The nation's highest-achieving year 12 students will no longer be guaranteed a spot at the Australian National University under a significant overhaul of its ATAR admissions process launching in 2020.
In a new scheme designed to diversify the university's ranks, school leavers will be asked to meet a minimum threshold of community service and extra-curricular activity such as working part-time, playing sport or volunteering, on top of achieving the right score for their degree.
Conditional offers will arrive in August instead of after exams which means students offered a place will only need to meet the ANU's ATAR floor of 80 to hold onto their spot on campus.
Those who still score below the entrance requirement of their chosen degree will then enter a preference change round, but a university spokeswoman confirmed those who achieve top marks will not be accepted into a course if they haven't satisfied at least "three points" on the new co-curricular or service schedule, which had been designed to assess "the whole person".
From 2022, the ANU will also require all domestic undergraduate students to have studied maths and English during their senior secondary studies.
Deputy vice-chancellor Marnie Hughes-Warrington said she would be "very surprised" if students couldn't reach the new benchmark as a range of skills, from playing guitar to caring for a family member, would be considered.
Applications to the university will be brought forward to the first term of Year 12, and for the first time all school-leavers will be considered for scholarships and ANU accommodation in a "simplified" application process.
At least the top three students from every school in Australia will be offered a conditional spot based on year 11 academic results, and priority will also be given to those experiencing hardship, who have a refugee or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background or who attend a low socio-economic school.
A report released last year showed that in 2016 about 2 per cent of ANU's entire student body was from a low socioeconomic background and fewer than 1 per cent Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
ANU vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said students were more than "just a score" and had unique skills on offer from time spent volunteering, working part-time, excelling in sports or performance or participating in student leadership.
"We also know that sometimes life pans out a bit differently for some students," Professor Schmidt said.
"Some students have to work to support themselves, or care for their family or face other challenges. These are all important life skills and we will consider these factors alongside their ATAR marks.
“I want every Australian student, from Broome, to Bourke, to Burnie, to know ANU is their national university."
Professor Hughes-Warrington said the new scheme followed three years of consultation with families and communities across the country.
"We think this is a gamechanger," she said.
"It's extraordinarily exciting."
A university spokeswoman said ATARs were reviewed annually based on demand but were unlikely to be adjusted for the new model. Domestic government-funded places at the university remained capped as usual and the ANU would take stock of the new system in 2021, she said.
Students would continue to apply for the ANU via the Universities Admissions Centre.
Just one degree, a Bachelor of Visual Arts which accepts students based on their portfolio not their ATAR, will be exempt from the new school-leaver process.
Students who satisfy the community service threshold but miss out on a score of 80 or higher will have a pathway opportunity into the university through the Study Group-run ANU College based on demand.
Professor Schmidt first announced the ANU would move away from ATARs as the sole determinant for entry in 2016, but the change was initially slated to take effect this year.
The ANU already rewards high-achieving school leavers who are selfless, humble and resilient via the Tuckwell Scholarship, awarded to 25 people a year. However, a requirement of that scheme is a likely ATAR of 95 or above.
Sherryn Groch is a reporter for The Canberra Times, with a special interest in education and social affairs
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