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.