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Applying to Automobile Engineering Undergrad in New Zealand

by Kasun Tharanga

Completing A/Levels

I studied at Royal College and did my Advanced Levels in 2008. I failed one subject. For a very long time my goal was to do Automotive Engineering. So I looked to see what options are there for me to pursue this goal in Sri Lanka. I looked at different programmes and institutes that offer a program in Automotive Engineering.

At that time, I found that there are only 2 options in Sri Lanka: (1) City & Guilds (, where a diploma in Automotive Engineering is offered. (2) Senec Maritime Campus ( at Malabe which trains officers and captains in the navy, or students interested in a career in shipping. It is a mechanical engineering degree, specialising in automotive engineering.

I didn’t want to do the course at City & Guilds since it is offered on a part-time basis and the program they offer is a diploma. At Senec Maritime Campus, since my A-Level results were not strong, they said I had to do a foundation course there. They had two options - the 6 months or 1 year course option. The programme fee was 15 lakhs and it is for 3 years. At that time, they had just started their first batch for Automotive Engineering and very few students were in the programme. I knew that there is a lot of practicals in Automotive Engineering as opposed to theory – like learning how to remove and put together parts of a vehicle. I asked about this practical training aspect at Senec and was told that at that time, they didn’t have any labs established. Students use labs at University of Moratuwa to get practical training. Since the programme had just started and wasn’t yet established, I decided to look at options overseas.

Valuable advice from an agent at Edex

In 2008, since many students were heading to Australia, I looked at studying there. Program fees also matched with what I could afford. I applied to Kangan Institute ( and Box Hill Institute ( in Australia, both of which has the Automotive program.

They told me to do the foundation course and that I have to go through an education consultant. I found an agent at Edex and applied through him. But I was told that I would have to do a foundation course in Australia. It would cost me about 15 lakhs for the programme and another 10-15 lakhs per year for living expenses. However, another agent told me that I could save money by doing the foundation course in Sri Lanka itself at an institute such as ACBT, which costs far less than doing these courses in Australia. I was told to complete the foundation course and then apply to the Australian university. Other than ACBT, the other recognised foundation course is at American National College.

Foundation courses at ACBT

The Australian College of Business and Technology (ACBT) in Sri Lanka has university level foundation courses for any field such as IT, Engineering, Business, etc. Following the advice of an agent at Edex I chose to pursue the Engineering foundation course there in September 2009. Many universities worldwide accept ACBT courses as university foundation courses, which is also the equivalent of Advanced Level grades in Sri Lanka and a high school diploma in countries worldwide.

There are several options of the foundation course – a fast track option which takes 8 months to complete, or a longer option which takes 1 or 2 years. I chose the fast track version which consisted of 8 subjects. Each subject cost Rs. 30,500 – so in total for the 8 courses, it cost me about 2.5 lakhs. If I had gone to Australia to do it, the program would take one year and each course would cost 12,500 Australian dollars.

From the 8 subjects I had to do, 5 are compulsory and 3 are electives. Compulsory subjects are Math 1 and 2, Introduction to Computers, Physics (General), Communication skills 1 and 2. The number of students in a class varies and depends on the subject, but on average there are around 20-30 in a class. Subjects are run just like it is in Australia. There are 2 mid term exams and 1 final exam for each subject.

While I was at ACBT, I also did a 3-month certificate course on Automotive Engineering at City & Guilds to get an idea about the field. It is a weekend course (taking place only one day per week) and the tuition fee is Rs. 22,000.

Applying to Australia

In Australia and New Zealand, 90% of the universities there accept the ACBT foundation course as being equivalent to the high school syllabus from Australia. It fulfills the entrance requirements to a university degree programme.

After completing the foundation course at ACBT in June 2010, I approached the agent I met in Edex again. Unfortunately by this time, they had changed visa regulations to Australia. In 2008, the amount of money I had to show was between 40-50 lakhs to do a degree. But by the time I finished my foundation course and wanted to apply, rules had changed and I had to show around 140 lakhs to complete a degree in Australia. Even for a diploma I have to show at least 70 lakhs. I did not have that much financial support and I had to look at other options.

Applying to New Zealand

I started looking at options in New Zealand. Only Unitec Institute of Technology ( offered Automotive Engineering upto a degree level. There are two intakes for this programme at Unitec – July and February. The degree is 4 years.

I applied to Unitec in August 2010. I faxed my O/L and A/L certificates, and the certificate from my foundation courses at ACBT. After 2 weeks I received a conditional offer for February intake stating that I had to do the IELTS and get a minimum score of 6. In November 2010 I did the IELTS and my results were sent during the 2nd week of January 2011. I received a full offer which I had to send to the high commission along with other documents for visa approval. I also had to show that I have the money to pay for 2 years of my program – which came out to 50 lakhs.

During the 2nd week of March I got a message from the university saying that the documents and funds are okay, and that after I pay my university fees, the New Zealand high commission can issue the student visa.

It took 2 months to clear the visa documents. I had to apply through Bangkok, Thailand, since Sri Lanka does not have a New Zealand High Commission office. This led to a delay in getting the visa documents. I have heard that the visa procedure usually takes a minimum of 3 months and that they send it closer to when the campus starts. By the time I got the visa it was June 19th (4 months after I had applied for visa). I moved to New Zealand on June 30th and my classes started on July 25th.

Life in New Zealand

My first year courses in Automotive Engineering at Unitec are specialised towards Mechanical and Automobiles. It is 70% practical and 30% theory. Unitec has really good lecturers in Automotive Engineering and the labs are well set up. I’m enjoying it. My course fees are NZ $18,500 per year for each of the 4 years. I don’t think there are scholarships for international students but I didn’t look for scholarships too much at this point since I had just completed foundation courses.

In terms of work, my visa states that I can work for 20 hours per week (on or off campus) and in the summer or during vacation I can work full time.

Unitec does provide housing on campus but it is a bit expensive. On campus, you can get separate bedrooms and it is about $150 per week per person. Off campus we can find for about $100 per week.

What I like about New Zealand is the ability to get a work permit and work in New Zealand after getting the degree. This is important after spending so much money for the degree and you can also get practical experience in your field.

SL2College would like to thank Kasun Tharanga for sharing his experience of applying to the Automobile Engineering undergraduate program in New Zealand. SL2College would like to wish him the very best in his future endeavours.

Date of publication in the Sunday Observer: October 16, 2011

This and other related articles are available on, under the resources section. SL2College is a global community that provides FREE advice and guidance to Sri Lankan students. Envisioned in 2005, SL2College helps Sri Lankan students access relevant information that would assist them in making informed decisions about their educational goals. Please post your queries on: or email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .