For the past couple of months (read; years) my desk has gradually piled up with useless junk; old handouts from old classes, tickets from concerts and footy matches, leaflets and brochures on improving organisational skills. Upon recently deciding to take action and de-clutter my supposed study space, I came across a long-forgotten letter from the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC). Now entering my 4th year at University, my ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) is long behind me. I must confess, a Bachelor of Arts at Monash wasn’t my first choice. RMIT’s Bachelor of Journalism degree – which required a hefty ATAR of 93.15 to get into – was what I had my sights set on in Year 12. Alas, the 75.45 printed on that letter from VTAC meant I didn’t make the grade.
Despite all the lost sleep and stress that came with the pressure of achieving that mark, it all seems so insignificant now. I’m not the only one who thinks so too. Year 12 students at Templestowe College have been granted the option to ditch ATAR as of next year. Under a proposed new model, students could apply for any undergraduate course at Swinburne University. Students will demonstrate their ability by spending their final year completing a long-term project in their chosen area, and writing a thesis on it. The program itself is not dissimilar to how a postgraduate course may be structured.
“The ATAR is simply a ranking tool, people imbue too much status in that,” Vice President of Engagement at Swinburne University, Andrew Smith told The Age.” There are many students who have talent and show commitment, but to whom the ATAR system is not suited. This gives them an opportunity to come through university using a different pathway.”
Andrew Harvey, director of access and achievement research unit at La Trobe University holds a similar view.
“The main advantage of ATAR is its efficiency. For courses of high demand, sorting rankings is a lot quicker than sifting through hundreds of portfolios or interviews… However, many students have potential not captured in the rank, and many outperform their rank once at university.”
In an article featured in The Conversation, University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Stephen Parker has also called for reform in the way universities accept admissions. Among other suggestions, Parker has called for a more holistic approach in education.
“We need to develop a more integrated sense of the education system, from kindergarten to doctorate – K-20 not K-12 – rather than horizontally segment the stages as we do now. Universities need to take more interest in schools,” said Parker.
The proposed model between Templestowe College and Swinburne implements that level of integration. This level of integration is important for two reasons; the university will gain a better idea as to whether the student has what it takes, and the student will be sure whether this course is the right fit for them.
There are recurring tales of VCE high achievers who then struggle in a university setting. These students can either jump from course to course after discovering the degree they worked so hard to get into is not for them after all or simply struggle with the lack of rigidity in their classes. Alternatively, there are plenty of cases of high school students with average marks who then flourish at university in a more relaxed, independent environment.
The roll is marked at the beginning of every class, lunch and recess are at the same time every day. Your teacher sets your homework and gives you detention if you don’t do it and they’ll chase you up if you don’t hand assessments in on time. Lectures are non-compulsory at university, and most are half-empty before the mid-semester break. Your tutor won’t chase you up on late assignments but you will lose marks for not handing them in on time. More than anything else, you will discover that grades aren’t everything.
We are already seeing that universities have begun to place less importance on high school grades. More than a third of courses offered at Monash last year did not advertise a clearly-in ATAR score. Aiming for that perfect study score of 50 in high school has now been substituted with the mantra ‘Ps get degrees.’ What impresses your future employer more is the real world experience you’ve gained, not what you and everyone else learned in the classroom. It remains to be seen for some time how successful this program at Templestowe College will be but should it succeed, other schools and universities would be wise to adopt similar modules. If so, by the time your children are at year 12, ATAR may be obsolete.