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ANU alerts ACCC to anti-competitive admissions centres

The Australian National University (ANU) has lodged a formal complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleging anti-competitive behaviour by state-based university admissions centres.

ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Marnie Hughes Warrington said the university has raised anti-competition concerns with the ACCC after being denied membership of three state-based university admissions centres in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

This means students in these states would need to pay an additional fee of just over $30 each to apply to the ANU.

The ANU has argued to the ACCC that as Australia's national university, around half of the annual student preferences to study at ANU come from people who live outside of the national capital.

"The decision by three states – Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland – to reject ANU membership of their admissions centres makes it more difficult for students in those states to access information about ANU and to apply to study at ANU," Professor Hughes-Warrington said.

The South Australian Tertiary Admission Centre denied this on Wednesday, saying it had a fee-for-service model which was open for the ANU to participate in. It had welcomed three new universities to its admission centre in recent months.

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A spokesman said South Australia was fully complying with legislation and was "100 per cent confident the ACCC will give us a clean bill of health".

"We have put out a fee-for-service offering and have other satisfied clients, so it is a shame that this doesn't suit the ANU."

The spokesman noted that the ANU would have to pay to use the SA centre – in the order of $40,000 for every 500 applications.

Professor Hughes-Warrington said the ANU had been rejected outright from joining all three state centres after writing to them last August.

"No invitation to discuss the outcome, no right of appeal. A student wouldn't settle for that, and we didn't either."

An ANU spokesman also clarified that while the ANU could use the South Australian centre's fee-for-service membership, the model precluded it from offering any courses which are also available through any other admissions centre.

"ANU believes this is restrictive, unfair and anti-competitive and does not allow students to see or be aware of alternative offerings in other states."

The ANU had been allowed to apply to join the Victorian Tertiary Admission Centre.

Historically, ANU is a member of the Universities Admission Centre, which operates in New South Wales and the ACT.

Applications for most undergraduate programs are "in state" in that most students apply to their local tertiary admission centre because that is the only place where their local university lists their offerings.

Professor Hughes-Warrington said the ANU rejected on principle the notion that any student would have to pay a second application fee to apply to a university out of state.

Fees hover around the $30 mark for school leavers and the $60 mark for non-school leavers.

"What we are seeking on behalf of students and all universities is fairness and equal access," she said.

The ANU is the only university in Australia established by an act of Federal Parliament.

Professor Hughes-Warrington said as a national institution, which offered some courses online to people anywhere in Australia, students around the country should have equal access to information about ANU courses.

She also argued the anti-competitive behaviour strengthened the case for a national university admissions centre to replace the five separate state-based admissions centres.

"A national admissions centre might be the fairest solution for universities and for students, and make the admissions process more open and transparent," she said.

"A national applications system for Australia might lead to better efficiency through the scaling up of what are often small operations at state level, and the development of a more rounded suite of services to cover international student admissions and accommodation preferences."

Neither the Queensland Tertiary Admission Centre nor the (West Australian) Tertiary Institution Service Centre wished to comment.