Year 12 students from Richmond River High Campus completing their final HSC exam in 2017.
Year 12 students from Richmond River High Campus completing their final HSC exam in 2017. Samantha Poate

Is the ATAR becoming redundant?

ENROLMENT figures at Southern Cross University this year back the findings of a report that states only one in four students are entering university undergraduate courses based on their ATAR.

The latest paper by Mitchell Institute at Victoria University attempts to unpack the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank's (ATAR) role in the education system and asks whether it is still an effective tool.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Students) and Dean of Education at Southern Cross University (SCU) Professor Nan Bahr said while ranking plays a significant part in admissions, 60 per cent of university offers in 2017 were made based on other criteria.

"We have something like 60 per cent of our students who are mature age entry, are not recent school leavers, who bring to bear a number of other experiences and attainments they have added to their profile since leaving school,” Prof Bahr said.

The ATAR was designed to facilitate university admissions, but authors of the Mitchell Institute paper, titled Crunching the Number: Exploring the use and usefulness of the ATAR, Sarah Pilcher and Kate Torii said it has since taken on a life of its own, becoming a goal in itself for students.

"While the ranking of school leavers remains important, it is also true that in 2017, 60 per cent of undergraduate university offers were made on the basis other than ATAR,” they said.

"This would surprise many young people, as it seems at odds with the message reinforced by many schools, families and the media - that the ATAR is everything.”

So why are schools, parents and students putting so much pressure on their performance in year 12?

Mitchell Institute Director Megan O'Connell said it's because some schools are overlooking the development of students talents and capabilities in favour of teaching content for high ATARs.

"To be successful in future jobs and participate in society, young people need a broad range of knowledge, skills and capabilities that might not all contribute to a high ATAR,” Ms O'Connell said.

Prof Bahr said she believed parents, schools and students are putting too much pressure on a ranking that only reflects a small portion of a student's potential.

"Absolutely I think they do, I think it is important to remember it is just a point of time in someone's life and it is not an all-encompassing profile of the work or academic ability of their child or student,” Prof Bahr said.

"(ATAR) is an important part of the picture, it's something that students who otherwise don't have that much in terms of life experience bring to bear when they finish school to give some sort of indication of how well they might do academically,” Prof Bahr said.

However, Prof Bahr said it is not necessarily the end game.

"If a student at the end of year 12 doesn't have the ATAR they wish to have to get into a program, there's many other things that they can do to actually develop themselves up to make themselves readier for the program of their dream,” she said.



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