Unis bend rules to help students get dream degree
Universities are bending the rules to admit school leavers who bombed out in this year's COVID-19 study chaos.
Teenagers who missed out on studying their dream degree due to a low ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) are being urged to take a short bridging course or apply directly for entry.
One university is admitting students based on teacher recommendations, rather than ATAR scores, this year.
Others are counting community service and work experience towards university entry.
Students who copped health or financial curveballs in 2020 can also apply for special entry on "equity'' grounds.
Universities, bleeding cash due to the lockout of fee-paying international students, are bending over backwards to admit more domestic students for 2021.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said 2020 had been "exceptionally tough'' for students and advised them to use different "pathways'' to a degree.
"These include work experience, other qualifications such as bridging courses, leadership and community service, equity and special circumstances,'' she told News Corp Australia.
"Options for university admission don't end with the ATAR.
"Universities understand that the disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis may have affected students differently and will be looking to provide flexibility to students.
"All universities will be ready and willing to talk with students about their individual situation.''
Budding criminologist Megan Ting, 23, was devastated when she received a low ATAR but is now studying a Bachelor of Forensics Science at UTS, after completing a bridging Diploma of Life Science at UTS Insearch.
"Your ATAR doesn't define you at all,'' she said.
"Just don't stress out - there's always another way.
"I wish someone had told me earlier not to stress out and think it's the end of the world.''
The University of Tasmania has already admitted 1800 students through a side door, using its Schools' Recommendation Program.
"We take a teachers' recommendation along with prior academic performance, not just ATAR which is not a good predictor of future success,'' vice-chancellor Professor Rufus Black said yesterday.
"Teachers are ideally placed to know if a student is on the right path to further studies.
"We (also) take into account people's work and other life experience when considering their application to study.
"Not having an ATAR, or not having the ATAR you were hoping for, doesn't have to be a barrier to your dream course.''
Charles Sturt University (CSU) gives school leavers from regional areas a five-point ATAR bonus, and has already made 1859 early offers to school leavers.
CSU takes into account "soft skills'' such as empathy and resilience, demonstrated through community and charity work.
Indigenous students can undertake a five-day entry program that provides guaranteed entry into a broad range of bachelor degrees.
CSU also offers "micro-credentials" in community leadership and resilience, to certify skills that show a student's ability to do a job or continue study.
CSU acting vice-chancellor Professor John Germov said that "ATAR scores are not what they used to be'', with 70 per cent of students entering via other pathways.
"ATAR scores do not necessarily reflect the skills and attributes that many occupations and professions require, and which students might possess when they apply for entry to university,'' he said.
"A nurse is nothing without empathy for her patients, a veterinarian will struggle without the resilience required to deal with the death of the animals in his care.''
The University of Southern Queensland (USQ) offers free three-month Tertiary Preparation Programs, covering English, maths and study management, with guaranteed entry to a range of USQ bachelor degrees regardless of ATAR results.
It also offers six-month certificate programs as a stepping stone to a full degree.
"You do not have to give up on your dream career,'' vice-chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie said.
"This year 12 cohort has had a lot thrown at them in the last 12 months.
"They've shown grit and resilience and will no doubt continue to do this throughout their university studies and into their careers.''
In Victoria, RMIT University offers a new Pathways Guaranteed program, to help students without an ATAR get into a degree course by completing a TAFE course first.
"The benchmark of some VCE students will be disproportionately impacted this year by the disruptions of bushfires and COVID-19,'' a spokeswoman said.
"The cost of a Pathways Package is often cheaper than completing a full Bachelor program.''
University of Queensland acting deputy vice-chancellor Professor Doune Macdonald urged school leavers to "keep their ATAR in perspective''.
"While it's disappointing not to get the ATAR they were hoping for it can be a detour for school leavers - and for many students, that detour can become their passion,'' she said.
The University of South Australia is offering diplomas or foundation studies to help students leapfrog into a degree.
"If students didn't achieve the result they needed to get into their chosen degree, we encourage having a back-up plan by preferencing a degree in a similar field,'' UniSA chief academic services officer Professor Marie Wilson said yesterday,
The Australian Catholic University (ACU) has introduced a new Foundation Studies Program at its Blacktown Campus in Sydney, to help students without a Year 12 qualification get into uni.
"While the year was extremely challenging for Year 12s, we are also seeing a very large number of applicants with high ATARs so not all students will be able to get in to their first choice,'' ACU vice-chancellor Professor Greg Craven said yesterday.
He said the federal government was funding extra places for school leavers to complete a certificate first, and then transfer into a bachelor degree once they meet the entry requirements.
The University of New England (UNE) already admits 90 per cent of its students without an ATAR result, and offers free short courses to gain entry.
"If you didn't get the ATAR that you hoped for, there is absolutely no reason why you still can't go to university and go on to a successful career in your chosen field,'' UNE student success director Barb Shaw said yesterday.
The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) advises school leavers to study a diploma or certificate in a similar discipline, as a pathway to a full degree.
Students can also combine a TAFE certificate with a QUT qualification, or study a different bachelor degree course before switching to their dream degree.
James Cook University (JCU) offers a Certificate of Higher Education that lets students catch up on any missing prerequisite subjects, in time to start most bachelor degrees in February 2021.
"If a student didn't get the ATAR they need for their dream course, the Diploma of Higher Education is a six-month to one-year full-time course designed to help them meet the entry requirements for most JCU courses,'' a spokesman said.
"They'll study a combination of introductory and first-year degree subjects and develop the practical skills to be a successful university student and gain credit towards their chosen degree.''
Originally published as Unis bend rules to help students get dream degree