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Vice-Chancellor endorses VTAC decision to play down significance of ATARs

The tertiary education sector is facing one of its strongest calls for change this week with Victoria University challenging the relevance of ATAR scores.

Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Dawkins, a respected contributor to education policy, has boldly stated that ATAR cut-off scores are very often a meaningless piece of information.

The renewed focus on ATARs follows the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre’s (VTAC) changes to rules for publishing ATAR scores. VTAC has placed the decision to publish cut-offs back on universities and in the case of courses where sixty per cent or more of VTAC first-round offers go to students with ATAR scores below the cut-off, they will definitely not be publishing them. 

“VU does not view ATARs as a critical measure of determining student success, and welcomes the discretion from VTAC not to publish cut-off scores,” Professor Dawkins explained.  

“ATAR scores are just one of a number of factors we consider when matching applicants to courses – our primary mission remains providing appropriate education opportunities for as many students as possible, whatever their background.

“It is often the prerequisites that are more important than the ATAR score.”

Professor Dawkins said more and more evidence is showing that it is most important for universities to make sure students entering courses get the support they need when they are there, not to have preconceived views of where ATAR cut-offs should be set.

Research released last year by VU’s Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies confirms that while on average students with high ATARs tend to do better in degrees than students with low ATARs, there is huge variance: some low ATAR students do very well and some high ATAR students do very poorly.

“There is strong evidence showing that students entering suitable degrees with lower ATARs are able to match or even exceed the performance of their more-highly ranked peers,” Professor Dawkins said.

“At VU, we have graduates with remarkable stories of success who were once burdened by low-ATARs.

“It is true that some low-ATAR students struggle, but there are many students with higher ATARs who don’t succeed, and many low-ATAR students who do.”

A dual-sector university, VU offers VET programs through Victoria Polytechnic for students who aspire to trades and para-professional roles.  Many students also choose to progress into higher education degrees after completing VET programs.

For some students, higher education diplomas that develop study skills are the best choice to continue education. These courses can also provide the right support to pathway to a degree.

Professor Dawkins said the VU model of education combines opportunity with excellence, by providing tailored study support and access to industry professionals to add value to degrees and ensure graduates are workplace-ready.

A limited number of VU programs are designed for students who are academically well prepared, for which a high ATAR score is preferred.  These courses include Biomedicine, Biomedical and Exercise Science, Osteopathy and Commerce.  ENDS

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