Education in Australia follows a three tier model: primary, secondary and tertiary education. Education is primarily regulated by the individual state governments, not the federal government. Education is compulsory up to an age specified by legislation; this age varies but is generally 15 or 16, that is prior to completing secondary education.
Post-compulsory education is regulated within the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), a unified system of national qualifications in schools, vocational education and training (TAFEs and private providers) and the higher education sector (universities). Government grants have supported the establishment of Australia"s 38 universities, and although several private universities have been established, the majority receives government funding. There is a state-based system of vocational training colleges, known as TAFE Institutes, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople. Approximately 58% of Australians between the ages of 25 and 64 have vocational or tertiary qualifications.
The current population of around 20.4 million is concentrated mainly in the large coastal cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. Most of the estimated 20.4 million Australians are descended from 19th- and 20th-century immigrants, the majority from Britain and Ireland. Australia"s population has quadrupled since the end of World War I, spurred by an ambitious immigration program. In 2001, the five largest groups of the 27.4% of Australians who were born overseas were from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Vietnam and China.
English is the official language, and is spoken and written in a distinct variety known as Australian English. According to the 2001 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for around 80% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Chinese (2.1%), Italian (1.9%) and Greek (1.4%).
The Australian Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state; there is no state religion. The 2001 census identified that 68% of Australians call themselves Christian: 27% identifying themselves as Roman Catholic and 21% as Anglican. Five per cent of Australians identify themselves as followers of non-Christian religions, and 26% as non-religious.
Australia has an enviable Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant West European economies. Rising output in the domestic economy, robust business and consumer confidence, and rising exports of raw materials and agricultural products are fueling the economy. Australia"s emphasis on reforms, low inflation, and growing ties with China are other key factors behind the economy"s strength. The impact of drought, weak foreign demand, and strong import demand pushed the trade deficit up from $8 billion in 2002, to $18 billion in 2003, and to $13 billion in 2004. One other concern is the rapid increase in domestic housing prices, which have raised the prospect that interest rates will need to be raised to prevent a speculative bubble.