In response to my Grattan Institute colleague Ittima Cherastidtham’s op-ed supporting ATAR, Victoria University VC Peter Dawkins and Professor Yong Zhao say in The Australian that
“…good universities should be able to reduce the impact of ATAR on students’ futures by providing education opportunities to those who, for all sorts of reasons, did not achieve high ATARs in school. When universities simply continue the trajectory set by ATAR, they fail their mission to change lives, to alleviate the impact of inequity and to lift people out of the conditions they are born into.”
There is no doubt that people with high ATARs are much more likely to be at university than those with low ATARs. To a substantial extent, this is because they are more likely to apply, as the chart below shows.
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The ATAR wars entered another round yesterday, with Victoria University VC Peter Dawkins and Professor Yong Zhao responding in The Australian to my Grattan Institute colleague Ittima Cherastidtham’s op-ed supporting ATAR.
This debate can get confusing, because semi-related arguments are blurred together.
The most impassioned opposition to ATAR seems to be about its claimed effects on schools. As Dawkins and Zhao say,
“…it is a sad indictment of our education system that maximising ATAR is the primary focus for far too many students, rather than following passions and preparing for the future by developing their talents…”.
Even though they later question whether ATAR is a good predictor of success, they could accept that ATAR is useful in university admissions and still oppose it, on the grounds that the cost of ATAR to school education exceeds the value of its benefits to higher education.
I am sceptical of the idea that abolishing ATAR would let more students follow their passions (‘passions’ perhaps; but I prefer ‘interests’ as encompassing a wider variety of emotional commitments), or prepare them better for the future.
ATAR meets a university need that will not go away. Some kind of selection rank system is needed for distributing student places when demand exceeds supply for a particular course. So the question is not whether ATAR has flaws or some undesired consequences, but how ATAR compares to its likely alternatives. Read More »