Are the days of the ATAR numbered?

Posted on August 30, 2013

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Alternative university entry from school no longer a bridge too far

New bridge to university: Uni Bridges Executive Officer Dr Carolyn Malkin, centre, with Bendigo students Sherene Petts, left, and Nakita Landry.

In a Victorian first, La Trobe University next year will welcome new students into its science and health science courses based not on their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), but on completion of a highly innovative new tertiary entry program.

Piloted by the University for the past two years with Bendigo Senior Secondary College, Mill Park Secondary College and Reservoir High School, the program is known as Curriculum Bridges – or more popularly, Uni Bridges.

Following its success, students from those schools are now able to qualify for entry to La Trobe under this new scheme, coupled with recommendations from their teachers.

Uni Bridges was initiated and overseen by respected education expert Professor Richard Teese. It began with State government funds in 2012 to help boost lower rates of schools retention and university transfer in Melbourne’s north. It has been conducted in partnership with the science and maths education innovation centre, Quantum Victoria, and the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

Better prospects for more young people

The scheme recently attracted an additional $1.3 million in Federal funding which has enabled it to expand to 12 schools, five in Bendigo and seven in Melbourne (see list below). Vice-Chancellor John Dewar says Uni Bridges aims to challenge, inspire and empower year 10-12 students to think seriously about going to university.

Excited about helping students with potential: Senator Gavin Marshall who announced the new federal grant for Uni Bridges with Associate Dean Research and Strategic Projects, Professor Jane Farmer, watching staff and students at work in Bendigo.

Excited about helping students with potential: Senator Gavin Marshall who announced the new federal grant for Uni Bridges with Associate Dean Research and Strategic Projects, Professor Jane Farmer, watching staff and students at work in Bendigo.

‘The additional Federal funding will open up the prospect of even more young people gaining a university education at La Trobe, particularly in the important subject areas of the sciences and mathematics.’

He says La Trobe already enrols the largest number of students from regional Victoria and low socio-economic status groups. ‘We are committed to further grow this number under our Future Ready strategic plan.’

Professor Dewar says the program also helps teaching practices and techniques by connecting secondary school staff with university teachers, researchers, science curriculum experts and Indigenous education bodies.

Breaking down barriers

La Trobe Director of National Recruitment, Janne Gorman, says Uni Bridges helps break down some of the barriers that stop potential students from entering university.

‘It provides a completely new way of making the University accessible to students who might not otherwise have had that opportunity. We use our outreach programs and hands-on laboratory workshops to reinforce science skills and promote university study as a viable option for students,’ she says.

Year ten and eleven students from Mill Park and Reservoir near the Melbourne campus, along with year eleven and twelve students from Bendigo, took part in the pilot program.

A group of Bendigo Senior Secondary College students will be the first to enter La Trobe next year to study science and health science degrees based on the completion of the Uni Bridges trial.

A radically different way

Linking subjects from all disciplines to help learning by creating meaning.

Linking subjects from all disciplines to help learning by creating meaning.

‘This is a radically different way of providing school students with access to a university education,’ says Ms Gorman. ‘We work very closely with the teachers to decide who will be accepted into our courses.

‘Students from these three schools have mixed socioeconomic status, and research shows that they are less likely to participate at university, she says.

‘The ATAR doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. There has been incredible growth in the university sector with more students admitted with a range of ATAR scores, yet there has been no real change in quality or loss of quality.

‘One of our aims as part of our Future Ready plan is to increase the participation of lower socioeconomic status students from 17 per cent to 20 per cent by 2017. Uni Bridges is a really important step towards making this a reality.

‘Through theme-based learning around a focus area such as preventing and curing disease, Uni Bridges links subjects from all disciplines, such as English, mathematics and science.

Attainable goal

‘Students look at the biological process behind disease, in their English classes they examine the ethics and issues of disease and treatment, and in maths they look at the statistics. This gives meaning to what they are learning,’ says Ms Gorman.

‘Through our outreach programs students participate in laboratory experiments and practicals, such as nursing, dentistry, pathology and exercise science.

‘Uni Bridges doesn’t just offer another pathway to University,’ says Ms Gorman. ‘It also allows students to familiarise themselves with learning in a university setting, so that continuing their education at university after school is not seen as an unobtainable goal,’ says Ms Gorman.

Uni Bridges is funded by the Department of Education and La Trobe University Higher Education Provider HEP funds. The program’s executive officer is Dr Carolyn Malkin.

New schools from Melbourne’s north that will take part in the expanded program include Glenroy, Bundoora, Charles La Trobe, Gladstone Park and Epping Secondary Colleges. In Bendigo the new schools will be Bendigo South East, Crusoe and Eaglehawk Secondary Colleges and Weeroona College. – Dian Lipiarski

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New scheme to target regional skills shortages

Professor Dewar: making a difference to education, business and the community.

La Trobe University will also target skills shortages and boost higher education participation in central and northern Victoria by establishing a Pathways Education Hub where year 10, 11 and 12 students can obtain individualised advice on education and career options.

Vice-Chancellor John Dewar says the University’s Bendigo Campus will partner with Bendigo TAFE and Bendigo Senior Secondary College targetting advice to secondary school students across the region as well as improving their connection with local tertiary education providers.

The project is supported by a $1 million contribution from the Victorian Government’s Regional Partnerships Facilitation Fund.

Professor Dewar says the initiative will make a real difference, both for students who will have more local opportunities to take up higher education, and for local businesses who will have more access to skilled young people.

‘It will help industry attract and retain highly skilled professionals from within their local community and ensure these crucial sectors have a strong future.’

He says the University and its partners will review the program after two years to see if it can be expanded into other regional areas. – Tim Mitchell