Australian student Alek Sigley feared detained in North Korea.

Australia says it is "urgently" seeking to confirm reports that an Australian man has been detained in North Korea.

Australian student Alek Sigley feared detained in North Korea.

Australia says it is "urgently" seeking to confirm reports that an Australian man has been detained in North Korea.

The family of Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old student living in Pyongyang, could not confirm if he had been arrested, but said he had not been in touch with them since Tuesday.

Australian officials were trying to confirm his situation, his family said.

The government has described it as a "very serious set of circumstances".

Representatives in South Korea had contacted "relevant officials" in North Korea, one minister said.

"It has not been confirmed that Alek has been detained in the DPRK," his family said in a statement on Thursday.

"The situation is that Alek has not been in digital contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning Australian time, which is unusual for him."

It is not known why Mr Sigley, an Asian scholar and fluent Korean speaker, might have been detained. His friends had reported him missing earlier this week, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Who is Alek Sigley?

Originally from Perth, Mr Sigley has been living in North Korea for the past year while pursuing a master's degree in Korean literature at Kim Il-sung University.

It is rare but not unheard of for students to attend North Korean universities or to go there on an exchange programme.

According to Chinese state media, the Chinese government offers 60 students full scholarships to North Korean universities each year. About 70 other Chinese students pay their own way there.

Mr Sigley also runs a business providing tours for Western tourists visiting the totalitarian, communist state. He first visited in 2012 in the first of several trips, his family said.

In March, he described himself as "the only Australian living in North Korea" in a piece published by The Guardian.