Australian universities
Some universities have bid adieu to the ATAR requirement for 2021. Source: SAEED KHAN/AFP

Will Australian universities scrap the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) requirements for 2021?

That remains to be seen. There are, however, calls for Australian universities to ditch the university entrance score for Year 12 students impacted by COVID-19 after Swinburne University announced it would offer “an ATAR-free pathway” for numerous programmes.

The ATAR-free alternative pathway is applicable for the university’s popular courses, including the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Business, Bachelor of Health Sciences and Bachelor of Design.

Students can enrol for these programmes with a recommendation from their secondary school and if they meet the minimum English requirements. Students who submit a secondary school recommendation will also receive a direct conditional offer for their desired course at Swinburne. 

Speaking to 7NEWS Melbourne, Swinburne’s pro-vice chancellor Chris Pilgrim explained that many Year 12 student are affected by the pandemic and results will not necessarily demonstrate their capabilities for further studies.

Temporarily doing away with the ATAR requirement will provide students with some certainty and enable them to focus on the remainder of their studies this year.

Australian universities following suit

According to 7News, Swinburne isn’t the only Australian university to introduce new pathways for current Year 12 students applying for entry in 2021.

The University of Western Australia announced in May that it will keep the standard ATAR-based entry pathway, but it will also allow applicants to use their predicted ATAR from the end of Year 11. 

Murdoch University will also allow Western Australia students to apply to undergraduate courses using their Year 11 ATAR subject results.

This comes after many students raised concerns over their lack of classroom time while they were forced to study remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Speaking to Sunrise, Future Schools Alliance director Peter Hutton said the lack of international students as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions also provides an opportunity for universities to admit more local students.

“At the moment we’re in a really unusual situation — we’ve got about a 30% decrease in the number of students who will be attending university simply because of the collapse of the international student market,” he was quoted saying.

“There is really no reason why we couldn’t allow any young person who has suitable levels of numeracy or literacy to attend, not any course, but the vast majority of courses, if they have those basic skills.”

The ATAR explained

ATAR helps Australian universities determine which students will be offered a place for a particular course. 

“The ATAR is not a score, it’s a rank. If a student gets an ATAR of 80, this doesn’t mean they averaged 80%. It means they are 20% from the top of their age group,” said Tim Pitman, Senior Research Fellow, Curtin University via The Conversation.

“Think of a queue. When places are limited, the closer to the front of the queue the student is, the more likely they will get in. Some years, there are less people in the queue, or more places in the course. These affect the ATAR required to get in,” he explained.

Each state and territory has its own way to calculate ATAR. They differ in certain details, but follow the same principles.

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