Category Archives: Higher education admissions

What do high-ATAR students study?

The Australian‘s Higher Education Supplement ran a story this week on how high-ATAR Victorian students chase a narrow range of courses and unis. It was based on research by La Trobe’s Andrew Harvey.

The national applications data shows how this produces a counter-intuitive outcome: applicants with ATARs above 90 are persistently less likely to get an offer than students with ATARs of 80-90 or 70 to 80. The 2012 offer rates were, respectively: 91%, 97%, 96%.

It means that a few per cent of the 90+ students take all or nothing gambles. Even though there are hundreds of courses that would accept them, they only apply for one or a small number, and some of them end up missing out. Presumably most of them learn a lesson about hubris and put in a more realistic application the following year.

Andrew H also comments that “the progression of elite students into a narrow range of courses and universities arguably has a distortionary effect on the workforce and society.”

While I partly agree with this, data I received from DIICCSRTE (I hope this name will soon change) on the ATARs of first-year students suggests that the top-performing school leavers are more spread across the disciplines than the applications data might suggest.

The figure below has the 2011 ATAR for a student admitted at the 90th percentile of everyone taking that subject, or in other words with just enough to put them in the top 10%. It just shows those where the 90th percentile is at 98 or above. Surprisingly, radiography is at the top and maths is second (though there are few specific maths courses). From the arts, language and literature is there. If we drop down to 97, politics, history and the performing arts are all there.

90th percentile admissions

Teacher education has a 90th percentile of ATAR 90, with a median of 75. Not spectacular, but far from the very low cut-offs at some unis that attract so much attention.

The launch of My University

The government’s My University website launched this morning.

Overall, I think it is a good start in giving students more information to help with their higher education choices. There is information by university and field of study on student satisfaction with teaching and generic skills development, attrition rates, employment rates, staff qualifications, student:staff ratios, and other things. The meaning of these numbers is often contested – the methodology section suggests caution on some matters – but overall it is better than general impressions or historical reputation.

Here is an example of how the information is presented, for Macquarie University business.

There is also information on general campus facilities. Here is an example for Murdoch University.

Some suggestions for future versions of the site:

* How to get to the course performance information is not intuitive. ‘Course search’ will provide a list of courses in the field of study of interest, but the comparison tool only gives ATARs and cost. The latter will be useful if fees are deregulated, but under the current system the student contributions will be much the same. To find course performance information, users have to go to ‘university search’, and then choose the field of study. Comparison between universities will be difficult without printing out results for each university.

* For non-university higher education providers (NUHEPs), their courses can be located through ‘course search’ but not ‘university search’. No information on admission requirements or cost was in any of the results from random searches. Nor is there any information on course performance, though some NUHEPs are in the relevant surveys (there may be sample size issues). To get a proper market, we need to include the NUHEPs as fully as possible.

Should low ATAR students be admitted to university?

Over at Catallaxy, Judy Sloan is having a go at low ATAR university courses.

I just want to have the bridges identified which are designed by civil engineers with cut-off points of 62.

And I also noticed that the cut off score for entry into Primary Education courses is in the 50s – pity the poor children in a few years time.

As Judy hints at, ATAR (or its predecessors: ENTER, UAI, TER) is only moderately predictive of future academic performance, and even then only for higher ATAR students. This overview paper on Victorian university selection practices summarised some of the research:

Their … work at Monash confirmed the correlation between high ENTER and strong university performance (r=0.38 for ENTER over 80). Importantly, however, they found little correlation between ENTER and university performance for low to middle ENTER bands (r=0.04 for ENTER below 80). This finding supports that of Murphy et al. (2001), who found in their study of RMIT students that the strongest correlations between ENTER and university performance were at ENTERs above 80, with no correlation between 40 and 80 and variable correlation below 40.

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