Giving school leavers a fair suck of the uni sauce bottle
High school students in NSW may not know how they are judged by prospective universities and the admissions system needs a review – according to the man who designed it.
The scheme’s founder is calling for an inquiry into the university admissions system arguing recent changes have led to the loss of transparency for students and parents.
In an interview with The Punch, Professor George Cooney listed a series of changes by universities to the admissions process that he believes are undermining openness in the admissions system.
Problems highlighted included the allocation of bonus points by some universities to students who had been school captain or had been given awards.
Prof Cooney said recent changes by universities meant students were essentially entering “into a race (where) you can run as fast as you like but you don’t know how you’re being judged.”
Prof Cooney had a central role in the creation of the current system, centred on the University Admissions Index and recently renamed the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank.
His call for an independent review comes after the Vice Chancellor of Sydney University, Michael Spence, criticised the UAI as blunt instrument with a bias toward wealthier schools.
Prof Cooney said an inquiry was needed to look at how newer admissions processes were interacting with the ranking system and whether they were fair and transparent for students.
He listed several practices that needed examination by an independent committee, such as the use by universities of bonus marks and school principals’ recommendations.
Professor Cooney singled out bonus marks as an area of particular concern. “To be perfectly frank I think a lot of these require closer scrutiny,” he said.
Some universities have in recent years begun providing bonus marks for students who have been made School Captain or attained their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award.
There is also a growing requirement for students to submit personal statements or allowing the submission of letters of recommendation from principals.
Professor Cooney said the increased use of these practices meant it was harder, not easier, to “determine one student from another”.
He also criticised so called “flexible entry” programs, which allow large numbers of students into courses with rankings below the publicised cutoff.
Last year UNSW confirmed it was allowing half the students in its Commerce degree to be admitted with UAIs up to 5 points below the published entry point.
The practice is now widespread among the universities with prestigious institutions such as ANU, UNSW and the University of Sydney admitting students below the threshold.
Prof Cooney is worried students will not include in their ATAR preferences a course which under “flexible entry” may allow them to gain a place.
An independent review would help restore the faith of parents and students in the system, Prof Cooney said.
He believes these issues need an airing and says “there are very able people who could run (such) a review”.
Prof Cooney currently works at the University Admissions Centre but his comments to The Punch represent his own personal views.
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