Making university admissions better in Australia

In Australia, the federal government has been focused on improving the transparency of higher education admissions. I’ve been concerned and written about this matter for some years, particularly the confusion in prospective students and their families around exclusive admissions criteria being used as a proxy for quality.

The government-appointed Higher Education Standards Panel (HESP) were asked to consider and report on how the admissions policies and processes of higher education providers could be made clearer, easier to access and more useful, to inform the choices and decisions of prospective students and their families.

In the context of an increased variety of pathways through which a prospective student can apply or be accepted into higher education in Australia, the HESP found that prospective students, their families and others, including schools, are finding it increasingly difficult to understand the full range of study options and opportunities available, and to understand how they can best take advantage of these options to meet their education and career objectives.

The HESP made 14 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the government. You can read the full details here, but below are a few highlights.

Higher education providers (university and non-university alike) will continue to exercise autonomy over their admissions policies but will now provide access to clear information relating to admissions requirements and various entry pathways to all applicants equally and be held accountable for public claims against their stated admission policies. This, along with common language around admissions processes adopted by all higher education providers, the use of standardised information templates by institutions, and the establishment of a national higher education admissions information platform, will enable more comparable information to inform higher education choices.

Where admission to a course is determined in whole or part on the basis of an individual’s Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR), information that clearly identifies the minimum ATAR admission requirements for the course and the provider’s bonus points arrangements will be published. This will hopefully stop some of the gaming that has gone on around ATAR and the public’s misunderstandings about its relevance to the quality of the education provided by the higher education institution.

Each state in Australia has its own tertiary admissions centre, all of whom work slightly differently. Their co-existence also creates challenges for universities that work across jurisdictions. The Government now expects that the tertiary admission centres will work towards a nationally consistent approach by sharing and adopting good practice across jurisdictions.me-at-womens-agenda-awards-crop

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) will have an active role in monitoring compliance with guidance to the sector on transparency in higher education admissions, as well as a role in canvassing and sharing best practice in providing clear information on admissions processes.

The accepted recommendation that I’m most excited about is the final one, that further consideration will be given to assessing the factors and approaches that contribute to student success, completion and attrition rates in higher education. The Minister for Education and Training has asked the HESP to undertake work in 2017 to identify:

  • the trends and factors driving completions and attrition;
  • the adequacy of existing data on completions and attrition and improvements that can enhance transparency and institutional accountability;
  • strategies institutions can pursue to support student success and course completion in higher education; and
  • ways in which the identification of students at risk of non-completion and the adoption of evidence-based support strategies to maximise their opportunity to succeed, can be systematically embedded in provider practice.

This particular recommendation couldn’t be more welcome in a mass, competitive higher education market where providers are focused on attracting and retaining students from a wide range of backgrounds.

Finally, an implementation working group, chaired by a senior representative of the higher education sector, and comprising invited representatives from key organisations, will be established to develop a joint implementation plan. The working group will identify the steps necessary to implement the Panel’s recommendations quickly, and by the 2018 academic year where possible, either through voluntary adoption, additional regulation, or requirements linked to funding agreements.

Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE) Fellow Marcia Devlin is Professor of Learning Enhancement and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Quality) at Federation University Australia.

This article was first published on the SRHE Blog at https://srheblog.com on February 10, 2017.

About Marcia Devlin

I am an award-winning leader, a senior executive in the university sector, a company director, a board member, an international consultant, a researcher, a newspaper columnist, an author, a writer/blogger and an active social media participant. @marciadevlin http://www.linkedin.com/pub/marcia-devlin/9/207/123
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