By Heath Gilmore
The primacy of the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank as the gateway into university is under siege. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds given a leg up into the University of Sydney are outperforming their more affluent peers.
Last year, the students, targeted under a new scheme known as E12, were 5 per cent more successful in completing their units of study. Their entry into some of the university’s most prestigious courses – including engineering, law and architecture – was only possible after a substantial ATAR discount. In some cases, the reduction was up to 15 points. Instead, the university placed greater importance on recommendations from principals, interviews and portfolios.
University vice-chancellor Michael Spence declined to declare ATAR dead and buried. But he said it failed to fairly assess of students from poorer areas, Aboriginal families and regional areas.
”If we are deciding on the worth of two boys from Sydney Grammar, ATAR is perfect for differentiating between them at a low cost,” Dr Spence said. ”But, in the 18 months preparation for the HSC, we now know that some young people are facing various sorts of extreme challenges. As a result, they don’t perform as well as their natural ability.
”It’s really important a student cohort represents the breadth of the community it serves.”
Without the E12 scheme, Taneika Dalton, 18, would never have studied physiotherapy at the University of Sydney. Growing up on a wheat farm outside Hillston, north-west of Griffith, she is the first family member to attend university. Her year 12 at Hillston Central School had 14 students.
”I was inspired by the health professionals in my town, and the role they played in keeping our community healthy. In such a small town, they have really diverse roles – each one really needs to be a jack-of-all-trades,” she said after taking a break driving a tractor on the farm. ”I wanted to study physiotherapy, but I never expected it to be in Sydney.”
The university’s social inclusion director, Annette Cairnduff, said the largest number of E12 applicants were from southern and western Sydney, the Blue Mountains and south-western Sydney. Up to 201 formal offers had been made this year, including 20 students who would go into law.
”We spoke to principals and teachers from low socio-economic schools who told us that they knew they had students who would succeed and benefit from coming to Sydney, but that the students themselves ruled it out as an option,” she said.