Guidelines for approval of Masters courses for student payments

The purpose of the Masters by Coursework program is to support students gain qualifications for entry-level employment in their chosen profession. Students must be enrolled in an approved course of study at an approved institution to be eligible for student payments under the Social Security Act 1991.

To qualify as an approved course for student payments purposes, a Masters course must be approved by the Minister for Social Services and listed in the Student Assistance (Education Institutions and Courses) Determination 2019 (the Determination).

Assessment rounds take place twice a year, generally in January and July. The department must receive applications on, or before, the specified closing date. Providers can contact if they require a reasonable extension.

Criteria for Masters Course Approval

To be approved for the Masters by coursework program, the Masters qualification must meet the overarching criteria and one additional criteria (1, 2 or 3) outlined below. Masters qualifications that do not meet these requirements cannot be approved for student payments.

Overarching Criteria

A specialist tertiary qualification is required for employment at entry-level in the relevant profession.

To be approved for the Masters by coursework program, a specialist tertiary qualification must be essential for entry-level employment in a specific profession, as a legal or professional requirement.

If the Masters course is considered a specialist tertiary qualification for entry-level employment to the profession then the course:

  • must be fully accredited, or undergoing the accreditation process, by a recognised professional, state or territory governing body; and
  • enable graduates registration and practice in, and be required for admission to, a specific profession.

Additional Criteria

If a Masters course satisfies the above criteria, then a course may be approved for student payment purposes it also meets at least one of the following three criteria:

  1. Minimum legal or professional educational requirement

A Masters course may be approved where the course is the minimum educational qualification legally required for practice in a profession, or where recognised professional organisations have set a Masters qualification as the entry-level requirement for professional registration.


Registration with Audiology Australia is necessary for employment as an audiologist in Australia. Completion of an accredited, two-year master qualification is the minimum qualification to work as an audiologist. This course could meet the minimum pathway criterion.

  1. Fastest pathway offered by the higher education provider

A Masters course may be approved where it is the fastest pathway offered by a higher education provider for a student to gain an entry-level qualification for professional practice.

Where professionally accepted entry-level qualifications are offered at the diploma, graduate certificate and graduate diploma level, and these courses are shorter in duration, the Masters level course cannot be approved as the fastest pathway.

If these qualifications are the same duration as the Masters degree, the Masters course may be approved as the (equal) fastest pathway to professional entry.

If enrolment in a Masters course is only open to holders of an undergraduate degree in the same field, and that undergraduate degree is sufficient for entry-level employment in the field, then the Masters course will not meet the fastest pathway criterion.

If it provides a pathway to professional entry for students with an unrelated degree then it can meet the fastest pathway criterion.


Registration with the relevant state or territory teaching regulatory authority is necessary to work as a teacher in Australia. A person with an unrelated undergraduate degree (e.g. Bachelor of Arts) can complete an accredited two-year Master of Teaching qualification to register to work as a teacher. As an undergraduate teaching degree is typically four years and the Master of Teaching qualification is two years, this course could meet the fastest pathway criterion.

  1. Only pathway offered by the higher education provider

A Masters course may be approved where it is the only pathway to entry-level employment in the profession offered by the higher education provider.

For example, entry-level employment in the profession may be possible with a bachelor degree, however the higher education provider may not provide this qualification at the bachelor level and instead only offers a Masters level qualification.

If the higher education provider offers any other courses such as a diploma, bachelor degree or graduate diploma that are sufficient to gain entry-level employment in the field, the course will not meet this criterion.


Registration with the relevant body is required to work as a physiotherapist. University A does not offer a four year Bachelor of Physiotherapy but does offer a Master of Physiotherapy for students who have already completed a Bachelor of Science. As the Masters level course is the only pathway offered by University A, this course could meet the only pathway criterion.

Please note:

The above examples are illustrative only and are not binding or exhaustive. It is the criteria that must be considered.

Please note:

Part-time Masters courses limit eligibility for student payments. Students must be studying full-time to be eligible for student payments. Some exceptions apply for students with a disability and for the part-time rate of the Pensioner Education Supplement.

The Social Security Guide provides more information on concessional study-load students.

Application process

The department conducts 2 assessment rounds each year. The department will issue an invitation pack to all higher education providers prior to each assessment round, seeking applications for Masters by Coursework programs to be approved.

The department cannot accept applications for course approval, or amendments to courses currently listed on the Determination, outside of a formal assessment process.

A completed application form must be provided for each course submitted for consideration. The application form can be found at Approved Institutions and courses for student payments.

It is important providers submit new Masters courses, or those requiring reassessment, in the assessment round prior to the academic semester/year the course will commence.

Please note the following before applying

  • Accreditation must be relevant for all graduates of the Masters course.
  • Submissions MUST include all relevant supporting documents such as proof of accreditation and evidence the qualification is a legal requirement to practice in a field or a professional pre-requisite for registration with a relevant professional body.
  • Applications not substantiated by relevant supporting documents cannot be assessed and will be returned to the higher education provider.
  • Only higher education providers can apply for a Masters course to be assessed against these guidelines. Applications from students will not be accepted.
  • Late applications will only be accepted with prior approval. Late applications lodged without approval cannot be accepted and will be returned to the higher education provider.
  • Accredited graduate certificates and graduate diplomas are already approved for student payment purposes and should not be submitted through this program.
  • Separate applications do not need to be submitted for combined Bachelor/Masters courses—only the Masters course component requires approval under this program.
  • If a Masters course is only available as a combined Bachelor/Masters course, then the combined course should be submitted for approval.

Courses that do not qualify for approval

  • An industry preference for accreditation is not a legal or professional requirement and does not meet the criteria for approval.
  • Courses not required for a specialist profession, but instead provide a qualification that leads to a broad field of employment (for example, Master of Business Administration) cannot be approved.
  • Research degrees and doctorate courses (AQF level 10) are not eligible for student payments and cannot be approved.
  • Master courses with nested qualifications allowing students to exit early with a lower level award sufficient for professional entry (such as a Graduate Diploma) will not be approved.
  • Integrated Masters (Honours) courses will not be approved if the corresponding non-honours Masters course is already included in the Determination as the non-honours course provides a faster pathway to professional entry.

Resubmitted courses

  • A course submitted previously and not approved must not be resubmitted unless there is a change of circumstances and the course now meets the criteria (for example, the course has attained full accreditation).
  • Masters courses, and the higher education provider that offers them, currently listed in Schedule 3 of the Determination are approved for student payment purposes and do not need to be re-submitted for approval.

Completed applications and supporting documents should be emailed to

Assessment process

The department assesses all applications against the criteria. Masters courses are considered on a course-by-course and institution-by-institution basis. Masters courses approved at one institution will not necessarily be approved at another institution given variations in course structures, duration and other course offerings at the institution.

If an application is incomplete, the department will request the missing information from the higher education provider. The higher education provider has 5 working days to provide the requested information. If the information is not provided within this timeframe, the application cannot be assessed and will be returned to the higher education provider.

The department submits a summary of its assessment and a list of recommended courses to the Minister for Social Services. The Minister will determine which Masters courses are eligible for student payments and amend the Determination to include these courses. The amended Determination is then registered on the Federal Register of Legislation.

The department will advise higher education providers of the outcome of their submission in writing.

Higher education providers must advise the department of any substantial changes to an approved Masters course (for example, course duration, accreditation or professional requirements). The department will review the changes and may ask the higher education provider to submit the course for re-assessment.

The department may conduct reviews of approved courses from time to time to determine if they are still offered by the higher education provider and continue to meet the criteria for approval.

For more information regarding the Masters by coursework approval process, please email DSS at

Appealing a decision

Where a higher education provider disagrees with the outcome of the assessment, they may write to the Minister to seek reconsideration of the decision. The higher education provider will be required to demonstrate that the course meets the approval criteria.

Change of name requests

Provider and course names must exactly match those listed in the Determination for students to able to receive student payments. Use the ‘Approved Masters course name change’ form, available at Approved Institutions and courses for student payments, to advise any name changes.

If students are still enrolled under the old course name, this should be noted on the form, along with when these students are expected to complete the course. If the change of name is approved, DSS will add the new course name and retain the old course name to ensure continued student payment eligibility.

Course removal requests

Courses no longer being offered should be removed from the Determination. Course removal requests can be made by completing the ‘Request for Masters course removal’ form available at Approved Institutions and courses for student payments.

Course removal requests should only be submitted once all current students have completed the course. If existing students are still undertaking the course, requests to remove the course should not be submitted.

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