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Quality of education compromised as universities have lowered the bar for entry

Australian Universities

By Julie Hare and John Ross

Regional universities made an offer to almost every person who applied this year, while the proportion of school-leavers who gained a place with a university entrance score under 50 has more than doubled in three years.

The figures will heighten concerns that the oversupply of places and dropping entry standards will compromise the quality of education on offer as low-achieving students struggle to keep up.

Undergraduate numbers have rocketed since the Gillard government changed the rules this year to allow universities to accept all “eligible” applicants. Its dual aim is to increase the numbers of young people and financially disadvantaged people who hold a degree.

Student enrolments rose about 6 per cent on the back of strong growth in the past two years. At the same time, the proportion of students with low Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks applying for and being offered a place at university has greatly increased. 

Andrew Harvey, head of the Access and Achievement Research Unit at La Trobe University, said universities “had clearly lowered the bar” as offers had increased at a faster rate than acceptances. They now needed to focus much more on outreach programs.

“The problem in the regions is demand,” Mr Harvey said. “Students are less likely to finish school, less likely to do well at school, less likely to apply to university and less likely to go.”

A new report from the federal Innovation Department says 98.6 per cent of applicants to six regional universities received an offer of a place, although only 72 per cent accepted it. The national offer rate was 81 per cent, while the elite sandstone universities offered places to less than 70 per cent of applicants.

The report reveals a sector that is being stratified along socioeconomic lines, with privately educated school-leavers clustering in prominent metropolitan universities while regional universities harbour students who are poorer, indigenous, rural and usually female.

Regional Universities Network executive director Caroline Perkins defended the high offer rate, saying it showed the group was achieving its mission to educate students from diverse backgrounds. “Our universities specialise in mentoring them and ensuring they progress and complete degrees successfully,” she said. “This is what we’re about and what we’re good at.”

Offers to students with rankings below 50 – those from the bottom half of high school results – have more than doubled over the past three years.

In 2009, before the government began phasing in the new system, students with ATARs below 54.55 were deemed ineligible.

The report also reveals 42 per cent of school-leavers with an ATAR below 50 applied to university this year, and 25 per cent were made an offer. This was up from 12 per cent in 2009. Many commentators say ATARs reflect people’s socioeconomic background more than how successfully they will perform at university. (The Australian)

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