In its submission to the Higher Education Standards Panel, the sector’s peak body has proposed that all universities agree to publish clearer descriptions about how the entry processes work. This would apply to both school-leavers and the majority of entrants who do not go straight from school to university.
It says that such changes – including the adoption of common definitions so that students can compare entry requirements between universities – would lead to better informed decision-making by students. In turn this could lift student satisfaction, retention and success.
“Students should have clearer and more comparable information when making one of the most important decisions of their lives,” said Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson
The Universities Australia submission includes a model format for universities to make it clearer to students how they can meet course entry requirements. The format would lessen confusion about ATARs, cut-offs and bonus points.
The submission says that while an ATAR remains a useful – if imperfect – marker of academic aptitude for school leavers, it is equally important that mechanisms such as bonus points, special consideration and pathway programs are available to deal with disadvantage and individual circumstance.
The submission notes that students entering university directly from high school make up a minority of university enrolments (in 2014, only 44 per cent did so, 31 per cent with an ATAR).
“We need a diversity of admissions processes and policies to reflect the increasing diversity of students entering university. It is no longer the case that the majority of students enrol directly from Year 12,” Ms Robinson said.
“For school leavers, the ATAR can tell you something about an applicant’s ability to succeed at university but it will not tell you everything,” she said.
Universities have a strong incentive to get admissions decisions right. “Enrolling students who are not prepared to succeed imposes a large cost on universities in terms of effort, time, money and reputation,” she said.
“Clearer and more accessible information will also increase the level of public understanding and public confidence in university requirements and processes.”
The submission also notes that concerns about low-ATAR admissions are “significantly overstated”. In 2016, only 4.4 per cent of all offers were made to school leavers with an ATAR of 50 or below.
To avoid confusion about minimum entry requirements for courses, UA suggests distinguishing more clearly between ‘raw’ ATARs and the rank used for admissions (ATAR plus any bonus points). Universities could also publish data on the range of ranks attained by students admitted in recent years.
The submission also highlights the increase in demand for graduate skills and the expansion of access to higher education. Economic modelling commissioned by UA shows that Australia will need 3.8 million new skilled graduates over the next ten years.