University of Otago to limit entrants – your thoughts

By Grant Jacobs 09/06/2010 15


university_of_otago_new_library__inside_small
(Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Today’s Otago Daily Times runs with a feature story that the University of Otago is to limit enrolments to first year courses in a two-tier fashion next year. Some might recall this is the opposite of a previous decision by the University Council that there will be no limitations on first-year enrolments at the University of Otago next year (Dec 2009). This comes with other tightening measures mentioned in the latter article.

Full details are not available, but the basic idea is to provide unrestricted entry to well-qualified students (i.e. those with good marks at high school) with the remainder of applicants to run the gauntlet, as it were.

A side effect of this – at least in principle – is that ’merely passing’ year 13 will not necessarily be enough to claim a spot at the University of Otago.

There is an interesting detail here: the entry qualifications will be based on year 12 qualifications, not year 13, as the latter arrive too late to be considered. High school teachers and prospective university students may wish to take note of this.

It will be interesting to hear how they intend to process the non direct-entry students and what factors they will consider, if any.

What are your thoughts on limiting entries?

Those from overseas are welcome to chip in too: comparing notes is always interesting!


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15 Responses to “University of Otago to limit entrants – your thoughts”

  • In SA, enrolments were definitely capped, and getting a university education over there was also quite a bit more expensive than it is here.

    I think it’s perfectly fair to cap enrolments – university is a privilege, and should be worked for.

  • What’s not fair is basing it on the Year 12 results, especially for students intending to go to Otago next year. These prospective students didn’t know that it was their Year 12 results that are going to determine whether or not they get in on the first cut.
    But even for students in year 12 this year, I still don’t agree with this decision. There are many students who for lots of reasons don’t really settle down academically until their final year of secondary school. They will be at a disadvantage.

  • Aimee has a good point – a university education is a privilege and needs to be worked for.
    However, it has always concerned me that many university students haven’t really thought through their career aspirations and seem to blunder into university programmes for the wrong reasons (e.g. MD’s who graduate and find it isn’t all they thought it would be). I think access to better career advice would be one way to make our universities more effective.

  • Michal makes a good point. Doesn’t research show that the human brain doesn’t mature until the early 20’s. Anecdotally I’ve also found students who enter education later in life are more motivated and focused. Some students seem to go straight from school to uni without much consideration of their future career – they just want to get the “university experience”.
    If entry is based on year 12 results then why should students bother studying in year 13? In fact couldn’t they just take the year off?

  • Hi Aimee,

    I agree university is a privilege. Historically NZers qualified for that privilege through a high school qualification. It was once known as University Entrance, with the final year being University Scholarship. This (potentially) shifts who grants the entrance privilege, from the schools to the universities. If taken to an extreme, this would be a bit of a sea change for NZ.

    Also, I wonder if it might effectively create tiers within the universities?

  • Michael,

    If the year 13 results come too late, wouldn’t the current schemes also be dependent on year 12 results?

    I have a suspicion Alison will know the answer to this.

    *Does a trans-island wave, from the lower South Island to the mid-North Island* Alison, we need you! :-) (I’m embarrassing, aren’t I?)

    PS: To add to what I wrote above, I *think* Auckland already have limited entry — ?? Certainly individual courses have had limited entry for years. (Medicine being the one I know best, but there will be others.)

  • DrMike, (in reply to your first comment)

    I have similar thoughts*, but I think it’s also worth considering that this may be more true of the generation before the “full fees” were brought in than the current generation.

    When “full fees” were first brought to NZ universities I felt that an alternative option might have better suited NZ. Bit of a long story here, might find time to write it up if I think it still has relevance.

    I wonder if work experience would be more effective than career advice on it’s own.

    * See point 3 of my earlier post of student advice:

    http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2009/11/29/advice-for-students-heading-to-university/

  • University is most definitely a privilege. England and Wales have devalued university degrees by lowering the entrance standards over the years. Changing the way A levels (exams taken at 17/18) were graded also affected that entry requirement – introduction of an A* grade but lowering the pass mark created a mass of students eligible. Lowering standards to get bums on seats after the introduction of student loans has definitely had a detrimental effect on the standard of graduates. Many students have found that they now need to do a postgrad qualification to set themselves apart from everyone else. Finding someone suitable for a given role therefore gets harder because everyone applying has a degree but on closer inspection many of them shouldn’t have been awarded.
    Raising the bar for entrance to uni is the only way as far as I can see to ensure continuing high standards. Some Stage 1 courses are now, quite frankly, appalling in the low standards that are accepted as passes. I also think that English language skills must be assessed at a relatively high standard before someone can do a course. I am sick of seeing bad grammar and incorrect punctuation from university graduates and some of the best grammar comes from students whose second language is English.
    Why can’t we encourage kids to think about other training opportunities other than academic? Where are all the plumbers and electricians and carpenters on a weekend when the house is falling down after a broken water heater?
    I also agree that academic planning would be of assistance – I went to University because everyone else did and it never entered my head to do anything else. I ended up with two degrees that led me to no job and having to retrain at the age of 29 – I was 32 before I finally decided what I wanted to be when I grew up despite a Careers Adviser at school determining that I would be best suited to a career as a market gardener…forensic scientist/market gardener – the similarities are striking (NOT!).
    It’s a multi-pronged approach and some students will not make the right choice first time.

  • The year 13 results arrive with the universities at the same time (mid-January) that students receive them. The universities are unable to confirm new students’ enrolments until those results are available – we can offer a place conditional on the L3 NCEA results being OK (not just for UE but in some cases for entry into particular programs eg engineering), but nothing’s final until we see the actual grades. So I can’t really see where Otago is coming from, I’m afraid.(Perhaps they’re concerned that good students who don’t receive an immediate response might take their enrolment elsewhere – our experience this year was that a lot of students put in applications for several institutions at once. But still, UE is contingent on performance in L3, so I would have thought they can’t make a final decision until those data are out…)

    And as Michal says – L2 results are not necessarily a particularly good indicator of likely university success. Nor is it universally true that L3 results show what a student will be capable of at the tertiary level. There’s a report just out (it was discussed at a couple of meetings I attended last week but I’m darned if I can remember the author’s name) presenting data showing that a student from a low-decile school, who hasn’t done particularly well in their final year there, can perform extremely well at uni after a ‘gap year’ (& may outperform students from high-decile schools). Otago’s move, if emulated by everyone else, would seem likely to block such students from attending uni at all.

  • This is a very interesting discussion. Anna makes a good point about the trade professions. A good electrician or plumber could probably make more money than your average scientist. And it’s not like we have an overabundance of them. There was an interesting article on this in the Your Weekend supplement to the Chch press last weekend. It talks to a philosophy PhD graduate who retrained as a mechanic, as well as someone who chose a trade over university and hasn’t looked back.
    I am a strong advocate of good careers advice; the only advice I got at school was not to do science at uni but that law, medicine or accountancy were where the money was. Luckily, I already had the “science bug” so I promptly ignored this advice and have never really regretted it.
    I regularly talk to high school students about their options in tertiary science. Although I work for a polytechnic, I always advise students on what I know about the different universities programmes that might interest them as well as our own programmes. (I’m sure the Med Lab Tech degrees at some institutions “owe me” :-)
    We may find this situation oscillates – once we are out of the recession the government may increase the efts caps for tertiary.

  • Grant, enjoyed the article you referenced. Solid advice indeed for anyone starting uni (and most of it also applies to learning anywhere as well)

  • Arguments about devaluing degrees by allowing more broad access to universities are bogus.

    Why are we afraid of having a better and more widely educated population?

    On the whole restricting access to universities is a step in the wrong direction. Restricting access on a grades basis prevents people from furthering their education based on mistakes or an earlier lack of motivation, etc. This is unfair. It also has an unfair discriminatory effect on Maori and Pacific Island students, who often perform below Pakeha at high school level, or students who attend high schools with poorer outcomes.

    I would also be interested to see comparisons between high school grades and success in university. I received very mediocre grades at high school (under the old system) but during my tertiary education my grades were consistently ‘A’s. Under the new rules I may not have been able to gain entrance to Otago University at all.

    Instead of limiting access we should be correcting the problems with primary and high school education that result in so many poor performing students and the large variation in outcomes for people of different backgrounds. We should also be trying to provide better and more realistic career and education guidance to school leavers and adults wanting to return to education.

    Not everyone is suited or even wants a university education, but that decision (and it need not be permanent) should be made by individuals with support of family, friends and qualified and experienced advisers, not by an arbitrary formula.

    Also – the suggestion of there being no money to fund more places at universities is not a robust one. It is just a matter of priorities.

    James

  • James, the matter of “there being no money to fund more places” is one that needs to be taken up with the current government. At the moment they will only fund a certain number of places. If tertiary institutions exceed the number of EFTS (equivalent full time students) they have been allotted the government can actually take money away from them.
    Tertiary institutions are now trying to work out the best way to deal with this. It makes sense to try and identify and select the students most likely to succeed but as you and others have pointed out, using year 12 marks is not necessarily the best way to do this. Can you suggest an alternative approach? Maybe a pre-uni exam?
    Your point about fixing the secondary system is a good one, hopefully the government continues to fund this area.
    Two key issues for me, are that there is always the opportunity for mature students to enter university, and that good career counselling is available to everyone (sound like a broken record with regards to career counselling, but I think it is absolutely vital).

  • I think the point about the maturity of students is a key one. If I use myself as an example, it is slightly extreme but it may outline a few truths.

    At school I was an excellent student. The routine and structure available at my school allowed me to reach the top 25 of Scholarship students in the country.

    Upon entering university, the distractions and all the concerns that come with fending for yourself in the world made me fail terribly. I knew exactly what I wanted to do since I was 14 (molecular biology) and I learnt a great deal, I just failed 75% of my courses over a 4 year period. Subsequently I now have a shocking tertiary academic record and my university (which will remain nameless) will not take me on to finish my degree.

    I did however grow up eventually (at around 23) and got lucky to get in with a good university professor who saw potential. I worked for him as a summer student and then for 12 months as a researcher assistant before being offered a job at a biotechnology company. Over the last two year I have published 3 solid research papers in high impact journals, including one as first author and continue to contribute positively.

    The message is that people do mature at different ages, regardless of background, and the more restrictive we become in our tertiary education sector, the more we push “outliers” like myself out of the system.

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