Background A competitive Carrick Institute Competitive Grant (CG7-523) was obtained to explore what skills were taught and what assessment of practice approaches were used in nursing programmes in Australia. The intention was twofold; firstly to identify what skills were being taught which would contribute to the development of an assessment of practice toolkit for eligibility to practice programmes in Australia. This paper specifically reports on the skills taught in nursing programmes in Australia. Methods A qualitative research methodology was used through a documentary analysis of university curriculum documents. This was undertaken independently by two researchers; the data was then reviewed by an expert group. The skills taught were explored, listed and categorised using a conceptual framework, then refined and reported. Results Over 1300 skills were initially identified within nursing programmes across Australia; these were 'clustered' using a framework into 30 skills areas. These included psychomotor skills to skills areas that relate to human factors such as communication, team work, leadership and supervision. Conclusions A wide range of skills were referred to in university nursing programme curriculae in Australia. There were some significant variations; some universities taught their student nurses how to manage a client/patient requiring external invasive ventilator support. There were however a number of similar skills areas identified; such as acute care assessment skills (monitoring vital signs) and mental health assessment skills. The range of skills taught within nursing curriculum is challenging as there is only limited time to expose students to those skills and afford the student the opportunity to practice those skills in order to achieve competence prior to registration.