Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Universities

Affirming or affirmative?

Big changes planned for Sydney University’s entry system:

THE importance of HSC results will be downgraded at one of Australia’s most prestigious universities under plans to recruit undergraduates for their leadership qualities and general academic aptitude.

The University of Sydney wants to introduce US-style quota systems with set targets to increase the number of disadvantaged and regional students, and make greater use of aptitude tests, references and general interviews when admitting students.
The university’s vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, said the existing admissions system meant the university was missing out on talented students.

He said a ”disproportionate” number of its enrolments came from the affluent eastern suburbs and north shore, with 65 per cent of new undergraduates from these areas. ”We know where the vast majority of our current students come from and we know that relatively very few come from disadvantaged schools,” Dr Spence said.

As a whole the Australian university system is very good at ensuring those from disadvantaged backgrounds are able to make it to attend uni, and if there are problems, they tend more to be due to cultural or related cost of living/accommodation factors, rather than straight entry & fees. As a student at Australia’s most socio-economically elite university (the non-group of eight University of Canberra), it’s also true that these stats can be misleading as students tend to attend nearby universities (in part due to the above mentioned costs of living problems).

However while I think there’s some scope for improving the access of those from rural and disadvantaged backgrounds make it to the best uni’s, I’d also like to see a public discussion on the merit of the HSC system in getting the right people into university. I make no claim to intellect, but as I’ve made it to a PhD I’m obviously rather suited to uni life. Yet I didn’t get into Uni when I first tried, (in fact UC turned me down once and nearby ANU has turned me down twice, though still let me tutor there in 2008, go figure) and I had to go through a Tafe degree in order to get into university. That initial failure on my part was probably the best thing that happened to me, as it made me knuckle down and start fighting to get where I wanted, but many times the smartest people I know (obviously the author is excluded here) did not make it into university due to their HSC marks. Meanwhile as a tutor & lecturer, I’ve seen many students who get in with 80’s or even low 90s in their HSC marks that just aren’t cut out for or even interested in university.

It’s an amazingly difficult task to try and rank young growing minds and sort them towards the best avenues for improving their career & life prospects, but while the HSC does a pretty good job, we should always be considering how to improve it. If Sydney Uni is interested in more than just changing their socio-economic make up in a bland affirmative action program, and actually want to re-think how we sort and identify university ready students to give them an affirming opportunity, this could be the start of an important change.