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Crackdown on ultra-early uni offers in Year 12 to boost enrollments

May 21, 2024

Original Article:

Universities will be banned from offering places to year 12 students before September in the year they finish school, over concerns that competition to lock in early enrolments is causing kids to not try as hard and get worse results than they otherwise would.

Education Minister Jason Clare and his state and territory counterparts wrote to university vice-chancellors on Tuesday saying early offers were having a negative effect on “attendance, application and results”.

“[The] issuing of early offers may create an environment that undermines the integrity and transparency of learning outcomes for students, as well as university admissions practices,” the letter read.

Universities have been making early offers for at least a decade, but the trend took off during the pandemic on the basis it would reduce exam stress during an already anxious period for students, where their studies had been repeatedly disrupted.

While the argument in favour of early offers is couched in the language of student wellbeing, some experts say universities are more interested in bums on seats as enrolments decline in a heated jobs market.

The practice was particularly widespread in NSW, ACT, South Australia and Western Australia. Some universities even make offers to students based on their year 11 results.

In NSW in 2022, an estimated 47,000 early offers for study in 2023 were made to the 67,300 students who were due to complete their HSC.

While offers are traditionally made in January following final Year 12 exams held in October and November, offers were being made by some universities as early as March.

It was seen by universities as a means of locking in students and not risking losing them to competition as offers went out broadly in January.

High school principals reported the practice as detrimental to student engagement and responsible for a decline in academic attainment. In turn, that meant students were potentially turning up for first year university less prepared for the rigours of a degree than they otherwise would have been.

For the next two years, universities will not be able to issue early offers before September of the preceding year of study. Following further investigation, the federal Education Department will then develop an ongoing approach to early offers.

Some universities, including the private for-profit Torrens University, have dropped the requirement for an ATAR altogether.

“We strongly believed an alternative to the ATAR system should be found, which more broadly assesses students, especially when soft skills are emerging as important employability attributes,” a statement on its website says.

Last year, the NSW Vice-Chancellors’ Committee agreed to delay releasing offers until September. Many principals said that did not go far enough and called for offers to be held off until after exams were finished.

“We need to ensure that early offers aren’t leading to students disengaging from school too early and that there’s more consistency across the board,” Mr Clare said.

“This will deliver a standard approach for the next two years and allow time for further work to be done to develop a consistent and transparent approach moving forward.”


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