In the SMH this morning, people were lining up to proclaim the end of Year 12 results as the dominant method of selecting university students.
The University of Western Sydney vice-chancellor, Professor Janice Reid, said the UAI obsession needed to end. “The UAI is a great mass sorting system,” she said. “It isn’t, however, really a good predictor of a person’s capacity to study or complete a degree.”
This is an old complaint. Many years ago – at least as long ago as 1997, when she was dumped as education minister – Amanda Vanstone gave a speech called the ‘tryanny of the TER’. Yet as with many ideas for improving access to higher education, we have reason to be sceptical, because virtually all of them have long been common practice in the higher education sector. Few people realise that less than half of all commencing bachelor degree students are admitted based on their Year 12 results. Even if we pull out of the population those admitted based on prior higher education results – as I have in the chart below – only 56% arrive at university on the strength of their school results.
Even this significantly overstates the ‘tryanny of the TER’. Universities have long been happy to let low SES students in on less than the score required of more advantaged students, and they were also happy to take full-fee students on less than the score required of HECS students.
I have no problems with these practices provided applicants are not being admitted to courses they are likely to fail – or at least not being admitted without appropriate warnings of the possible difficulties ahead.
But because alternative admissions practices are already common, I am sceptical that further alternatives will generate large numbers of new applicants from the target disadvantaged groups. Unfortunately, most people from these groups not currently attending university are unlikely to be suitable for university by any conceivable measure of potential.