Good practice note: Making higher education admissions transparent for prospective students
Good Practice Note: Making higher education admissions transparent for prospective students – July 2019
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The document must be attributed: Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, Good Practice Note: Making higher education admissions transparent for prospective students – July 2019.
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TEQSA’s role is to safeguard the interests of all students, current and future, studying within Australia’s higher education system. We do this by regulating and assuring the quality of Australia’s higher education providers.
In carrying out this work, we produce a number of resources aimed at supporting higher education providers understand their responsibilities under the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 (HES Framework).
The HES Framework is a legislative instrument that is structured to align with the student experience or ‘student life cycle’. It sets out the requirements for provider entry to, and continued operations within, Australia’s higher education sector. The Standards for Higher Education within the HES Framework apply to all providers offering courses leading to a regulated higher education award, irrespective of where and how a course is delivered. All providers are required to demonstrate their adherence to the HES Framework.
Guidance notes are intended to provide advice and greater clarity when interpreting and applying selected areas of the HES Framework. They are not intended to be ‘how to’ documents, instead they outline what TEQSA will typically expect to see when assessing providers’ compliance.
Good practice notes
Good practice notes offer practical advice and examples of good practice to guide operations in regard to specific, higher education issues. The best practice guides are intended to support and promote the quality assurance approaches of providers.
More information and guidance on the HES Framework and our regulatory approach can be found at teqsa.gov.au
It has been a pleasure to work with TEQSA in developing this Good Practice Note about admissions transparency. I feel strongly that the higher education sector must work together and help prospective students understand admission processes for them to make informed choices about their preferred provider and course. An Australia-wide approach with a consistent framework across the sector that allows individuality is vital; one which is student-centred rather than provider-driven, to help students succeed. Our aim must be to ensure that students make the best choices for themselves, are stimulated by their learning and educational experience, and can develop a career path that enables them to maximise their potential.
Work on admissions transparency came to a head in Australia in 2016 with examination by the Higher Education Standards Panel of the level of access by prospective students to clear, comparable information about course entry requirements and options across the Australian higher education sector. Much work has since been done; by the Australian Government, TEQSA and the sector itself. This Good Practice Note extends the Advice on Admissions Transparency that TEQSA released in February 2018 by including background information, links to key resources, and further suggestions illustrated with examples of good practice (current at the time of publication) that providers have put in place.
In reviewing websites, it is apparent that all providers have started implementing the commitments made through the implementation plan developed by the sector-led Admissions Transparency Implementation Working Group (July 2017). There are many examples of good practice throughout the sector, and the ones selected are examples that others may find helpful; it is not an exhaustive list. The providers whose examples are used have not necessarily put all the recommendations in place but they have made a good start, and I hope that this Good Practice Note will be helpful to all providers.
My thanks go to all those who contributed directly and indirectly. A special thank you to Australian higher education providers for taking on the important task of reorganising and updating their websites and other materials to improve admissions transparency for students. My thanks to Anthony McClaran, Dr Karen Treloar, Dr Jen Drysdale, Ashley Orr and Dr Carolyn Malkin at TEQSA for their help and feedback, which is much appreciated. Many thanks to my family (Kevin, Sally and Catherine) who have gone above, and beyond, in various ways to help finalise the Good Practice Note. Many thanks also to my colleagues Dr Lin Martin and Dr Kerry Ferguson who provided feedback on drafts and helped in many ways.
This Good Practice Note does not have all the answers to make admission processes transparent from a student’s perspective. However, I hope it helps higher education providers to think about their websites, brochures and other written information; about whether their staff have been trained, sufficiently, to communicate advice to prospective students effectively, regardless of their background; and, most of all, to consider getting current and prospective student input to help them ensure they provide effective advice that students will understand.
Tertiary Education Consultant and Honorary Senior Fellow, LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management, University of Melbourne
TEQSA’s fundamental purpose is to safeguard student interests and the reputation of Australia’s higher education sector. We do this by assuring the quality of higher education through a proportionate, risk-reflective approach to regulation - an approach that encourages diversity, innovation and excellence while allowing providers to pursue their individual missions. This good practice note, the second in a series of resources produced by TEQSA, aims to further support and promote the quality assurance approaches of providers in relation to admissions transparency.
Following its acceptance of recommendations from the Higher Education Standards Panel, the Government funded TEQSA to assist with the implementation of improved transparency of admissions processes from 2017 to 2021. TEQSA was also a member of the sector-led, Admissions Transparency Implementation Working Group, which was established to develop and oversee a plan to put the Panel’s recommendations into action. The plan required TEQSA to conduct a formative evaluation in 2017 and then to conduct a summative evaluation of the sector’s responses to the Panel’s recommendations, later in 2019, with a report back to the Minister for Education in March 2020.
Admissions transparency means that prospective domestic undergraduate students can easily find good quality admissions information that allows them to compare courses and providers and make informed study choices. Without the right admissions information, prospective students may not even apply for a course, or they may make decisions that result in them dropping out, leading to poor student retention and reduced learning outcomes.
TEQSA engaged Janet Beard, an expert in higher education admissions policy and practice, to review provider implementation of the admissions transparency requirements and identify examples of good practice in April 2019. The publication of this Good Practice Note is timely as providers continue to implement the Panel’s recommendations on admissions transparency in the period leading up to September 2019, when TEQSA will embark on its summative evaluation of the sector’s success in a greater degree of transparency in admissions.
TEQSA remains committed to supporting providers to implement the admissions transparency recommendations. In addition to this good practice note and our Advice on Admissions Transparency, our Sector Assessment Team is available to answer any questions regarding implementation and the summative evaluation.
On behalf of all of us at TEQSA, I would like to thank Janet for her work and commend this Good Practice Note on admissions transparency for the consideration of all interested stakeholders.
Chief Executive Officer
Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency
This Good Practice Note is intended to complement the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s (TEQSA) Advice on Admissions Transparency (February 2018).
The phrase ‘admissions transparency’ refers to Australian higher education providers presenting clear information which helps prospective domestic undergraduate students, regardless of their background, understand the criteria and processes for admission to the providers’ courses. Such information should be clear, transparent and easily understood. Prospective students must be able to understand the information and compare providers and courses to enable them to make informed study choices. Information should also be presented so that parents, teachers and career advisers are able to understand the information so that they can support and assist students to make decisions about courses and providers.
This Good Practice Note presents Australian higher education providers with exemplars and specific practical advice to assist them to make the processes for admission to higher education institutions transparent for prospective students. Admissions transparency relates to the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 (HES Framework) and the relevant standards are outlined in Attachment 1. The advice in this Good Practice Note is aligned with the HES Framework and is focused on four main areas:
- Consistency and comparability
- Data presentation and quality
- How applicants are assessed
In October 2016, at the request of the Minister for Education and Training, the Higher Education Standards Panel (HESP) made recommendations to achieve greater transparency in higher education admissions for prospective domestic undergraduate students in a report called Improving the Transparency of Higher Education Admissions. A sector-led working group, the Admissions Transparency Implementation Working Group (IWG), was established to develop an implementation plan as a practical response (Final Admissions Transparency Plan, June 2017), the principles of which all key stakeholders endorsed. The Group subsequently provided updated common terminology and data definitions for use by providers, a glossary for public use, and admission information sets for each institution as a whole, and for their courses (Admissions Transparency Phase Two Common Terminology and Information Sets, July 2018).
Providers have been implementing the sector commitments and this Good Practice Note is intended to offer further assistance. The Good Practice Note is guided by the principles proposed by the HESP, which undertook the initial work on admissions transparency:
- A student-centred approach to the provision of information about admissions.
- Higher education providers have autonomy over their admissions policies, consistent with the requirements set out in the Higher Education Standards Framework.
- Access to clear information relating to admissions requirements and various entry pathways is to be made available to all applicants equally.
- The arrangements set out in [the] implementation plan apply equally to all higher education providers, universities and non-university higher education providers alike.
- Higher education providers are accountable for public claims against their stated admission policies.
- Improved transparency of higher education admissions policies and compliance with the terms of [the] implementation plan are not intended to add regulatory red-tape over and above what is necessary to comply with the Higher Education Standards Framework.
An increase in the diversity of Australia’s higher education provision and admission processes, especially following the introduction of the demand-driven funding system for undergraduate Commonwealth-supported places in 2009, has occurred. Under the demand-driven system, more Australians were able to gain entry to higher education, mainly public universities, by a variety of pathways. To add to the complexity of choice, there has been significant growth in independent and TAFE providers over the past 20 years. This expansion in the number and diversity of providers and courses provides welcome opportunities for prospective students. In the process, admissions requirements have become more complex and harder to understand, making it difficult for prospective students to make informed decisions about study.
The challenges have included a lack of comparable information about higher education entry requirements and the complexity of approaches, alternative pathways, career possibilities, support services available, and other student cohort information. In particular, there has been a lack of clarity about the use of the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR ) and the basis on which adjustment factors (previously known as bonus points) are awarded by universities. This lack of clarity has led to controversy and media commentary (Australian Associated Press 2018; Bagshaw and Ting 2016; Robinson 2018).
An important issue with admissions transparency is to ensure that entry into higher education is equitable, and that no type of student is favoured over another through admission processes based on gender, cultural background, socio-economic circumstances or demographic background. Harvey et al. (2016) note that with increasing diversity of admissions comes increasing opacity and a consequent risk of inequity. Harvey and Brett’s (2016, p.2) submission to the HESP about tertiary admissions emphasises that ‘The admissions system cannot be improved without recognising the importance of student equity’.
Harvey et al. (2016) also note the growth of ‘contextual’ admissions, where admissions pathways draw on contextual data such as the geo-demographic background of an applicant, school attended, and so on, to take account of the diverse circumstances of applicants and address any equity issues such as low socio economic status.
Similar to Australia, there has been a drive in both the UK and the US to move away from admissions systems depending on final school results and take other factors into account. In the case of the UK, the drive has been to use more contextual, individual data. The US has followed an ‘holistic review’ to use both cognitive and non-cognitive factors, in part to address race-conscious affirmative action to achieve cultural diversity. In Australia, around 70% of school leaver applications are still determined on ATAR alone.
In the UK, Steven Schwartz chaired the Admissions to Higher Education Steering Group [AHESG] that made recommendations to the Government for good practice in admissions. Their report recommended that all universities and colleges should adopt six principles of fair admissions, the first of which was that ‘a fair admissions system should be transparent’ (AHESG 2004, p. 7). In the US, numerous newspaper reports exist about bias against race, with examples being the Chronicle of Higher Education (Hoover 2019) and The Conversation (Perez-Felkner 2019). Other reports, such as those in The Guardian (Reeves 2019) and The New York Times (Medina, Benner & Taylor 2019), suggest that wealthy parents can buy a place in top universities and that legacy systems exist where the admission chances of children of alumni are boosted. Such reports indicate a concern about the lack of admissions transparency. Further information about the work undertaken to address admissions transparency and a timeline are in Attachment 2.
Australian Government-led initiatives
In February 2016 the Minister for Education and Training commissioned the HESP to advise ‘on options to improve the transparency of higher education student admissions, while minimising regulatory burden’. Following extensive consultation with higher education and secondary education stakeholders, the HESP released its report Improving the Transparency of Higher Education Admissions (October 2016). The Panel’s report placed students firmly at the centre of the admissions process and made 14 recommendations that the Panel advised were intended to:
- Achieve greater transparency through the use of common language about admissions processes and the publication of consistent information.
- Widen the accessibility of information to prospective students.
- Improve the comparability of information available from providers about their admissions processes and entry requirements.
- Enhance the accountability of higher education providers for the information they publish about their admissions policies.
- Ensure all higher education providers are subject to the same reporting requirements.
- Give students, parents, teachers and career advisors the knowledge and capacity to more easily navigate higher education admissions policies and processes.
One of the initiatives undertaken by the Government ‘to make finding information on higher education courses easier than ever’ is the development of the Course Seeker website. This provides information about providers and their courses from across Australia to enable, in effect, a ‘one stop shop’ for prospective students. Course Seeker also provides links to providers’ websites for further information about their courses and services. Nearly half of Australia’s providers are currently included in Course Seeker with the remainder being added progressively. The providers who are currently included are predominantly universities, which account for more than 90 per cent of the higher education student population, and hence the majority of prospective students are already being catered for by Course Seeker with the remainder to follow as further providers are included.
Course Seeker offers information about admission requirements by course and institution, and filters can be applied to help applicants narrow options by, for example, the state in which they wish to study, the type of course, the admissions criteria applicable to the prospective student, study mode, and so on. Up to four courses can be selected and compared side by side, similar to websites such as Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT), which ‘provides prospective students with relevant and transparent information about Australian higher education institutions from the perspective of recent students and graduates’. The QILT website is a further resource for students to make comparisons between institutions and study areas to help them select their preferred course and institution; data are provided on student experience, graduate satisfaction and graduate employment at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Providers are recommended to provide a link to QILT, as well as Course Seeker.
Upon requests from providers, TEQSA also developed a checklist (Admissions Transparency Checklist) which is designed to assist providers in developing information for prospective students to ensure they have covered all aspects of admissions transparency.
Over the course of 2017 and 2018, six agreed objectives were to be delivered through the actions set out in the IWG’s Final Admissions Transparency Implementation Plan (June 2017) and the further report which provided an updated specification of requirements in Phase Two Common Terminology and Information Sets (July 2018) (hereafter, this document will be referred to as the updated specification). These objectives were to be adopted by providers by May 2018:
- Consistent presentation of admissions information.
- Adoption of common admissions terminology.
- Revised ATAR-related thresholds and definitions.
- Tertiary admission centres (TACs) to adopt more consistent approaches and reporting and streamline interstate application processes.
- TEQSA monitoring and guidance on improved admissions transparency.
- A new national admissions information platform (established and found at the Department of Education and Training’s Course Seeker website).
The IWG also released quick reference documents regarding the changes that prospective higher education students will see in 2019 and beyond.
These documents are intended for different audiences and are available from the Department of Education’s website, as follows:
- Student learner guide
- Student with work and life experience learner guide
- Career adviser learner guide.
Examples of good practice
In addition to the materials developed around admissions transparency described in the previous sections, this Good Practice Note has been developed to highlight examples of good practice demonstrated by providers to help all providers fully implement the sector commitments to admissions transparency for prospective domestic undergraduate students. The examples provided are not necessarily consistent in every respect with the IWG recommendations but give very good examples of particular aspects of good practice. The examples are also not exhaustive; many other examples exist.
This document provides good practice examples and further advice, grouped into four categories:
- Consistency and comparability
- Data presentation and quality
- How applicants are assessed.
A checklist to assist providers to implement admissions transparency requirements is in Attachment 3.
Admissions information on a website or in a brochure is considered transparent and accessible if a prospective student can easily find the information they need to make a decision to apply for a course and choose their preferred provider, and can readily understand the language used.
The most important thing is to use simple and clear language in describing how applicants are assessed for a course and how they apply, whether this is in written materials or is used by staff emailing or talking with prospective students. When preparing materials, it is helpful to try to put oneself in the shoes of a prospective student and try to view the information through their eyes, rather than describe everything the provider offers. That is, try to be student-driven rather than provider- driven in developing and presenting information.
Good practice example 1: Admissions information is presented for the four academic background categories
Information for prospective students should be grouped for presentation to students from the different academic backgrounds as per the glossary at Appendix B in the updated specification and also attached to this Good Practice Note in Attachment 4.
- Group A - Higher education study
- Group B - Vocational education and training (VET) study
- Group C - Work and life experience
- Group D - Recent secondary education (within the past two years).
A description of each category should be provided so that prospective students can decide which category best applies to them. For example, ATARs are only used in admissions for applicants whose secondary education is within the last two years. If a student has an older ATAR, they should look to the information under the other three categories to find the information best suited to their needs.
Curtin University’s home page has a clear heading of ‘Future Students’ at the top of the page, from which a prospective student can choose ‘Undergraduate’ as an option and land on the page shown in Figure 1 which clearly establishes at the outset the four backgrounds from which students can search for further information. Alternatively, the student can select ‘How to Apply’ from the home page and reach the same page with just one click.
Curtin lists the four backgrounds in a different sequence to that above which is fine in this context as they are being used as a springboard for a person to find more information depending on their academic background. This is consistent with the advice given in the information set mock-ups (Appendices C and D of the updated specification) that the order is optional. If displaying information about the student and ATAR profiles described in Appendices C and D, then it is recommended to follow the order in the templates to make it easier for prospective students to compare providers. These profiles will be discussed in more detail throughout this Note.
Figure 1: Curtin University’s General Admissions Landing Page
Edith Cowan University (Figure 2) explains the options for prospective students and a little about each category whilst noting at the start that ‘you don’t have to meet all of the points listed’, which is encouraging for prospective students. A drop-down menu under each academic background elaborates on the entry requirements.
Figure 2: Edith Cowan University – What Are My Options?
Good practice example 2: Admissions information is easily accessible from the homepage
It is vital to enable prospective students to easily understand information about admissions by having a clear and simple provider website with features as follows:
- Make the location of admissions information obvious from the provider’s homepage using suitable headings, for example: ‘Future Students’, ‘Admissions Information’, ‘Apply’, ‘How to Apply’ or ‘Study’ (Curtin University is an example as shown in Figure 1).
- Avoid the use of jargon which is used in the sector and by providers as headings such as ‘Admissions Transparency’ or ‘Information Sets’ as this will mean little to prospective students as a trigger to find out more. Such language could be used in text, if elaborated. Also, avoid headings that assume that students understand TEQSA’s existence and its role, for example: ‘TEQSA information’ or ‘TEQSA Admissions’.
- Remove any obstacles to easy access, such as the need to register and provide contact details before access to information is made available. This can be off- putting and deter people from going further. People may be concerned about their privacy, and/or concerned they will be hassled and pushed to make a decision before they are ready.
Bond University has an example of a clear and easily navigable website (Figure 3). ‘Future Students’ is a clear heading at the top of the home page. When ‘Future Students’ is selected, the mouse can hover over ‘Study at Bond’ where the reader has a range of options and can decide whether they would like to look at, for example, ‘Undergraduate programs’, ‘Open Day’, ‘Campus tours’ or ‘Undergraduate admissions criteria’. In addition, the narrative under ‘Experience Bond University’ is warm and welcoming with phrases to attract prospective students (‘You are always visible’, ‘Your lecturers will know you’), and their parents who are encouraged to feel their children will be looked after.
Figure 3: Options to choose from ‘Future Students’ at Bond University
Good practice example 3: Websites are easily navigable to access information about admissions to different courses
In addition to landing on a home page and finding a heading that takes the reader to information about admissions, there are further things to consider in terms of navigating the website. An overarching consideration is to minimise the number of clicks required to navigate the website.
- Consolidate similar information on one page rather than spreading it across a number of pages. That is, in order to obtain the information a prospective student requires, keep the number of pages the student needs to access to a minimum.
- A common style should be maintained across academic and administrative divisions to make it simple for prospective students to navigate easily between information about courses offered by different academic divisions. Clear links should be provided from the homepage to admissions information that is presented on a provider’s website, especially where that site has different styles or domains from the homepage, or from the homepage to other providers where relevant.
- Ensure that information about whole-of-institution admissions is located at a higher level, or on a separate page, than course-specific admissions information. Where relevant, links from course-specific admissions information to whole-of-institution admissions information should be provided.
Kent Institute Australia (Kent) illustrates locating whole-of-institution information on one page with course specific information on a separate page. Figure 4 shows a summary page of admissions information for Kent as a whole, which is reached by holding the mouse over ‘Applying’ at the top of the home page and clicking on ‘Admissions Criteria’. If the mouse hovers over the heading ‘Courses’, followed by ‘Higher Education Courses’, then information can be followed through for each course offered by Kent. For each course offered, the student is directed back to the whole-of-institution admissions information via a drop-down under ‘Academic requirements’ shown in Figure 5 using the four academic backgrounds discussed in Good Practice Example 1. If expressions such as ‘mature age’ are used in a higher education provider’s description of student background, then they should be linked to the relevant academic background category, which is ‘work and life experience’ as is shown in Figure 5.
Figure 4: Whole-of-Institution Admissions Information on Separate Pages from Course-Specific Information – Kent Institute Australia
Figure 5: Whole-of-Institution Admissions Information Obtained From Course-Specific Information (Bachelor of Business) – Kent Institute Australia
Ensure that all information relevant to prospective students is accessible to the public and not in course information for current students. This should include information about:
- Course and unit details (often provided in handbooks)
- Important dates (including closing dates for applications)
- Appeals and grievances procedures
- Fees and charges
- Student services that may support a prospective student to study (for example, access to childcare, disability support, student grants, scholarships, and links to study allowance).
An option to explore the support services that Charles Sturt University (CSU) offers can be found with two clicks from the home page (Figure 6). A further click, or access via Uni Life from Future Students, leads the reader to a summary list of services shown in Figure 7 with the option to find out more information about each. A helpful addition to this, and the websites of other providers, would be to include childcare services as this can be a deciding factor for many prospective students, and helps to encourage diversity and opportunity.
Figure 6: Summary Advice About Support Offered by Charles Sturt University
Figure 7: Support Services Offered by Charles Sturt University
Good practice example 4: Provide simple opportunities to obtain additional information
Other useful features to consider which would assist people to obtain further information about admissions are:
- Consider facilitating access to information about admission requirements by providing a search function, a site map or a course finder facility. Many providers have a drop-down finder option whilst searching for information on specific topics in case the reader decides to change track and follow another lead. The drop-down appears whenever the reader starts scrolling down a new page. An example of the search function appearing at the top is shown in Figure 8 for the Australian Catholic University (ACU).
Figure 8: Opportunities for Further Information at Australian Catholic University
ACU also provides opportunities to ask questions and find out more information via ‘Frequently asked questions’ (FAQs), email through AskACU, live chat, phone or SMS shown in Figure 8. If AskACU is accessed, it provides all these opportunities for further information and includes face-to-face enquiries at the University’s various campuses as well (Figure 9). The drop-down finder described earlier enables a further search of ACU’s website in case a student decides to do this before contacting the University.
Figure 9: AskACU - Australian Catholic University
- Consider providing an email address and contact number for prospective students to ask questions about admission and describe the location of student administration offices which deal with queries from prospective students and the campus where relevant; ACU is a good example (Figure 9).
- Consider providing a link to the Open Day page all year round so that prospective students know what date it will be and can plan accordingly. Figure 10 shows an example from Collarts; an Open Day drop-down option is an option on the home page. Scrolling down below the image shown there is a heading which says ‘Begin your career in…’, below which it describes the nine creative areas in which Collarts offers courses describing them in terms of ‘learn how to create / mix / manage / implement…..’ depending on the creative area. These are practical descriptions of what a student could expect to learn and achieve from the courses, and the Open Day option on the same page lets them know when they could visit Collarts to find out more.
Figure 10: Collarts (College of the Arts Pty Ltd) Home Page With Open Day as an Option to Select
Federation University adopts a different approach. A banner on the home page shows several highlights, one of which advertises ‘Open Day Every Day’ as shown in Figure 11. When ‘Register Now’ is clicked, a warm and inviting message is shown. Whilst it requires registering, its message is about showing you around and filling you in on options. If you prefer to search the website for information, that is also available by area of interest or course, so it doesn’t feel like a sales pitch.
Figure 11: Open Day Every Day – Federation University
Source: https://federation.edu.au and https://federation.edu.au/openday
- If appropriate, include information about other ways in which prospective students can get to know the provider and the courses they offer, through information nights, virtual tours, campus tours, ‘student for a day’ sessions, or maps for self-guided tours.
Returning to Figure 3, Bond University is a good example of providing links to an array of information for prospective students. Bond University is also a good example of a provider demonstrating engaging with parents (‘Information for Parents’) and secondary schools (eg ‘Experience Day’, ‘Year 12 Extension Program’, ‘Headstart Day’). The activities also demonstrate ways of involving current students, for example, the Campus Tours are led by a Bond Student Ambassador.
Good practice example 5: Links from the provider’s page to the Tertiary Admission Centre should be direct to the provider’s page
It would be very helpful to prospective students if a link from a provider’s web page to the relevant TAC takes them to the provider’s page on the TAC, and not the TAC homepage. This would save them then having to navigate through the TAC’s website in order to find the relevant institution and course. A smart-link can be obtained from the TAC so that if the TAC rearranged its website in some way, the link would still transfer the student from the provider’s website to the relevant TAC page in which they were interested.
Figure 12 illustrates this navigation for Charles Sturt University (CSU) and the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) in New South Wales. The links shown require three clicks from CSU’s home page to reach CSU on the UAC website whether the reader goes via ‘Undergraduate’ and searches for a course, say Bachelor of Arts, to the UAC page with information about CSU, or if they start with entering, for example, Arts into the search engine on the home page.
Figure 12: A Link from CSU’s Website Takes the Viewer Directly to CSU on the UAC Website, Not UAC’s Home Page
Source 1: https://futurestudents.csu.edu.au/courses/humanities-social-sciences/ba…
Source 2: https://www.uac.edu.au/index.php/future-applicants/institutions/charles…
Good practice example 6: Provide information for students with different needs
Prospective students who have different needs must be able to access information which would help them with their application and understand how they would be supported if admitted to the institution. For example:
- Information on websites should be accessible to a wide range of people with disability. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Australian Government agencies are required to ensure information and services are provided in a non- discriminatory accessible manner.
- The Australian Government provides information at Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.0. These Guidelines cover ‘a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also often make your Web content more usable to users in general.’
- Consider providing a function which allows searching for information via entering a career rather than a specific course or study area. For someone who has little or no idea about higher education such as a first in family person, they may not know what course they need to do but may know that they are interested in a particular career. The University of South Australia adopts this approach very effectively, so a search for information can be done using career, course or study area (Figure 13). Figure 14 shows the result if ‘teacher’ is entered in the career search. No filters have been applied in this example but could be applied to narrow the options.
Figure 13: Find a Career or Degree – University of South Australia
Figure 14: Find a Teaching Career – University of South Australia
- Consider providing tailored products and support for prospective students such as Indigenous people, people with disability, people from a disadvantaged financial background, or people who would be the first in their family to undertake higher education. Ensure that this information is easy to find and access. Figure 7 (Charles Sturt University) provided some useful examples.
Using the case of first in family, it is important to think about how to help someone who may have no knowledge of higher education, and how they could best be helped to access and, importantly, understand admissions information. Providing information on a website alone may not suffice. In addition to making the information as simple as possible on websites and in brochures, provide opportunities to make an appointment to meet a staff member who literally takes them through the process step by step in a supportive environment, ideally in person, but alternatively via phone or teleconference. If face-to-face, this might be in small groups, but in some cases an individual approach may work better. Involving a student ambassador with a similar background may also be helpful either with a staff member, or alone if appropriately trained and employed on a casual basis. Many providers have a chat line prompt throughout their websites and/or offer the opportunity to visit the provider and discuss matters (ACU is an example shown in Figures 8 and 9).
Similarly, for applicants with disability, a personal approach may be required to assist them to understand how they can be supported, what mechanisms exist to help them with their application (if needed), what services exist to support them if they go ahead with their application and are successful, and what, if any, limitations may exist in their studies as a result of their disability.
The University of Adelaide lists its entry pathways (Figure 15) with one click from the home page which includes two avenues of support. These are the four academic backgrounds described in Good Practice Example 1 plus two preparatory /access programs. The ‘University Preparatory Program’ is designed for people who have never been to university or have not studied for a long time. The University also has a preparatory program and an access scheme for people who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. If admitted, the University has a number of support mechanisms for the students.
Figure 15: Entry Pathways – The University of Adelaide
Good practice example 7: Consult users about their experience when designing or updating a website
Academic and administrative staff who know their institution well have an in- depth knowledge of the policies and procedures in their institution and a shared understanding of higher education language and its extensive use of acronyms. When developing and updating websites and other information, they may unwittingly use language which is unfamiliar to those who are not yet immersed in the environment such as prospective students. There is also the risk that the information will favour students from families with English as a first language and those who have knowledge and experience of higher education.
To address such issues, consider establishing a reference group of students with different backgrounds to assist and provide feedback on this work. Such reference groups might include students who are relatively new to the institution and may still be unfamiliar with what the institution offers compared with later year students. That said, later year students will still bring useful eyes to inform the materials being prepared. Diversity amongst such groups is important. A number of providers have student ambassador programs (mentioned in Good practice example 3 in relation to Bond University), and part of their responsibilities could be to help with the design or updating of websites.
Such service to the institution could be recognised in some formal way as a contribution to the course in which they are enrolled or some other mechanism.
Also, consider asking secondary school students to read the website or brochure and identify any terms they do not understand.
Consistency and comparability
Admissions information is considered transparent if it is consistent and comparable wherever the provider offers information about their courses (including the website, brochures, handbooks, and TACs). Admissions information can be very confusing for prospective students, teachers and parents, and that confusion is compounded if the information differs across the website, brochures, handbooks, and information provided by the TACs. This can occur both within and across providers. Prospective students should be able to find admissions information that uses the same terms and covers the same types of information across all providers, as described in the updated specification.
Consistency and comparability are not the same as uniformity; a core information set does not mean that providers cannot present additional information, relevant to their context. Similarly, consistency in the approach to providing admissions information across providers is not the same thing as uniformity of admissions criteria. Adhering to this Good Practice Note does not compromise the autonomy of providers in relation to their admissions criteria.
Good practice example 8: Use consistent information across various platforms
Some approaches to adopt are:
- Present information consistently across the website, brochures, handbooks and any other materials, and importantly, make sure the information is consistent with the information in the relevant TAC.
- Ensure language is consistent between the various platforms used by the institution, and ideally, the look and feel will be similar.
- Consider publishing the public glossary that is included in Appendix B in the updated specification (attached to this Note as Attachment 4) and add any technical or other terms that might be institution or course-specific.
Some providers have developed their own glossary. For example, in a short glossary, the University of Queensland explains the changes being implemented, and they direct people to the TEQSA website for further information (Figure 16). This glossary lists previous terms and definitions, and provides the new terms to be used. This would be useful for prospective students if they come across both expressions, and for parents, teachers and career advisors who know the previous terms. But it won’t take much time to be irrelevant for school-leaver prospective students. At ACU, the focus of its glossary is on being sympathetic about the confusing terminology used in universities and has a much broader reach than admissions information but includes the relevant terms (Figure 17).
Figure 16: A Glossary of Admission Terms at the University of Queensland
Figure 17: ‘Uni Terminology Explained’ – Australian Catholic University
Good practice example 9: Use clear and simple language and remove the terms to be avoided
Consistent language should be used so that prospective students can readily compare courses and institutions. Providers should use the common terminology and data definitions defined in Appendix A and the public glossary at Appendix B of the updated specification. These definitions are also consistent with the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).
When updating admissions information, ensure all ‘terms to be avoided’ described in the updated specification (Appendix A, page 9) have been removed. These changes may prove a little challenging for those who have worked in higher education for some time to remember the correct phrases to use, but it is important for admissions transparency to ensure students can make informed study choices. Staff preparing websites, brochures, handbooks and other documented materials, and staff who deal with prospective students in person must be briefed and trained on the admissions transparency work, especially the terminology that should, and should not, be used.
Find and replace the following terms:
- ‘Forced offers’ - to be removed and included as part of adjustments or non-ATAR criteria, depending on whether ATAR was a factor in the selection process.
- ‘Bonus points’ - to be replaced by adjustment factors, that is, points which are added to an ATAR to derive a ‘selection rank’ for a particular course. The glossaries in both examples shown in Figure 16 (University of Queensland) and Figure 17 (ACU) define this expression.
- ‘ATAR cut-off’ and ‘Clearly-in ATAR’ – to be replaced by Lowest ATAR to which an offer was made or Lowest selection rank to which an offer was made, depending on the context.
Providers should let prospective students know what the lowest ATAR of the student to which an offer was made was, for each of its courses using the most recent data available. That is, these data should be updated regularly; at least once or twice a year depending on the number of intakes the provider has each year. Some institutions provide these data on a course by course basis. The University of Wollongong provides an ATAR profile on its course pages, accessed by expanding the Admission profile tab. The ATAR profile for the Bachelor of Arts is shown in Figure 18. The table shows the highest, median, and lowest ATAR and Selection Rank for students offered a place wholly or partly on the basis of their ATAR. To assist students in interpreting this data, definitions of the ATAR and Selection Rank are available by clicking the blue question marks. There is also a link to the ATAR-based Admission page, which provides more in-depth information on the difference between these two measures, as well as commonly available adjustments.
Figure 18: ATAR Profile for the Bachelor of Arts at the University of Wollongong
- ‘Recognition of prior learning’ (RPL), ‘advanced standing’ and ‘credit transfer’ are the terms that should be used to explain the credit available for previous learning. ‘Credit for Prior Learning’ is not in the glossary (Attachment 4) so if a prospective student wanted an explanation they would not find it, which might be frustrating.
Macquarie University has a detailed profile of what might be considered as RPL on its website, which a prospective student would find very encouraging and inclusive. Macquarie sets out two types of learning — formal learning, and informal and non-formal learning — via drop-down fields. Figure 19 shows Macquarie’s RPL description and the informal and non-formal learning types of learning drop-down field.
Figure 19: Recognition of Prior Learning – Macquarie University
Having a definition of credit is also important. Although one of the preferred terms is not used, Monash University clearly sets out what credit for prior learning means and describes the three recommended expressions (credit transfer, articulation and RPL). Monash provides a very useful tool to search the outcomes of previous credit applications, which would give a prospective student a good idea of the sorts of things taken into account (Figure 20).
Figure 20: Explanation of Credit for Prior Learning – Monash University
- Avoid using acronyms and jargon. As per Good practice example 7, consider testing readability and understanding of terminology by asking current students or secondary school students to read the website or publications, identify terms they do not understand and provide their thoughts on how best to present information.
- If adopting the new common terms or information sets is challenging, contact the TEQSA Admissions Transparency Team for advice:
- Email: email@example.com
- Telephone: 03 8306 2547
- Web: teqsa.gov.au/admissions-transparency
Good practice example 10: Provide training for staff involved with the preparation of written materials or communicating directly with prospective students
Staff involved with preparing websites, brochures and other written materials must understand the common terminology to be used as set out in the updated specification, and the terms to be avoided. Similarly, staff involved in talking directly to or emailing prospective students must also use the correct terminology so that they are consistent with any of the written materials a prospective student may have read.
Training for such staff, either face-to-face or online, about the terminology and the admission criteria of their institution is recommended. They can then speak with confidence to prospective students, whether in response to a telephone call, a discussion across the desk in a student contact centre, or more intensive discussions with students who may not be familiar with higher education, have English as a second language, or disability.
Good practice example 11: Provide data in the student and ATAR profiles in the format set out in the Phase Two common terminology and information sets
The student and ATAR profile templates in Appendices C and D of the updated specification provide important information for prospective students. The student profile should use data from the most recent student admissions at the institution to show applicant background, numbers and percentages of students in each category. Appendix C is the data for the institution as a whole and Appendix D is the data for each course. Appendix D also has an ATAR profile template to show students how ATARs were or were not used for a course in the most recent admission period. The information in these profiles is useful because it gives students some idea of the likely peer cohort of new students in the institution and courses in which they are interested, and what ATARs were used. Providers should avoid changing the order of the academic background data in the student and ATAR profiles so that the data can be easily compared between providers.
Figure 21 shows the data for Charles Darwin University set out in the recommended way, including the three subsets of data for students with recent secondary education (solely based on ATAR, ATAR plus any adjustment factors, and ATAR not used). Think Education (Figure 22) is another example of setting out the data correctly.
Figure 21: Student Profile for Charles Darwin University
Figure 22: Student Profile for Think Education
Data presentation and quality
Implementation of admissions transparency includes the presentation of a whole- of-institution student profile and course-specific student and ATAR profile tables. Prospective students rely on these data to guide them in their decision-making, so accuracy and maintaining the currency of the data is important.
The University of Queensland has adopted a useful process to help them correct any mistakes or present a piece of information more clearly to its audience. ‘See something that needs editing? Let us know’ appears on several webpages, and when pressed, expands to that shown in Figure 23.
Figure 23: University of Queensland – See Something That Needs Editing?
Good practice example 12: Student and ATAR profiles use the most recent data available
The purpose of the institution and course profile tables is to give an indication of what the likely student cohort would be if a prospective student enrolled in the institution and undertook a course. Things to take account of include:
- Ensure a reference period is specified at the top of the student and ATAR profile tables, as per the templates in Appendices C and D in the updated specification.
- Follow the instructions for masking data to maintain privacy and prevent derivation as provided in the updated specification. Numbers less than five should be masked to maintain privacy. It may be necessary to mask additional cells to prevent numbers less than five being derived. Avoid suppressing the total.
- Check that the sub-totals presented in the student profiles add up to the total and the proportions add up to 100 per cent.
Figures 21 and 22 showed data for Charles Darwin University and Think Education for their institutions as a whole. They show the application period used, the number of students enrolled from each academic background category add up to the total, and the percentages in each category are correct. Figure 24 shows the student profile and ATAR profile data at a course level using the Bachelor of Science offered at the Bundoora campus of La Trobe University as an example. The student profile table illustrates that there were less than 5 international students. Therefore, data for one of the recent secondary education backgrounds shows ‘Not Published’ to avoid derivation of the number in the hidden category. The reference period (Full Year 2018) is shown at the top of the tables.
Eastern College displays a student profile for the whole institution (Figure 25), and it has four categories of students with less than five, and whilst the gap between known enrolments and the total is small, it cannot be worked out how many were in each because the four categories have less than five.
Figure 24: Student and ATAR Profile for Bachelor of Science at La Trobe University
Source: https://www.latrobe.edu.au/ data/assets/pdf_file/0006/924423/bachelor-of-science-melbourne.pdf
Figure 25: Student Profile for Eastern College
Good practice example 13: Provide information on how an ATAR is calculated and how the selection rank is derived
The UAC provides a definition of ATAR shown in Figure 26. Providing a definition of ATAR or a link to a TAC’s website is recommended to ensure students understand the meaning, and that it is a rank, and not a score. The University of Sydney provides a definition of ATAR (Figure 27), as does Macquarie University, which also defines selection rank (Figure 28). These are helpful starts to understanding their meaning and the difference between an ATAR and a selection rank.
Figure 26: Definition of ATAR by UAC
Figure 27: Definition of ATAR – University of Sydney
Figure 28: Definition of Selection Rank - Macquarie University
The specific calculation of ATAR is different in each state and territory but the result is designed to be nationally equivalent. The Overall Position (OP) refers to a Queensland student’s position in a statewide tertiary entrance rank order based on their overall achievement in senior secondary subjects. Queensland will adopt the ATAR in place of the OP for students who commence Year 11 in 2019 and beyond.
Section 4 of the course information section in Appendix D of the updated specification sets out the information that is required; what an ATAR is, a selection rank, and the meaning of highest, lowest and median ATAR (with no adjustments), and highest, lowest and median selection rank. A selection rank includes the impact of any equity, subject or other adjustment factors made to an ATAR. A table template shows the ATAR profile for a provider’s course for the most recent intake period for which data are available. For each course, providers are required to present the ATAR column but providing the selection rank column is optional. The ATAR and student profiles for the Bachelor of Science at La Trobe University in Figure 24 illustrates the data required on ATARs and selection ranks for Science.
Things to consider including:
- Providing a ‘Minimum ATAR/Selection Rank required for consideration’ or a ‘Guaranteed Entry ATAR/Selection Rank’ is only necessary if an institution or the course has adopted this approach. However, if applicants are assessed based on minimum or guaranteed ranks, then these must be published. If a Guaranteed Entry ATAR/Selection Rank changes before the application closing date, it should be updated promptly.
- Ensure that the ATAR data for recent secondary education (within the past two years) are disaggregated into the recommended three sub-categories (admission is solely on the basis of ATAR, on the basis of ATAR plus additional factors, and ATAR was not a factor). These are shown in the student profiles in Figures 22, 24 and 25 (Think Education, La Trobe University and Eastern College respectively). Ensure that any recent secondary student selected solely based on special consideration is included in the ‘ATAR was not a factor’ category of the student profile.
- If a student profile, created using the template from Appendix D of the updated specification, includes students in the solely ATAR or ATAR plus additional criteria box, an ATAR profile should also be created, using the template from Appendix D of the updated specification and displayed on the provider’s website.
- Staff with responsibility for extracting these data for presentation in the institution and course tables are encouraged to record the step-by-step process of how they did it, so that the data is extracted in the same way in successive years and is therefore comparable.
- As recommended earlier, ensure that staff, who provide enrolment advice to prospective students, are trained to understand the new terminology, the terminology that is not to be used, how an ATAR is calculated, the difference between an ATAR and a selection rank, and how the selection rank is derived. This should also be explained on the website and in publications. If the provider or the TAC adjusts the ranking of applicants in ways that are different from other providers or TACs, they should explain this.
Good practice example 14: The course ATAR profile matches the course admissions information
Ensure that the course ATAR profile matches the course admission information. For example, if the course requires all applicants to attend an interview, ensure that the course ATAR profile shows the number of students selected based solely on ATAR is zero and ensure the course information is correct.
To demonstrate this, the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Visual Art) at the University of Melbourne has an interview and the presentation of a folio of work as part of its admission requirements (Figure 29). The University advises that applicants who meet the interview and portfolio requirements will be ranked on this basis, provided they meet the University’s subject pre-requisites and English language requirements. The student profile for this course for the 2018 admissions period shows N/A (not applicable) for the number of students admitted on the basis of ATAR alone or ATAR with adjustment factors (Figure 30) as these are not the basis for selection into this course.
Figure 29: Admission Criteria of an Interview and Portfolio for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Visual Art) – The University of Melbourne
Figure 30: 2018 Student Profile for the Bachelor of Visual Arts – The University of Melbourne
How applicants are assessed
Admissions information should assist students to appraise their prospects for success in applying for admission to a course. If the criteria on which assessment is based for prospective students from different academic backgrounds are not provided, this may deter a person from applying.
Good practice example 15: Provide the criteria which assessment is based on, particularly if assessment is not based on ATAR alone
Give the prospective student an understanding of how their application will be assessed. This is particularly important for applicants who fit more than one academic background group and for those who are not being assessed on ATAR alone. Consider explaining:
- The criteria upon which assessment is based, and why these criteria have been chosen.
- What types of professional or community experience and informal learning would be considered relevant?
- What expectations or guidelines the provider has in relation to portfolio, audition or interview requirements, and the weighting of those in relation to an ATAR or selection rank.
- The weighting of study, work and life experience in an assessment and how these may add value to an application.
- How an applicant who has completed a bridging or enabling course, a Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT) or other pathway program, is assessed differently from other applicants, if that is the case.
LCI Melbourne is a good example of setting out clearly what its expectations are in relation to admission into a creative or visual arts course. Figure 31 shows how it describes its selection interview and portfolio presentation as informal and friendly which is encouraging for prospective students, and it describes the sorts of things that might be included in a portfolio.
Figure 31: Selection Interview and Portfolio Requirements – LCI Melbourne
If this information is also available on a TAC website, ensure the information available from the provider is consistent.
Providers’ policies and procedures about Recognition of Prior Learning, Advanced Standing and Credit Transfer should be consistent with the admissions transparency recommendations discussed in this Good Practice Note and be readily available on a provider’s website, including any fees payable. Ensure that this information is clearly accessible to prospective students and is not limited to web pages for current students.
TAFE Queensland provides information about credit transfer as shown in Figure 32, and also provides a link to its policies and procedures, within which the policy around credit transfer can be found (Figure 33).
Figure 32: Information About Credit Transfer – TAFE Queensland
Figure 33: Policy on Credit Transfer – TAFE Queensland
Source: https://tafeqld.edu.au/about-us/policy-and-governance/policies-and-proc… credit-transfer-articulations-and-recognition-of-prior-learning.html
Consider including a list of application information (for example, birth certificate, other education results) and links to the forms that need to be provided so that prospective students can easily understand the documents they are required to submit with their application.
Three examples from providers of the information they specify about the documents required with an application for a course are:
- Eynesbury College provides a checklist for course applicants (Figure 34) which includes the links to apply, the documents required with the application, and the need for the documents to be certified.
- Melbourne Institute of Technology provides similar information and includes required documentation and hotlinks relating to applications for credit transfer from previous studies towards a course at the Institute (Figure 35).
- Sydney Institute of Business and Technology (SIBT) provides similar information and explains how to certify documents which is helpful for prospective students (Figure 36).
Figure 34: Documents and Online Links Required with an Application for a Course – Eynesbury College
Figure 35: Documents and Online Links Required for Application to a Course – Melbourne Institute of Technology
Figure 36: Documents and Online Links Required for Application for a Course - Sydney Institute of Business and Technology (SIBT)
Consider indicating to prospective students that they may find information from more than one background group is useful or relevant to them.
Good practice example 16: Provide information on the relevant types of professional or community experience and informal learning
Where relevant to an institution or course, provide information about the types of professional or community experience and informal learning and give examples so that prospective students can readily understand whether and how their experience may or may not be used in assessment of their application.
Macquarie University’s description of RPL shown in Figure 19 sets out in detail examples of evidence that Macquarie would consider as types of informal learning.
Good practice example 17: Provide detail on any expectations or guidelines for criteria that apply in addition to the ATAR, such as an audition or portfolio
Where relevant to an institution or course, provide information about how criteria (other than the ATAR), such as an audition or portfolio, are considered. Give examples, so that prospective students can readily understand how auditions will be managed, and what they are expected to perform; or what they should include in their portfolio and how it is to be presented. Swinburne University has portfolio guidelines (Figure 37) to assist students in its School of Design to seek exemptions or credit for prior learning.
Figure 37: Undergraduate Application Portfolio Guidelines - Swinburne University
Good practice example 18: Provide all details of eligibility for adjustment factors and the maximum total adjustments
Students who are eligible for adjustment factors will be able to determine what their selection rank might be if all the details of eligibility for adjustment factors and the maximum total adjustments possible are published. Consider co-locating information about the different adjustment factors available, and the programs that set aside places for particular groups (for example, Indigenous students or people with elite sporting ability). If information about an adjustment factor program is available on the TAC website, then provide a link to that page.
The University of Newcastle indicates (Figure 38) that the maximum adjustment points to be added to an ATAR is 12 points for high school students. Newcastle also shows access schemes they have in place and, where relevant, the maximum number of adjustment points that would apply to each are described. Each entry has links to take the reader to more information, including UAC in the case of Educational Access Schemes.
Figure 39 shows similar information provided by Bond University. Drop-down items have been selected in the screenshot to show the information about maximum adjustment possible, and adjustment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Figure 38: Selection Ranks, Entry Schemes and Adjustment Factors for High School Students – University of Newcastle
Figure 39: Adjustment Factors for Admissions at Bond University
Good practice example 19: Provide comprehensive information about how prior study is assessed
Present comprehensive information about how prior study is assessed. Figure 40 shows the information provided by the University of Tasmania. Consideration could be given to including a list of courses that are already recognised for Credit Transfer or advanced standing.
Figure 40: Recognition for Prior Learning – University of Tasmania
Good practice example 20: Provide a list of admission pathways for those who may not meet the assessment criteria
If the four academic background groups do not adequately reflect the basis on which students will be assessed, it would be useful to explain to prospective students how they relate to the way in which students will be assessed. For example:
- Applicants with ATARs more than three years old may want to know if they are competing for a place alongside applicants with recent secondary education, or whether they will gain entry based on their work experience (work and life experience).
- If terms such as ‘school leavers’, ‘non-school leavers’, ‘adult entry’ and ‘mature age’ are used, explain how they relate to the four background groups.
- Consider supporting prospective students who may not meet the assessment criteria of the four background groups by providing a list of admission pathways such as bridging courses. That is, any option (and links to further information) that will enable prospective students to meet the entry requirements of their chosen course.
One example of a pathway program is the Open Foundation offered at the University of Newcastle that is for students who do not have the qualifications required for direct entry (Figure 41). Figure 15 showed entry pathways offered by the University of Adelaide, in particular the University Preparatory Program for those who have never been to University or have not studied for a long time, and a preparatory program and an access scheme for people who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Figure 41: A Pathway Program Offered at the University of Newcastle
Attachment 1: Admissions transparency and the Higher Education Standards Framework
The relevant Standards relating to admissions transparency in the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 are (summarised):
Domain 7 (Representation, Information and Information Management)
7.2.1 Information for students is available and accessible, accurate, relevant and timely.
7.2.2 Plain English information is available prior to acceptance of an offer.
7.3.1 A repository of publicly-available current information about the higher education provider’s operations that includes indicative total student enrolments and a list of all higher education courses of study that are offered, including indicative estimated annual enrolments.
These Standards in Domain 7 explicitly relate to the provision of information for prospective (and current) students being clear and transparent. If providers fully implement the HESP’s recommendations about admissions transparency, they will meet the requirements of these Standards.
The focus of this Good Practice Note is in relation to these Standards in Domain 7, but there are Standards in other domains, which prescribe particular requirements and define standard terminologies that must be used by higher education providers. Whilst these are content-specific and not about the transparency and communication of information per se, they have implications for admissions information and its availability of which providers should be mindful. For example, when writing or updating policies and procedures that relate to student admission requirements and which, at some point, will be accessed by prospective (and current) students, then the language and terminology used in their preparation should be considered. Meeting admissions transparency requirements is not an assurance that the Standards in these other domains (other than the ones in Domain 7 listed above) will be met. These other Standards (summarised) include:
Domain 1 (Student Participation and Attainment)
1.1.1 Admissions policies, requirements and procedures are documented.
1.1.2 Students are informed of their rights and obligations.
1.1.3 Conditions of study and contractual arrangements relating to admissions.
1.2.1 Assessment of prior learning.
Domain 2 (Learning Environment)
2.2.2 Recruitment and admission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
2.3.1 Students are advised about support services available.
2.3.2 Procedures and support services available to students with adverse personal circumstances.
2.3.5 Critical-incident policy together with readily accessible procedures.
2.3.4 A safe environment is promoted and fostered.
2.4.1 Mechanisms for reporting grievances.
Domain 5 (Institutional Quality Assurance)
5.3.7 Course evaluation and improvement informing admission criteria.
Domain 7 (Representation, Information and Information Management)
7.1.1 - 7.1.5 Responsible (i.e. neither false nor misleading) representation of study offerings.
Attachment 2: Timeline of work undertaken to address admissions transparency
The following table provides an overview of the extensive work the Government, TEQSA, peak bodies, TACs and higher education providers undertook to develop and implement the recommendations on admissions transparency in higher education since 2016.
The Sydney Morning Herald published an article about NSW universities admitting students with ATARs as low as 30, which prompted the (then) Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, to seek advice from the Higher Education Standards Panel (HESP) [February 2016] on options for improving the transparency of student admissions. The HESP consulted from April 2016 and received 82 submissions.
Following extensive consultation, The HESP released the report
The Government reported it accepted the HESP’s 14 recommendations.
The sector-led Admissions Transparency Implementation Working Group (IWG) was established, with support from the Department of Education and Training, to develop a practical response to the HESP’s recommendations.
The IWG circulated a draft Implementation Plan for consultation and received 54 submissions.
The IWG published the Admissions Transparency Implementation Plan (Implementation Plan). In Phase One, providers were required to make best endeavours to implement the requirements by August 2017.
TEQSA commenced a formative evaluation of provider progress towards implementation of Admissions Transparency and reported its findings to the IWG in November 2017.
The IWG published Admissions Transparency Phase Two Common Terminology and Information sets; an update of the specifications for common admissions terminology and the information sets, due for sector wide implementation by May 2018 to support domestic undergraduate applications to study in 2019 and beyond.
TEQSA released its Advice on Admissions Transparency, based on the findings of its formative evaluation (with feedback from IWG, providers, TACs, students and peak bodies).
TEQSA held five capital city forums for 250 higher education administrators responsible for the implementation of admissions transparency. The questions and answers from the forums were circulated to all providers.
The IWG published a minor update of the specifications; Admissions Transparency Phase Two Common Terminology and Information sets, which now defines median and highest ATAR to which an offer was made, and updates guidance under ‘Essential requirements for admission’. The IWG also provided information set mock ups [whole of institution and program/course] on their website.
Attachment 3: Checklist of minimum requirements for provider implementation of admissions transparency
|Is admissions information accessible?||
Information about admissions is easy to find
|Is admissions information consistent?||
Information in one place does not conflict with the same information in another place
|Is admissions information comparable?||
Information is in the format required by the Implementation Plan so that prospective students can easily compare it with other courses
|Is admissions data presented well (without error)?||
The data in the student profile and the ATAR profile for both whole of institution and each course is presented correctly
|Can prospective students easily understand how they will be assessed?||
All of the information that leads to an application outcome is available on the provider’s website
Attachment 4: Appendix B from Admissions Transparency Phase Two Common Terminology and Information Sets
Appendix B: Public glossary for information users
This appendix sets out a select and slightly simplified glossary of common admission- related terms that can be made available to information set users who may wish to seek clarity on the meaning of terms used in the institution’s admissions information. Whilst not a requirement, it is suggested that a link to a copy of this glossary be available from the institution’s main access point for admission-related information.
Glossary of common admission-related terms and their meaning
The following common admission-related terms and definitions have been committed to by Australian higher education providers, tertiary admission centres and other related bodies, to ensure consistency in the presentation of admission requirements across courses and institutions.
Any one of the options available to a prospective higher education student that will enable them to meet the entry requirements of their chosen courses.
The following grouping of applicants is used to help prospective students, family and others easily find the admission information most relevant to their circumstances. The groupings do not themselves determine how an application will be assessed but direct an information seeker to the most useful information.
- Higher education study
Applicants whose highest level of study enrolment since leaving secondary education is a higher education course, whether at a university or non-university provider.
- Vocational education and training (VET) study
Applicants whose highest level of study enrolment since leaving secondary education is a VET course.
- Work and life experience (includes less recent secondary results)
Applicants who left secondary education more than two years previously and have not undertaken VET or higher education study since then.
- Recent secondary education
Applicants whose admission is based mostly on secondary education undertaken at school, TAFE or other VET or higher education provider (Australian or overseas equivalent) that was completed (or will be) in the current year or within the previous two years.
The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is a ranking from 30 (lowest) to 99.95 (highest) agreed by COAG as a nationally equivalent measure of a person’s relative academic ranking within their complete age cohort in the year they graduated from senior secondary school (including those who did not complete Year 12 or completed but were not eligible for an ATAR). The ATAR is derived from the scaled scores achieved for senior secondary school subjects. The specific calculation used is different in each state and territory but the result is designed to be nationally equivalent.
These only apply to offers of places that are made wholly or partly on the basis of an applicant’s ATAR. Not all institutions use ATAR to determine eligibility. Different institutions may use only some of the following types of eligibility thresholds:
- Lowest ATAR to which an offer was made
The lowest ‘raw’ or unadjusted ATAR of an applicant to whom an offer of a place was made in the relevant year or year-to-date.
- Lowest Selection Rank to which an offer was made
The lowest Selection Rank of an applicant to whom an offer of a place was made in the relevant year or year-to-date (including the consideration of any adjustments the applicant may have been eligible for).
- Median ATAR [or Selection Rank] to which an offer was made
The middle ATAR [or selection rank] of all applicants to whom an offer of a place was made in the relevant year or year-to-date.
- Highest ATAR [or Selection Rank] to which an offer was made
The highest ATAR [or selection rank] of an applicant to whom an offer of a place was made in the relevant year or year-to-date.
- Minimum ATAR [or Selection Rank] required for consideration to enter in next intake
For use where a threshold minimum ATAR or Selection Rank must be achieved to be considered for admission to a course or institution.
- Guaranteed Entry ATAR [or Selection Rank]
Where achievement of a specified ATAR or Selection Rank (as appropriate) will guarantee acceptance into a course or institution, subject to any non-ATAR criteria being met, such as prerequisite study or English language proficiency.
Often referred to previously as ‘bonus points’, these are additional points that may be used in combination with an applicant’s ATAR to derive a person’s course Selection Rank. Adjustments do not change applicants’ ATARs, but change their Selection Rank for a particular course or courses. Common types of adjustment factors are:
- Elite Athlete and Performer adjustments
Adjustments available on the basis of the applicant’s sporting or artistic prowess.
- Equity adjustment
Adjustment available on the basis of characteristics associated with disadvantage.
- Location adjustment
Adjustment available on the basis of the applicant’s proximity to the institution offering the course.
- Subject adjustment
Adjustment available on the basis of the particular relevance of a secondary subject to the academic requirements of the higher education course.
- Maximum adjustment
The maximum total adjustments possible to an applicant’s Selection Rank from the combination of all adjustments they are eligible for.
A form of credit for any previous learning (Australian Qualifications Framework definition) – see also the definitions for ‘credit transfer’ and ‘recognition of prior learning’.
A course designed to cover subject knowledge, which assists students to gain knowledge in specialist areas that are a core component of the course. If a course requires a prerequisite in an area that students have not studied or worked with before, a bridging course will help students to bridge the gap in that knowledge and gain admission.
A process that provides students with agreed and consistent credit outcomes for components of a qualification based on identified equivalence in content and learning outcomes between matched qualifications (Australian Qualifications Framework definition).
Direct application to provider
Application made directly to a higher education provider rather than through a tertiary admission centre.
Where an offer of enrolment is made to a recent secondary school student prior to release of ATARs or equivalent (e.g. OP in Queensland, IB). Such offers are generally conditional on other requirements being met, such as successful completion of a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education or achievement of a specified minimum ATAR.
A course designed to provide students with skills needed for success in further study, to assist in the transition to tertiary education – for example study techniques or English language skills. Successful completion helps prepare a person to be admitted to a course that leads to a higher education award.
Experience based entry schemes
A selection method used by higher education providers to assess and select students who may not have educational qualifications sufficient for an offer of admission to a course but who have other relevant work and life skills and experience that make them a suitable candidate.
International Baccalaureate (IB)
Formerly known as the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) is an international educational foundation founded in 1968 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The IB Diploma program is a senior secondary education curriculum and assessment framework offered by some schools as an alternative to the Australian National Curriculum and overseen by state and territory curriculum and assessment authorities. Australian tertiary admission centres convert IB scores to a notional ATAR or QTAC Selection Rank, enabling IB students to be ranked for tertiary entrance alongside their peers.
Refers to the series of dates on which offers of higher education places are issued to applicants throughout the year, whether through a tertiary admission centre or directly by a higher education provider.
The Overall Position (OP) refers to a Queensland student’s position in a state-wide tertiary entrance rank order based on their overall achievement in senior secondary subjects. It indicates how well a student has done compared to all other OP-eligible students in Queensland. Students are placed in one of 25 OP bands from OP1 (highest) to OP25 (lowest). Queensland students seeking admission to higher education in other states can have their OP converted to an ATAR. Interstate students looking to study in Queensland can have their ATAR converted to a Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) Selection Rank. Queensland will adopt the ATAR instead of the OP for students who commence Year 11 in 2019 and beyond.
Recognition of prior learning (RPL)
A process used to assess an individual’s relevant prior learning (including formal, informal and non-formal learning) to determine the credit that may be granted towards completion of a qualification.
A recommendation from a school or other secondary education provider on the abilities of a student. Previously referred to by some as a principal’s recommendation.
The ranking that tertiary admission centres and most universities actually use to assess admission to a course. A person’s course Selection Rank can include their ATAR, any adjustments they are eligible for, such as equity or subject adjustments, other contributions calculated on the basis of work experience or previous non-secondary study, portfolio assessments, results of the Special Tertiary Admissions Test, other supplementary tests, etc.
Application made through a tertiary admission centre, namely QTAC, UAC, VTAC, SATAC, TISC and University of Tasmania, in relation to applications to study in that state.
AAP – see Australian Associated Press
Admissions to Higher Education Steering Group 2004, Admissions to Higher Education Review: Fair admissions to higher education: recommendations for good practice, AHESG, retrieved 7 June 2019.
AHESG – see Admissions to Higher Education Steering Group.
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Robinson, N 2018, ‘Students with the lowest ATAR scores being offered places in teaching degrees: secret report’, ABC News, 18 September, retrieved 7 June 2019.