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In my university PhDs are assessed purely on dissertation, there is no coursework component or oral defence or anything else (this is not unusual for Australia, as I understand).

There are no units for PhD students, but they can get into Masters, Honours or Bachelor level units, assuming they meet the conditions or get exceptions.

However the federal government will pay for up to 4 coursework units to be completed over the first 3 years of the PhD. They will outright pay the course fees for the units -- which is a nice change from undergraduate where the fees go into your HECs debt.

Some advisors/departments strongly advise students to take particular units (though not normally 4 as I understand it). I doubt mine will.

So I guess the purpose of these 4 "free" units is to let shore up any areas of knowledge -- particularly for students embarking on something multidisciplinary.

But what is the advantage in actually enrolling in the units? the alternative to enrolling is to go up to the lecturer and say: "Hi, ... I'm doing a PhD on X, and I know this course covers Y which is kind of relevant to it, do you mind if I sit in on your lectures?"

I suspect more lecturers wouldn't mind at all, so long as you didn't cause trouble -- they are paid the same either way. If you were extra friendly (say you'ld taken some units with them before), you could probably convince them to let you have the digital course notes, and maybe even to mark a assignment so you could see how you are going.

The Advantages I am seeing to not formerly enrolling are:

  • No pressure to do well in exams/tests
  • Attend only the subset of the unit relevant to your research

The Disadvantages I can see:

  • 'Robbing' the university of income (but also not generating any extra expense for it)
  • Less access to resources, like online notes
  • Not having the unit on your transcript

The Pros seem to outweigh the Cons, but I suspect I am missing something. Perhaps lecturer pay is generally directly proportional to number of students?


I have gone through the (large) university policy base and have found no rule forbidding this, except if there is a shortage of seating.

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    It may be against institutional rules to allow someone to sit in on the class who isn't paying the fees and officially registered for the coruse. That kind of rule is fairly common in the US. – Brian Borchers Nov 13 '14 at 2:32
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    Ok, I have now done the deep dive through the universities full policy base, and can say with some (but not 100%) confidence that there is no rules which restrict who can attend a lecture, except when there is insufficient seating. – Lyndon White Nov 13 '14 at 5:35
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    No pressure to do well in exams/tests — Attend only the subset of the unit relevant to your research — These are not advantages! – JeffE Nov 13 '14 at 22:15
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    Less access to resources, like online notes — Huh? Why would your access to online notes require you to be registered? – JeffE Nov 13 '14 at 22:16
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    @JeffE: At my univerity, all online notes are behind a login system, which you can only access the notes for units you are enrolled in. As i said though you could get the lecturer to bypass this if you were friendly. – Lyndon White Nov 13 '14 at 22:30
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I don't know how lecturers are paid in your education system. In most cases, pay does not depend on number of students. You are probably right that the lecturer doesn't have a direct financial interest in whether you attend or not.

However, it sounds like your institution has an interest - they get paid more if you enroll in the class. There is a good chance that the institution's rules require that you enroll in order to take it, and if so it is probably the lecturer's job to enforce it.

If you are not sure of the rules, you could ask a lecturer whether it is allowed to sit in on the class without enrolling. If you know it is not allowed, you should not ask to do it - you put the lecturer in an uncomfortable position, and they can get in trouble if the administration finds out they gave permission.

Many universities allow an "audit" status which allows you to attend the lectures, but does not require you to do any of the assigned work. If that's what you're looking for, you might try to find out whether that is an option for you.

  • If attending without enrolment is allowed, are there any further downside/upsides to enrolling? – Lyndon White Nov 13 '14 at 2:27
  • @Oxinabox: You've listed all the ones that come to my mind. – Nate Eldredge Nov 13 '14 at 2:33

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