Posted 2018-06-25

The Australian National University (ANU) recently announced changes to the way it will admit undergraduate Australian students to its courses from 2020. This is a major change of direction at one of Australia’s highest-profile universities. The Association of Independent Schools of the Northern Territory (AISNT) welcomes the change, and believes it is a significant turning point in the way Australian universities approach tertiary admission.

The changes at ANU will see ATAR scores regarded as ‘only one application criteria. ANU will also consider a student's all round character including community engagement and leadership, sport or volunteering activities and part-time work.’ (More information: )

“We know students are more than just a score,” ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said. “We know they are passionate, we know they have unique skills, we know they gain experience through community service, volunteering, working part time, participating in school leadership, excelling in sports, gaming, performance, competitions and more. We also know that sometimes life pans out a bit differently for some students. Some students have to work to support themselves, or care for their family or face other challenges. These are all important life skills and we will consider these factors alongside their ATAR marks.”

This decision by ANU is reflective of changes currently occurring in the world’s largest nation, China. Some leading Shanghai universities have discovered that by using the National Higher Education Entrance Examination (known commonly as the Gaokao, 高考) only, they recruit the academically brightest students into elite courses, but many fail to last until the end of the course. A new approach being taken by some cutting-edge Chinese universities is to look comprehensively at the skills and attributes of students, in conjunction with their Gaokao score, and to match these students to the most appropriate courses, aiming for a better fit between student and course of study/vocation.

“We hope that the changes being made by ANU may be replicated in time by other Australian universities,” AISNT Executive Director Gail Barker said. “If you look at the developments in secondary education and tertiary entrance in places like Hong Kong and Shanghai, there is a more holistic approach being taken to university student selection. In this country we see many students straight out of secondary school start tertiary courses that they do not complete. We also see very able young people who for one reason or another do not have a particularly high ATAR find it difficult to gain university entrance.

“There is a smarter way to match school leavers with university courses, and we believe the potential benefits are high for both students and tertiary institutions. This is particularly so for motivated and capable young Territorians who may have slightly lower ATAR rankings but also have a range of social attainments and life experiences that make them fine candidates for university entrance,” Ms Barker said.

This is a view shared in some Independent Schools in the Territory. “We support the change in emphasis away from solely relying on an ATAR score to gain entrance to a University and would like to congratulate ANU for taking this initiative which I’m sure other Australian universities will follow in time,” commented Roger Herbert, Principal of St Philip’s College.

David Cannon, Principal/CEO of The Essington International School Darwin, said, “I support broadening of university entrance processes to include not only ATAR results but also other aspects of the student's experience including their involvement in community, success in co-curricular activities, sport, the Arts and demonstrated competency in other areas including emotional intelligence that are so important in forming a successful graduate – and preparing students for the work place.”