Adelaide VC warns against premature ATAR analysis

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The real impact of ATARs, and disparity in university admission across the country, will only be fully realised when the first cohort of students graduate under the national demand system, said University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Warren Bebbington.

"We need to see, not just how many students were admitted by universities, but also how dropout rates are bearing up, how much and what kind of support has become necessary for low-scoring entrants while they are at university, at what cost, and whether completion rates have changed," said Professor Bebbington. "But there is still insufficient data about the new system to be too dogmatic about its effects.

"It will probably not be until early 2015, when we have statistics for the first three-year graduating classes of the demand-driven system, that we will be in a position to unpick and recalibrate our understanding of the role of ATARs and other factors in success at university," he said.

And contrary to speculation, not all universities have seen a fall in ATAR scores since the demand-driven system was introduced.

"At the University of Adelaide, our median ATAR for entering students this year rose to 91.8 (from 90.6 in 2013) and 95% of all our school-leaver students have an ATAR above 70."

Professor Bebbington said Australia's challenge to improve university participation rates should centre on lifting the number of students graduating, not merely the number enrolling.

"Nationally, the use of ATARs still generates more heat than light," said Professor Bebbington. "While an ATAR is not an infallible tool for predicting success at university we should not ignore the value it has for tertiary entrance," he said. "There is good evidence that, for students scoring 60 and above, the higher the ATAR, the better the subsequent completion rate in a university course - which is what we all want."

Last year, Professor Bebbington announced a major review of bonus point allocations in South Australia as Chair of South Australia Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC). As a result, from 2015 a common bonus points system for disadvantaged students and those studying language, literacy and mathematics will be introduced.

"The SATAC Board also took an in-principle decision to make entrance score data much more transparently available, akin to the way it has been in Victoria for many years," said Professor Bebbington. "Details are still being discussed but these steps have been widely welcomed by parents and prospective students."


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