Early university offers won’t be made until later in Year 12. Is this a good idea?

Most (though not all) Year 12 university applicants do their school exams, then their external exams and then apply to university with their ATAR.

By Pearl Subban

The federal government has released the final report on a Universities Accord. Taking more than a year to prepare, it is billed as a “blueprint” for reform for the next decade and beyond. It contains 47 recommendations across student fees, wellbeing, funding, teaching, research and university governance.

If you are a Year 12 student this year, you may be hoping to get an early offer for a university place before your final exams even begin.

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While the bulk of students receive their university offers in January of the year they plan to start study, it is increasingly common for students to receive an offer while they are still at school. Offers have reportedly been made as early as March.

But this practice is set to change. While the federal government is still considering much of the Universities Accord final report, it has made a decision on its recommendation about early offers to Year 12 students.

Over the weekend, it announced university offers in all states and territories should not be made to school students before September.

What are early offers?

Most (though not all) Year 12 university applicants do their school exams, then their external exams and then apply to university with their ATAR (or Australian Tertiary Entrance Rank).

Universities use this to make an offer to students from January of the year they begin study.

But some universities and some subject areas take a different approach. They look at Year 11 results and factors such as portfolios of work, written responses to questions, demonstration of skills like resilience or motivation and/or letters of recommendation.

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Students can apply under an early offer scheme. Then universities can make a provisional offer to Year 12 students before final exams and the release of ATARs.

Students are still required to complete Year 12 and may need to achieve a certain ATAR, have done certain subjects and received certain results in these subjects.

Early offers are not new to universities, particularly in areas such as visual and performing arts where measures beyond exam results are required. But the practice became more widespread during disruptions to learning and teaching during COVID.

A young woman looks at a notebook with a floral cover and types on a laptop.
Since COVID, more Australian students have had offers of a uni place during Year 12. Karolina Grabowska/, CC BY

Why are early offers changing?

The Universities Accord review panel found early offers to students at school to be a “contentious practice”. It found there was no consistency or transparency around it and little data.

While they noted they can ease the stress of Year 12, the panel also heard early offers can lead to student disengagement “in the final and important weeks and months” of school.

The panel also noted they can favour students who already have personal or socioeconomic advantages, such as principals, careers counsellors or parents who can advocate for and write letters of recommendation on their behalf.

What will happen now?

At a meeting last week, federal and state education ministers agreed early offers to Year 12 students should change.

For this year and next, no early offers will be made before September. A national approach will be developed by 2027.

Students who suffer from exam anxiety and who are not as confident may lose out as a result of this move.

Some students who become overwhelmed by Year 12, may perform better in the internal Year 11 exams where the pressure is often reduced. Year 11 exams are still significant but they are scored by classroom teachers and likely to take in other dynamics, including the student’s circumstances and background.

Is this change a good idea?

At the moment, the system is geared towards a year of assessments and exams the concludes with an ATAR, which is a student’s ticket into a university course. This sort of incentivisation may prepare students for future challenges in their academic and career journeys.

It does however favour the student who performs well under test conditions and whose life circumstances enable them to work consistently all year.

It may also disadvantage those who already face challenges such as poor mental health, or those who are the first in their family to attend to university.

Drawing more students from underrepresented backgrounds into university is a key goal of the Universities Accord final report. If equity is a priority, it may be wise to rethink early offers for some vulnerable students.

Conscientious students are not likely to reduce their commitment to their study program and will persevere through Year 12 anyway.

Pearl Subban, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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