The year 2012 represents the first year of the demand driven system for domestic undergraduate places in Australia. Enrolment caps previously imposed by government have been removed and universities encouraged to increase their student numbers. Under this new system, universities can enrol as many students as they desire, provided they can justify to the external regulator – the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) – that standards are being maintained.
There has been quite a bit of media attention about which universities have increased their commencing load and what impact this has had on entry scores. Not surprisingly, most institutions have increased their load, some quite significantly. I say ‘not surprisingly’ because Australian universities have always been expansionist, as clearly demonstrated by the significant growth in international student numbers in recent years.
I fully support the government’s agenda to increase the percentage of the population with a university education. It is an excellent investment in the future of the nation. Our strategic plan indicates that ANU would like to grow at a manageable rate of approximately 3 per cent each year and we will achieve this in 2012.
I believe the demand driven system will, however, ultimately change the way many students enter university. At present, the vast majority of students enrol through a Tertiary Admission Centre (a University Admission Centre (UAC) in NSW/ACT). These centres were set up in an environment where there were a limited number of places in universities and a larger number of students seeking those places. The aim of the admission centre is to equitably distribute those students based on their tertiary entry score. In a demand driven system, the tables are turned. There are now a large number of university places and a finite number of students seeking admission. In this environment, why do you need an admission centre? If the student meets the entry requirements for the university, they can be directly admitted. This is essentially the system we use now for international students.
We saw the first signs of this process in 2012. A number of universities openly commented on students entering via direct application, rather than through an admission centre. It will not take students long to realise that they now are in a much stronger position. Armed with their tertiary entry score, or even a prediction of that score, they can potentially ‘shop around’ looking for a university place which meets their needs. They do not have to apply through an admission centre and take the offer they receive.
In the future, I am confident that we will see a far more diverse range of entry processes. There will be both direct applications, applications through admission centres and a greater number of students articulating through pathway programs. ANU will need to be flexible enough to meet this changing environment.