of quite diverse disciplines that can be found in different faculties or schools at universities. Specialisations differ considerably in the approach they take to the constructed environment. Some are concerned with building it, others with its sale, management or maintenance. Some consider how to sustain it, while others focus on its creation.

Between them, the courses in this field attract the recognition and accreditation of a number of different professional bodies. Depending on the specific field you choose, your course should be recognised by one or several professional associations.

For more information, see the following websites:

  • Australian Institute of Landscape Architects

  • Australian Institute of Building

  • Design Institute of Australia

  • Planning Institute of Australia

  • Urban Development Institute of Australia

If you are interested in this field, you should also browse through the architecture profile. If your interests are in the planning and management side of things, have a look at programs or specialisations in fields such as environmental studies, humanities and social sciences and business and management. If you prefer the technical side, refer to the engineering and technology and surveying fields.

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VET studies in built environment

Courses, majors and specialisations in built environment

The VET sector offers an excellent range of built environment training, with most courses found at the technical, hands-on end of the spectrum, rather than the business or planning end.

Most certificate courses are related to the trades. They cover almost everything within the field, from carpentry, shopfitting, building and construction to painting and decorating, roof tiling... you name it. Sometimes these courses will be undertaken as part of an apprenticeship, while some certificate I or II qualifications offer ‘pre-apprenticeship’ training for those who need a bit more experience in order to find an employer willing to take them on as an apprentice.

The entry requirements and prerequisites will vary a great deal in this field. For example, an advanced diploma in landscape architecture will probably require completion of Year 12 and demonstration of your interest and aptitude in the area through an interview or presentation of a folio. Prerequisites in art and design, and perhaps mathematics, may also be required.

On the other hand, basic certificates (I or II) in a trade area will probably have no entry requirements or prerequisites, apart from completing Year 10. However, if you are looking to do an apprenticeship, you will also need to be employed to complete the on-the-job training. Pre-apprenticeship courses can help you gain employment. For more information, check out the Australian Apprenticeships website.

Where to study built environment

VET courses in this field are mostly offered at TAFE institutes rather than at private providers, although many private VET providers offer courses in the design stream. Many of the VET courses on offer in this field will be part of national training packages, so they will be fairly similar no matter where you choose to study.

Career opportunities in built environment field

Some courses will prepare you for paraprofessional roles in interior design or decoration, construction, building surveying and design or architectural drafting. Paraprofessionals in this field may work independently in some cases, or as associates of the professionals in private practices.

For the practically inclined, there are trade qualifications that can lead to steady and varied work — consider the opportunities in building, plumbing, joinery and glazing, to name a few examples. Experienced tradespeople can look forward to self employment, management and even technical teaching.

Those entering the built environment field should be aware that its ties to the volatile building and construction industry mean that it is often affected by the economic cycle.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Undergraduate studies in built environment

Courses, majors and specialisations in built environment

The following are just some of the majors you can study in this field:

  • Building

  • Construction economics

  • Construction management

  • Environmental design

  • Housing

  • Industrial design

  • Interior design

  • Landscape architecture

  • Quantity surveying

  • Urban and regional planning

Courses divide roughly into four sub-fields: design, construction, planning and property. Design degrees include industrial design, interior design and landscape architecture, all of which lead into specific occupations. Degrees in planning (whether town planning, regional planning or urban planning) also lead into a distinct profession concerned with the big picture — how our towns and cities are formed and developed. Specialisations in property are often found in business or commerce degrees and can lead to careers in property management, sales or valuation. Jobs in property are not only found in real estate agencies, but also in private companies with large property portfolios. If you want to learn about construction and project management, a degree with a focus in building and construction may be the best choice for you.

All of these courses have some kind of a technical element. It will be stronger in construction and design, but even planners and property managers will need some knowledge of the way things are built and maintained. In property there is a strong business focus, and planning often includes some social science elements. At the other end of the spectrum are courses in interior design, industrial design and landscape architecture, which demand a certain degree of artistic flair.

A new degree structure, which has already been established in some fields at selected institutions, has the potential to become more common in some areas of built environment. The structure follows a US-style model where undergraduates enter a general pre-professional degree (perhaps in design or applied science) and then transfer to a postgraduate qualification in their professional area.

Issues relating to urban design and development are of increasing importance as Australian cities experience rapid population growth. The most recent State of Australian Cities report, released by the former Department of Infrastructure and Transport in 2012, found that the gap between population increase and housing supply is the largest it has been in a century; that dwellings close to the CBD have increased in value five-fold in roughly 25 years; and that a growing proportion of older people in major cities are working past retirement age. Likewise, ALIA has called on governments and built environment professionals to promote awareness of green infrastructure and allocate funding to its protection, management and maintenance.

Where to study built environment

Undergraduate courses in built environment are available at a wide range of institutions, including universities, TAFE institutes and private higher education providers.

Before making a decision, you should find out how much practical experience is offered in each course and consider whether you want to gain that experience in one location or another (for example, in a regional area, a tropical area or in an area with lots of property development or population growth).

Getting into these courses has become more challenging in recent years. Prerequisites often include English, mathematics and — for design courses — art and design. Other subjects may be required or recommended depending on the niche you choose.

See Degree costs and loans for more information about paying for your degree.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities in built environment field

Overall, graduates are not satisfied with their courses or the skills they gained. Among 2013 graduates, 34 per cent were still seeking full-time work four months after graduating. It is important to remember that this is a field in which a range of factors have a strong influence on the employment prospects of not just graduates, but also experienced professionals. For example, cycles in the building and construction industry and the property market both have an impact. Salaries in this field are average, with graduates being paid an average salary of $51,477 in 2014. Around 19 per cent went onto further study.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Postgraduate studies in built environment

Courses, majors and specialisations in built environment

This is a small but diverse field, with options ranging from multidisciplinary programs such as planning, urban design and regional development to more specialised areas such as construction management, landscape architecture and interior design.

Prerequisites vary accordingly, but many of these programs are open to those working outside the field who want to enter it, as well as those already working in the field who want to branch out and gain new skills. Programs that explore sustainability, for example, are a popular choice for those who are already working in the field and are interested in learning more about this hot topic. With that said, since many study areas in this field are related to professional occupations, some postgraduate programs will only be open to those who have a relevant qualification in the area. Check course handbooks to be sure.

Only a small proportion of postgraduate built environment degrees are research programs, but there are research options across a range of specialisations. Among both coursework and research students, most study on a part-time basis (56 per cent).

Where to study built environment

At postgraduate level, built environment courses are generally offered by universities, although you will find some courses offered at TAFE institutes (at vocational graduate certificate and diploma level), as well as at some private providers. When researching courses, it's worth looking into what's on offer in relation to your specialisation. Students interested in specialisations that involve a great deal of practical work should pay close attention to the quality of the facilities and the opportunities available to gain real-world experience when comparing different providers.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities in built environment field

Built environment graduates were not very impressed with the teaching quality of their course or their programs overall, although they awarded the skills gained three stars in the recent Course Experience Questionnaire survey. Employment prospects in this field vary with the cycles of the construction industry, but the latest figures showed job prospects to be about average, with 71 per cent of graduates gaining full-time work within four months of graduating. Graduates' salary levels have risen, with the average salary now sitting at $76,587.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

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