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Making university admissions process more transparent is important, but won’t help improve equity

Written by Shane Duggan for The Conversation

Universities are being urged to make their admission process more transparent following the release of a report by the Higher Education Standards Panel, which was set up by the government to help with reforming areas of higher education.

The rapid expansion of the university sector has led to a disparity of admissions practices, with equivalent courses at different institutions potentially having wildly different admissions requirements.

Earlier this year, a Fairfax media investigation revealed up to 63.5% of students at some universities were being admitted to courses of study below the advertised Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) “cut off” scores.

However, subsequent disclosure by a number of prestigious universities has illustrated that this practice tends to be isolated to particular institutions, and courses of study.

The review was careful to point out that offers to students with an ATAR of “50 or less” made up slightly over 2% of all offers in 2016 – and more than half of these students rejected their offer.

Across the sector, universities have been accused of being non-transparent about how they deploy “bonus point” schemes. The review found that almost all providers offer bonus points of some kind. These points are commonly allocated for:

  • high academic achievement in particular subjects;
  • participation in elite sport or arts;
  • students facing social, geographic, or economic disadvantage.

The review suggests that the opacity is at least in part the result of successive waves of expansion and diversification of the sector that have gone relatively unchecked since the 2008 Review of Australian Higher Education (the Bradley Review).

Report recommendations

The review highlights five key issues around the use of ATARs for admissions that it sought to address:

  • a lack of common language used between universities
  • unable to compare course admissions criteria between states and territories
  • availability of information from admissions centres
  • overemphasis on the ATAR as an admission requirement
  • potential inflation of “cut-offs”.

In response, the panel makes fourteen recommendations focusing on four priorities: transparency, accessibility, comparability, and accountability.

Combined, the recommendations seek to improve clarity of information for young people and their families in the selection of courses of study, as well as for providers in assessing prospective student applications.

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Posted 17 November 2016 Posted in Editorial, General, Indigenous, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote