Small business at odds with university group over push for a minimum entry score for university courses

A new push from Australia’s top universities could see all university courses require a minimum Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) of at least 60, potentially resulting in fewer qualified workers.

The move comes in response to a wave of recent university cuts, aimed at helping fund the Gonski school reforms, which will result in universities and students losing $2.8 billion of government funding should the legislation be passed.

Higher Education Minister Kim Carr has said he’s willing to hear alternative plans, should they not change the budget.

If the Group of Eight’s proposal is accepted, the money gained by setting a minimum enter score would be re-directed back into universities.

The Go8 is comprised of Australian National University, the University of New South Wales, the University of Adelaide, the University of Queensland, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, Monash University and the University of Sydney.

A spokesperson for the Go8 told SmartCompany maintaining quality tertiary education will be an advantage to employers.

“At the moment you’ve got two things happening, some kids are being set up to fail because they don’t have the academic preparation for university and this could result in university’s lowering their standards.

“If you are better prepared, you are more likely to successfully complete your degree and the higher standard will lead to more certainty for businesses,” the spokesperson said.

Go8 says the average ATAR score necessary for admission into one of the top universities is higher than 60 as it is, but the uncapping of university placements has resulted in a growth in students in lower-entry level courses.

“With many universities there has been an increase in the number of students in low-scored courses and the feeling is that this is of concern. You need to maintain the quality in the system,” the spokesperson said.

In Kevin Rudd’s first term, university enrolment quotas were removed as Labor pledged to fund university placements for every student they enrolled.

Council of Small Businesses of Australia executive director Peter Strong told SmartCompany in small business there are many people who do not have a high education level, but are successful and passionate.

“By the nature of small business, we work closely with people we employ and some people can bring a lot to the business without a high education level.

“There are also many people, such as indigenous students or people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who are going to university and doing quite well, even though their ATAR was quite low and it’s a shame there would be an extra hurdle for them to have the education they should,” he says.

Strong says university entrance should not be an “elitist path” and students with a low ATAR score don’t necessarily struggle at university, many thrive because they get to do something they care about.

“In small business, we want the people who are passionate to go and get a degree because they want to. It’s about looking at the person and what they can be,” he says.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry director of employment, education and training Jenny Lambert told SmartCompany the underlying ideas behind the Go8’s proposal are admirable.

“We share the concerns about the quantity versus quality argument – it shouldn’t be about saying ‘hey, isn’t it great we’ve put more numbers through the system’.

“But we don’t agree the ATAR should rise. It’s an imperfect measurement, which is not used in at least a third or more of applications anyway and to overemphasise the importance of the ATAR is not the way to go in terms of achieving what we think are very good objectives,” she says.

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