Last week, the federal government released a paper on the groundbreaking university agreement, which set ambitious goals to create more places for underprivileged students.
But Fahey said this won’t automatically increase completion rates unless systems are put in place to help students complete their course. “The ATAR is still the biggest predictor of success,” he said.
The ATAR is a number between 0 and 99.95 that indicates a Year 12 student’s academic performance against all other students in their year level.
This year, NSW universities suspended awarding places to HSC students until September after nearly 50,000 early admission offers were made to students before they took their final exams last year.
However, Verity Firth, pro-vice-chancellor of social justice at the University of Technology, said it is critical that universities ensure that additional barriers are not put up that make it more difficult for students to access places.
“This is especially true if we know that educational privilege is already built into the ATAR system. There are numerous paths to tertiary education, and school leavers need every opportunity to access university,” Firth said.
Fahey said nearly 4,000 students would graduate each year if the students admitted on non-ATAR criteria completed their courses at the same rate as those entering based on their rank.
In 2018, non-ATAR-based admissions were nearly twice as likely as ATAR-based admissions to drop out of college in their first year, the paper found.
The CIS report called for universities to record ATARs of school leavers admitted through other criteria, and that if students drop out, universities should be required to pay a portion of the government’s contribution to those students’ tuition costs.
Last week, the Age reported that a dozen NSW and Victorian school leaders from various sectors expressed concerns about the ATAR in a letter to education authorities, saying it was “not fit for purpose”, and calling for it to be replaced with a system that would better assesses students’ academic and personal performance.
Professor Andrew Norton, a higher education expert at the Australian National University, said it was clear that the ATAR remains highly predictive of university success.
“The data powerfully reiterates that ATARs are a strong guide to how likely students are to earn a degree,” he said.
A spokesperson for NESA said changes to the categorization of HSC courses mean that, starting in 2025, more vocational education and training (VET) courses can contribute to a student’s ATAR.
“The government is also looking for a student profile to holistically show a student’s extracurricular performance, not just their exam results,” they said.
“These changes are designed to prepare HSC students for work, education and further studies in the 21st century and recognize that there are a number of paths to success in today’s workforce.”
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