University entrance requirements – has anything changed in the last 25 years?

I attended Melbourne University’s Open Day today with my daughter, who is interested in Science and wanted to explore options there. We went to the lecture outlining the Bachelor of Science degree, and I was once again taken back to my own University experiences.

It seems nothing has changed. It’s still a huge competition, with those who are good at retaining information and regurgitating it effectively under exam conditions winning the prizes. It seems if you can attain an ATAR score of 99.9 (an amazing personal achievement, without question) you are assured of a place in a course like Medicine. There’s no interview, no assessment of whether or not you are suited to a profession that requires not only the ability to understand all facets of the human body, but also empathy and the emotional intelligence to deal with the real life people you will be working with and supporting on a daily basis. If you don’t get this kind of amazing score, you will be required to sit the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT).

There seemed to be hundreds of students interested in a science career, and I do understand that we need a process that will filter those who can access places available from those who can’t. It just seems a bit artificial to me still, to base things entirely on a number. A score on a page tells me something about a person’s ability to retain and present knowledge for an outcome or an exam, but it doesn’t tell me much about a person’s passion and commitment to something they hold dear.

I don’t have the answers to what I see as problems in the university entrance process, but I do wonder if those with passion and commitment, but not the magic number score that grants them access to the education they desire, will begin to seek learning in alternative ways. In years to come, will we see initiatives like University of the People, a tuition free online university, gain some traction? Their philosophy reminds me of Mechanic’s Institutes, formed in the 19th century in Australia, the UK, Canada and the United States, to advance the knowledge base of working men. I often drive past the Frankston Mechanic’s Institute, and every time I do I ponder the lives transformed by the opportunities they afforded.

A lot about how our world works is changing, but not a lot seems different about the University entrance process. Judging by the numbers at Melbourne University today, the process may not change for some time to come. A degree from a Sandstone institution, the likes of Melbourne University, holds sway in the employability stakes.

For now, at least.

4 Replies to “University entrance requirements – has anything changed in the last 25 years?”

  1. My daughter is in her first year at Macquarie University in Sydney. She is taking a media and marketing degree and did not need 99.9 but she did need to still score in the 90s. This degree will cost her many thousands of dollars Yet, she attends for two days a week and she says that all her lectures are boring as they involve the lecturer reading their slides. One of her courses this term requires her to ‘learn’ how to use a computer. This is of a girl who produced two film based major works for her HSC! Another will see her sit a multiple choice exam on chapters 1 – 6 in a text book.Both I and her cannot believe just how behind they are in both teaching and assessment methods. Luckily in the three days she is not required she is able to work and as such she has already scored two valuable intern-ships which are providing her with life and work lessons, as well as much need cash to sustain a student lifestyle.

  2. In the US, we also have these problems with the scores (SAT’s). However, it becomes much more complex. There are options to demonstrate your ability through entrance essays, a list of your extra-curricular activities, transfer in from community or jr. colleges, and class rank. Despite having good grades, being in the top 15% of his class, playing multiple sports all 4 years of high school, and 8 college level classes coming into school, my son had difficulty being accepted to private colleges in the US.

    My daughter, who has a more non-traditional school background, doesn’t have the standardized scores, but has a lot more unique experience and good grades may have more trouble getting into college. In the US, it’s a matter of matching school with students. More complex, but at least there is a greater depth of analysis.

    Once in school, my better students are those that were not the top in their class partly because they don’t just take the test, but can think. This means they don’t do as well on standardized tests. Now there is a push in the US to have standardized tests at the college level. I fear that this will create a worker who is little more than a drone, just doing what they are told to do.

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