Students with very low HSC scores are being accepted for teaching degrees in most major universities throughout the country.
Figures released to a Senate inquiry show the University of Wollongong accepted students with Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) as low as 25.7, despite advertising the minimum would be 73.
The revelations have set off alarm bells about the quality of some Australian educators but the university sector argues low scores don't tell a student's full story and only represent a tiny number of teaching admissions.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said it was important to keep the figures in perspective.
“Just looking at the statistics alone, the number entering university with a low ATAR is tiny — making these lower scores extreme outliers. A mere two per cent of teaching students have an ATAR below 50,” she said.
A spokesman for UOW agreed, adding that while the university values ATAR as a useful indicator of a student’s academic ability, UOW considers it only one of several indicators of a student’s potential to succeed at university.
“UOW has run a very successful early admissions program for over 10 years and has seen excellent completion rates and graduate outcomes from the program,” the spokesman said.
“The Early Admissions pathway involves a rigorous process that looks at a student’s academic performance throughout years 11 and 12 up to and including the Trial HSC, as well as an assessment of non-academic factors including their resume, personal attributes relevant to the intended course of study and profession, and an interview by experienced academics.”
The Early Admissions program also includes opportunities to take into account personal circumstances such as disadvantaged or low socio-economic backgrounds and special needs.
“For privacy reasons we cannot provide specific information about the cases referred to in recent media coverage, but can confirm there were extenuating personal circumstances taken into account in all three. Only two of the three prospective students referred to in the article actually enrolled,” the UOW spokesman said.
Federal Education Mnister, Simon Birmingham, said Australians rightly expected that school students were taught by the best and, while scores were not everything, the data was alarming.
Mr Birmingham said while the commonwealth does not have the power to set minimum entry scores, it has introduced a literacy and numeracy test that teaching graduates must sit to confirm they have skills in the top 30 per cent.
He urged universities to only admit students likely to pass the test, and asked states and territories to ensure the testing is implemented.
But this was met by resistance by the Australian Education Union.
AEU president Correna Haythorpe said educators wanted the federal government to take the lead on introducing minimum teaching entry scores.
“There needs to be accountability mechanisms built in as well, so that universities don’t use backdoor approaches,” Ms Haythorpe said.