University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen, said today that providing more opportunities for bright students to enter higher education, regardless of their background, was key to a strong economic future and greater social cohesion.
Professor McMillen was commenting on the recently released Undergraduate Applications, Offers and Acceptances 2012, which showed that more students from regional areas and disadvantaged backgrounds were attending university.
Professor McMillen said universities played a critical role in increasing social mobility and improving outcomes for low socio-economic status communities.
“The proportion of students from low socio-economic backgrounds enrolled at the University of Newcastle is 27 per cent, significantly higher than the sector average of 17 per cent. Our most recent analysis indicates that there was a less than 1.5 per cent difference in progress rates between high and low SES students,” Professor McMillen said.
Studies have shown that a student’s ATAR or entry score is most strongly correlated with socio-economic status, rather than their capacity to succeed at university. These studies have also indicated that the reliability of an ATAR as a predictor of course success diminishes rapidly outside a high ATAR range.
“The Government’s current participation and equity targets present a challenge for universities to provide the necessary support to ensure that increased access and participation translates into the attainment of qualifications and an associated uplift in productivity.
“The University of Newcastle was among the first in Australia to introduce enabling programs and today we are the country’s largest provider of these programs. We recognise the challenges faced by many in the community who have left school early, face significant financial hardship or who have never considered the option of attending university.
“Newcastle has the support in place to help talented and motivated students from all walks of life to gain entry and do well at a university, which is in the top 10 for research performance in Australia. The support we provide to students means that there is no trade-off between equity and excellence.
“Equity and excellence are mutually inclusive as long as students are offered the right preparation and support to succeed.”