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UAC: ATARs fall as university offers are released to 44,000 students

University entrance standards are slipping as minimum ATAR requirements drop across the state, a six-year analysis of university admissions data has revealed.

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University offers announced

Education reporter Eryk Bagshaw reveals the winners and losers in 2016's ATAR cut-offs race for university place seekers.

The data comes as former NSW high school students put two months of nerves to rest on Wednesday night, after more than 40,000 received offers to study at the state's universities.

"Everyone in our family is running in," said twins Keshaven and Shankaran Kiritharan after they found out while playing golf that they had been accepted to Western Sydney University.

Victoria Xu, who has received a double scholarship for UNSW, picked electrical engineering over medicine.
Victoria Xu, who has received a double scholarship for UNSW, picked electrical engineering over medicine. Photo: James Brickwood.

"We checked the app and we got in, we're pretty happy," said 18-year-old Keshaven.

Engineering, business and science courses remained the most popular choices for school leavers looking to secure employment after graduation, but a Fairfax Media analysis of University Admissions Centre data since 2010 reveals the majority of disciplines have lower ATAR cut-offs than they did six years ago, despite rising 0.46 points overall in the past year.

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An ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) is a mark up to 99.95 that a NSW student receives after completing their HSC.

Historically, university entrance has been governed by market forces - the greater the competition for the course, the higher the ATAR required for entry. A drop in ATAR can reflect a lower-scoring candidature applying for that course or a fall in demand due to economic conditions.

Between 2010 and 2016, the sharpest drop in cut-offs went to communications, which fell an average of 7 points across the sector. Creative and performing arts fell 6 points and architecture, building and design fell more than 4 points.

Nursing and midwifery is the only field of study to record a significant lift, rising 3 points to an average cut off of 74.79.

During the same period, the largest falls by field of study among the Group of Eight were in courses related to law/law combined at the Australian National University; architecture, building, design and planning at the University of Sydney and creative and performing arts at the University of NSW, with each dropping between 5-7 points.

The courses offered in a field of study can vary from year to year.

Only one university bucked the overall downward trend this year by a large margin, with 17 Western Sydney University courses rising by 10 points or more. Six bachelor of engineering courses at the university jumped 13 points each to 83.

Across the six-year period, engineering in all its forms has remained stable, one of the key attractions for future UNSW electrical engineering student Victoria Xu.

"In year 11 and year 12, people start seeing these career options, so they start going into something they know because it's more secure," she said.

Ms Xu, who also scored 100 in the UMAT medicine entry tests, decided she would risk her family's ire and challenge herself in the male-dominated field of electrical engineering.

"It is just kind of ingrained, 'the women shouldn't be in engineering' mentality, they are just thinking about field work in hard hats," she said.

"I think in the end I just thought about why would I go into being a doctor, I just wanted to do something fun and rewarding – and that was engineering."

The final numbers: Course cut offs

University of Sydney 

Bachelor of Combined Law 99.50  
Bachelor of Commerce (Liberal Studies) 98.00
Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) 97.50 
Bachelor of Science (Advanced Maths) 98.00 
Bachelor of Applied Science(Physiotherapy) 99.00

University of New South Wales 

Bachelor of Combined Law 99.70 
Bachelor of Architectural Studies 95.60 
Bachelor of Commerce (International) 97.50 
Bachelor of Engineering (H)/B Commerce 96.50 
Bachelor of Science (Adv Maths) (Hons) 95.00 

University of Technology 

Bachelor of Advanced Science (Adv Mat & Data Sci) 99.95  
Bachelor of Communications (MediaArts&Prod) Bachelor of Laws 97.55
Bachelor of Engineering (H) Civil & Environmental DEP 90.80 

An earlier version of this story overstated the 2010-16 fall in ATAR cut-off for communications, creative and performing arts, and architecture and design by one point. These figures have been corrected. The story has also been amended to clarify that figures on the largest falls among Group of Eight universities refer to fields of study, not specific courses.

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