Growth in demand for places drops as unis move to clarify admissions policies
Jun 02, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
Australia’s top universities have backed moves to enforce clarity around their admission policies as figures show the growth in student applications slowing.
The Group of Eight universities, the nation’s most highly ranked universities internationally, have agreed to publish the lowest, median and highest Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank for every course they offer.
The move follows a Fairfax Media investigation this year which revealed Australian universities are guilty of routinely admitting students with ATARs well below stated minimum entry requirements to fill course places and attract greater funding.
The publishing of course marks was touted earlier this year by Professor Peter Shergold, chair of the government’s Higher Education Standards Panel, as a way to improve clarity around university admissions.
The panel has been tasked with clarifying the university admissions process by education minister Simon Birmingham and will publish its conclusions later this year.
This week, the Go8 - which represents Sydney and Melbourne universities, ANU, UQ, UWA, Monash, UNSW and UniSA - endorsed the idea and suggested making universities publish course progression, pass and drop-out rates on a national website.
Universities currently publish one ATAR cut-off and are not expected to publish statistics on students’ progress.
The suggestions come as new figures show a slowing of the growth in demand for university places - with offer numbers in 2016 growing by just 1.2 percent.
The minimal increase follows seven years of rapid growth in the number of student enrolling in bachelor degrees, following an easing of entry requirements and lifting of the cap on student numbers.
Universities Australia, the sector’s main representative body, has welcomed the new figures saying enrolment growth is now in line with population growth and will ease financial pressure on universities.
"This is further evidence that the initial surge of 'unmet demand' for a university education has been steadily absorbed in the first few years of the shift to a demand-driven system," said chief executive Belinda Robinson.
The stabilisation helps the universities in their campaign to minimise funding cuts touted by the Coalition.
A review paper on higher education funding released by education minister Simon Birmingham earlier this year puts the case for a 20 per cent funding cut to universities, equating to around $1.5 billion dollars per year, with higher student fees expected to make up the shortfall.
A Department of Education report published last week showed three times as many students were admitted to courses with ATARs below 50 this year compared to four years earlier.
Bonus points and direct entry schemes, through which a student is accepted before their ATAR is released, have helped fuel the recent growth in student numbers and the relaxing of entry criteria.
The bonus points system, described by Senator Birmingham as "opaque as a double-frosted window", allows entry for students who have suffered illness or misadventure, are disadvantaged or have performed well in specific areas but not in others.
There are no centralised guidelines on how they should be awarded, but the Australian Technology Network has suggested universities should have to publish the number of students they admit through alternative schemes on the education department's website.