It has become something of a cliché over the past two years to say that the world around us – not just education – is changing rapidly. Whether it be directly COVID-related, or something accelerated by COVID, we are seeing so much that is new, altering or closing.
One area that has seen great change is the way in which universities offer entry to school students.
The traditional way in which students gained a place at university was determined by a process, created by the universities themselves, to determine a rank. This used to be called the TER, then morphed into the UAI and is now called an ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank). By the magic of algorithm, students could be ranked on the same scale, regardless of which combination of HSC courses they had studied. Once ATARs were published, universities would determine the cut-off for each course and students would be offered places accordingly.
This began to change a little before COVID and I wrote about this for the Blog back in August 2020 (The Future of the ATAR). Some universities were aggressively looking for talented students and making some offers before HSC results and ATARs were known. Equally, there has been great pressure from some in the educational world to scrap the ATAR because they perceive it to be harmful – for example, that it is not the right measure for judging a student’s worth after 13 years of schooling, or criticisms by some teachers and academics that it is skewed against their subjects.
However, it is COVID that has had the most impact on the entire ATAR system.
Universities have become far more active in recruiting students for their courses. We have seen the 2021 NGS Year 12 cohort receive an unprecedented number of early offers from universities around NSW and the ACT, many of which have been unconditional. This means that a large number of students will not be nervous in late January when they receive their HSC subject results and ATARs. They already know that they have a place at university.
This is obviously welcome news to a group of students whose entire HSC experience – in Year 11 and Year 12 – has been badly affected by lockdowns and disruption. When we look back, it may well be that we decide 2021 was the worst year to sit your HSC exams, but the best year to apply to university.
The next big question is whether this situation will continue beyond student entry for 2022.
There are signs that the international student market for universities is improving and unless the very worst predictions for the Omicron variant are right, this means that universities will not be as desperate for undergraduates.
So, the best advice for the NGS Year 12 cohorts of 2022 and beyond will be to continue working hard and push to achieve the very best HSC marks possible. It is far too early to tell whether the ATAR system has been fatally weakened, or if so, what will replace it.