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Regional NSW universities are also flouting minimum marks cut-offs for many admissions

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Regional NSW universities are admitting more than 70 per cent of students who have not scored the minimum marks required to get into courses such as business and law, new data from a Fairfax Media investigation into university admissions has revealed.

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Universities ignore ATAR scores

Up to 99% of applicants for some NSW university degrees have been admitted despite failing to meet the minimum ATAR score advertised for the course. Eryk Bagshaw reports.

The latest set of statistics also shows that the University of Technology Sydney is routinely admitting students below the advertised cut-off. Most are being being admitted through bonus point schemes in courses such as business and combined law.

UTS' bachelor of advanced science course, which students undertake before entering the nation's top medical faculties, has offered 85 per cent of places to high school students who failed to score the minimum 96.9 ATAR.

Out of the relatively small candidature of 14, only two passed the required mark in the prestigious course. Within the university's much larger bachelor of business cohort of 462 high-school graduates, 70 per cent of students did not make the advertised grade.


"Looking at the entry policies of universities right now, flexible is not the right word – they are endlessly elastic," said Richard Hil, a university admissions researcher from Griffith University.

"We have been concerned about regional universities for a long time, but what is really surprising is the numbers in the more well-known group of eight," he said.

An ATAR [Australia Tertiary Admissions Rank] is awarded to more than 50,000 NSW high-school students in December each year. Universities set an ATAR cut-off according to what they believe is the minimum academic standard required to complete a course, as well as supply and demand for the degree.

UTS provost Professor Peter Booth said places at UTS are offered mainly to high-school applicants who have satisfied ATAR cut-offs, unless there are specific course requirements or they are considered as part of special access schemes.

"The claim that a large number of admissions don't meet the cut-off is incorrect and don't take account of the well-known above adjustments, the details of which are publicly available to applicants."

But the release of the data this week has revealed that the published ATARs for prestigious degrees across the sector rarely reflect the actual quality of the candidature as whole, with regional universities continuing the state-wide trend.

At the University of Wollongong, more than three-quarters of places in some of its courses were offered to students whose ATAR ranks were below the advertised cut-off.

Almost 75 per cent of places in arts/law were offered to students below the ATAR cut-off of 90, and several were more than 20 points below the minimum mark.

Hundreds of offers have been made to school-leavers with ATAR scores 20–30 – and in some cases 40 – points below the stated cut-off for courses at the university, which is 80 kilometres south of Sydney. It has made 6000 offers this year.

UoW's deputy vice-chancellor, Joe Chicaro, said the students had been admitted through alternative entry schemes which took into account factors such as discipline, personal circumstances and school recommendations.

At the University of Newcastle more than 60 per cent of main round admissions for the bachelor of civil engineering scored below the ATAR cut-off of 80. More than half of nursing and chemical engineering admissions were below the minimum standard.

The University of Newcastle said in a statement that the ATAR is simply one component of the judgement made about the capacities and potential of a prospective student.

"A raw ATAR is one measure and does not take account of the many factors that may determine whether an applicant should be admitted to a particular university degree, which include subject choices, geographic location, the results of interviews, school recommendations, auditions and portfolios," it said.

Academics have cited the lack of transparency around alternative entry schemes as a key issue as they look to move beyond the ATAR.

"The system is not satisfactory – that is why we are moving away from it," said UNSW dean of law David Dixon.

"People realise we need to do something different, there is a patchwork of additional point schemes. We need to have a system which is much more clear to everyone about what is happening."

with Noel Towell and Edmund Tadros