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Elitism on Campus?

Here at For The Record we like to bring you original content, written by us, but sometimes we can’t go past something we’ve seen elsewhere. An recent article published by The Australian, looks at higher education and what they coin elitism. The increase in enrolments from minority groups is a promising sign of hope for universities, however the required entrance scores create are causing debate.

While yes, you have to achieve a certain score to attend universities, with some being significantly higher than others, I personally have never seen it as an issue. I know some students, however did. When comparing both sides of the spectrum, both accepted and not, it’s interesting to see that yes, people do feel universities are being elitist. It highlights that a conversation needs to happen. And from that, whether or not something needs to change with how students are accepted into university schools.

It’s an intelligent article which really sheds a light into the universities that we all go to. Go on, have a read and let us know what you think in the comments.


Australia has been built on the notion of a fair go, and fair reward for hard work; regardless of postcode, schooling, economic background or ethnicity. Yet, the Group of Eight universities have turned their back on the principles that have made Australia great and are using budget repair as a fig leaf of modesty to account for an elitist and exclusionary approach to higher education policy.

The demand-driven system has opened higher education to more Australians than ever before. But most importantly, no policy in the last 30 years has been more effective in attracting and completing students from disadvantaged backgrounds and other key equity groups.

Enrolments for students with a disability have increased by 73.2 per cent, indigenous enrolments by 58.9 per cent, while low socio-economic student enrolments rose by 44.9 per cent. With this new, richer mix of university attendees, attrition rates across the sector remain comparable now to the rates prior to the introduction of the demand driven system.

Young indigenous people, students with a disability, regional students and economically disadvantaged students are attending universities as the first member of their families to do so in record numbers, and their success inspires others in their communities who may have previously thought the dream of higher education was out of reach.

Of course universities should do everything we can as institutions to ensure that students are supported to successfully complete their degree. The Australian Technology Network universities invest millions of their own funds into support programs. Our low SES, regional and indigenous students achieve success and completion rates higher than the national average.

When funding was cut to the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program that is designed to support those very students, the Go8 was silent. In its submission on the future of reform they paid lip-service to the notion of equity but provided not one example of how to achieve that — now we discover its plan for equity is to limit the number of students who can access university.

As outlined by the Grattan Institute, ATAR is an imperfect indicator of success at university. There is some correlation between ATAR and completion, but this further reinforces why we need programs like HEPPP to better target support for students who need it. Uncapping sub-bachelor places would help better prepare students for university, and is a better alternative than denying them access altogether.

While university is not for everyone, each and every individual might be right for university, and no policy or structures should arbitrarily deny any individual that chance, irrespective of social economic status or background. The system must support informed choice, supportive structures to assist completion and multiple entry points. Well informed and supported individuals will then make wise choices.

We welcome greater scrutiny on universities to ensure that our graduates are adequately equipped with skills for their working lifetimes. Work is already underway to improve transparency and we have embraced that.

The notion that this significant change in policy should be adopted due to budget constraints is flawed. Firstly, for every student that does complete they will earn an additional $1m to $1.4m over their working life, a significant proportion of which will flow back into government coffers via taxes. The focus must be completion, not exclusion. To reduce the number of people with tertiary skills is contrary to the bold ambitions of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. Suggesting that the savings should instead be invested in TAFE is ludicrous.

The sincere concerns about budget repair were missing when the Go8 called for more research funding, greater tax breaks for companies which work with universities, and tax relief to investors purchasing new shares in these companies. Seemingly, only disadvantaged students should be paying the price of budget repair.

At the core of the ATN’s mission is to provide every Australian the opportunity to pursue a world-class university education regardless of their social or economic background, ethnicity, gender or postcode. All universities signed up for the Keep it Clever policy developed by Universities Australia that embraced the demand driven system. It is in the best interest of our nation in the longer term.

A quick fix solution will not solve the problem. It is only with time that we will see the full impact of the demand driven system, noting that targets to achieve 20 per cent of low SES students attending university were set to be achieved by 2020.

Universities have the power to transform lives, open up new opportunities and empower people with the knowledge and skills to contribute positively to their community. A sustainable, accessible, and affordable higher education system is crucial in building an innovative nation. If we go back to a system where bureaucrats and elite institutions decide who gets a university education, Australia will suffer.

Source: The Australian

Author: Renee Hindmarsh

1 comment

  1. Great choice Eloise. I wonder what our students (local and international ) think about UWA in this context.

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