ACCC drops probe sparked by Australian National University's complaint of cartel conduct

Australia's competition watchdog has dropped a probe into allegations of cartel conduct by state-based tertiary admission centres, lodged by a Canberra university earlier this year.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission began an investigation in April into alleged anti-competitive conduct after admissions centres in Queensland, WA and SA rejected the Australian National University's bid for membership.

ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington said the refusal made it more difficult for students from these states to attend the national university in Canberra.

But a federal government push to make university admissions more transparent meant the ACCC investigation was no longer warranted, she said.

In November a panel into higher education standards examined whether the current state-based arrangements allowed students' mobility to apply to institutions across state borders.

The review was sparked by a Fairfax Media investigation that found up to 60 per cent of students at some universities were being admitted below the advertised minimum ATAR requirements.


Their subsequent report recommended establishing a national higher education admissions information platform.

The new My School-style website would allow prospective students to compare admission requirements, including ATARs, and entry pathways for all universities.

The federal government accepted the findings of the review last week.

"The changes will guarantee fairness, openness and equal access to all students across Australia when choosing where to study," Professor Hughes-Warrington said.

"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 government move will make it easier for students across Australia to choose where they want to study, either within their home state or in another state."

ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said that while the state-based system could raise some competition issues, she was satisfied the recommendations of the report would address this.

"Once implemented, [the recommendations] will improve the accessibility and comparability of information for prospective students. Implementation of the recommendations is also likely to minimise any lessening of competition arising from the alleged conduct in the future," Ms Court said.

Under the reforms, federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham also threatened to cut funding to universities that did not publish the true entry requirements for their courses.

The review called for universities to publish for each course the lowest ATAR to receive an offer; the maximum number of bonus points available; the percentage of students admitted with bonus points; and the ATAR required to be in the top 25 per cent, bottom 25 per cent and the middle of the student intake.

However ANU pledged to become the first Australian university to move away from Year 12 ATARs as the sole determinant for entry earlier this year.