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Early university offers to year 12 students reignite debate in Australia

September 29, 2023

Original Article:

Universities will release more than 12,000 early first-round offers to HSC students this week after a crackdown on admissions stopped institutions handing out places before trial exams.

This year, the NSW Vice Chancellors’ Committee agreed to delay releasing offers until September after widespread concerns the scheme lacked transparency, risked undermining the HSC and encouraged students to slack off in the last weeks of year 12.

However, principals say the moratorium failed to go far enough and called for universities to be blocked from handing out spots until after final HSC exams.

The Australian National University will release almost 4900 early offers to domestic undergraduates this week for 2024 courses, an increase of about 10 per cent compared with last year. Western Sydney University will make more than 6000 offers in the first round of its early entry scheme on September 14.

NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Craig Peterson said there has been “an aggressive creep forward” by universities bypassing students’ Australian Tertiary Admission Rank to lock in enrolments early in a competitive market.

“The September offers are better than releasing spots from as early as May, or before trial HSC exams, but it should be delayed until after final HSC exams to keep students on track and highly motivated,” he said.

Early university offers skyrocketed after the pandemic, with more than 43,000 early places released to students for entry to 2023 courses. Last year, Charles Sturt University made offers from May, and ACU from July.

Australian Catholic University said 1300 early offers will be handed out this week, with demand highest for psychology and law courses. University of Wollongong said about 8000 applications for offers had been received, while the University of New England declined to provide early offer figures, saying they were commercial in confidence.

University admissions practices – and the implications of early offers at a national level – are being examined by the Higher Education Standards Panel, with a report due to federal Education Minister Jason Clare at the end of the year.

A national agreement on early offers is also on the cards and is expected to be raised at the next education ministers’ meeting; however, it is unclear if the NSW ruling that universities need to wait until September to release offers will continue in 2024.

NSW Education Minister Prue Car said she was concerned about the scheme’s impact on student engagement.

Principal at St Andrews College Marayong Stephen Kennaugh said delaying offers had not dampened demand for the scheme, with 80 per cent of the school’s year 12 cohort applying for early offers. Robyn Rodwell, principal at Bethany College Hurstville, agreed students are increasingly eager to secure an early place.

“Students will try every avenue to reach their goal, and early offers is one of them. But the psychology of it needs to be looked at, and if it is encouraging students to take their foot off the accelerator,” she said.

A Western Sydney University spokesperson said its early-offer program give students flexibility and helps ease anxiety about university entry. “Our program enables school-leavers to use either their HSC results or their year 11 results as part of their university application,” they said.

St Andrews College student Cooper Shield, who applied for an early offer in primary education at Macquarie University, said the scheme eases the pressure of the HSC. “It’s a stress reliever, but getting an offer doesn’t mean I put my pen down. I want to make sure all the work I’ve done shows I am capable of getting a high mark.”

Caitlyn Dela Cruz, also from St Andrews, agrees it eases anxiety ahead of high-stakes exams, and has applied for early entry to study psychology at Macquarie. “My parents told me about the early-offer scheme long before it became popular, so I have always been keen to take that option.”

Their classmate Nicola Gerardis considered applying for an early university offer in primary teaching, but has instead opted to enrol in a certificate-level TAFE course in aged care after finishing year 12.

Universities’ early offers require the HSC is successfully completed but is often based on year 11 results instead of ATAR scores, and can include portfolios and other assessments. Students apply directly to participating universities or via the Schools Recommendation Scheme processed by the Universities Admissions Centre.

Data from UAC shows 13,994 SRS applications have been received so far this year, a fall of about 30 per cent when compared with 2022, with offers to be made after exams in November.

Charles Sturt University – the only NSW university allowed to make offers before September – confirmed about 3000 early offers have already been made from about 5500 applications, slightly down on last year.


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