ATAR: Just a Number

25 February 2016

Victoria University’s vice­ chancellor Peter Dawkins stated recently that clearly-­in ATARs are “a meaningless piece of information”.

His statement came in response to the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre’s decision not to publish clearly-­in ATARs for courses where at least 60 per cent of first ­round offers go to students with ATARs below the clearly­-in. Only 25 per cent of university courses in Victoria had a clearly­-in this year, down from 40 per cent last year.

“VU does not view ATARs as a critical measure of determining student success,” said Professor Dawkins, citing research from the university that shows that some low­ATAR students perform very well while high­-ATAR students often do poorly.

However, Sue Elliott, Deputy Provost at the University of Melbourne, says that they are not looking to consider other selection tools, such as personal statement submissions.

“These have not been shown to be predictive of undergraduate performance at university and so [we] do not use them,” she says. “We will continue to examine selection instruments as they are developed and rigorously evaluated.”

It’s true – analysis performed by the University of Melbourne shows that a student’s performance in secondary school is the most reliable predictor of academic success at university. Even the research Professor Dawkins cited concludes that students with high ATARs outperform students with low ATARs on average.

However, Professor Dawkins pointed out that high ATAR requirements discriminate against students from lower socio­economic backgrounds, who tend to have lower ATAR scores. Unimelb will continue to recognise these disadvantages through the Access Melbourne scheme. Through this program, students who have experienced disadvantages, not only financial, have their ATAR scores adjusted. About a third of students admitted each year come through the Access program.

“[Unimelb] strives to ensure that the students with the best potential, independent of background, have the opportunity to study at Australia’s top­ ranked university,” says Professor Elliott.

Tom Crowley, UMSU Education Officer believes downplaying the importance of ATAR scores can be beneficial. “[Placing too much emphasis on VCE results] puts undue stress on Year 12s and makes them feel like failures if they don’t get the ATAR they want”.

“Your ATAR doesn’t determine your worth.”

However, Crowley acknowledges that different courses have different demands. “Students need some sort of indicator of level to help them choose courses that suit them,” he says.

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