Friday, May 13th, 2016

The award of scholarships to disadvantaged high school students of ability would be a more powerful way of lifting disadvantaged success in university than the present unlimited entry, according to the University of Adelaide.

Speaking at a CEDA post-Budget lunch on higher education, University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Warren Bebbington said his own educational experience demonstrated this.

"At my school, only a minority finished Year 12, and it never occurred to my father, who had left school at 14, that I should think about university study," he said.

"Being awarded one of the old Commonwealth Scholarships is what made me think about studying at university."

Professor Bebbington noted that both sides of politics are committed to the present demand-driven system, in which universities may accept as many students as they wish.

"A key purpose of the system was to lift the participation of disadvantaged students in university study. But such enrolment has increased less than 1% since the system began.

"The sure way to increase disadvantaged student success at university is by improving aspiration and preparation for university in disadvantaged schools, so their students can meet entry standards," he said.

"Simply removing limits on entry numbers is not the answer," he said.

The demand-driven system was reviewed by Kemp-Norton in 2014. "A little-noticed finding of that review was that school programs aimed at lifting numeracy and literacy are more plausible ways of lifting disadvantaged entry and achievement at university," Professor Bebbington said.

According to Professor Bebbington, Minister Birmingham’s post-Budget discussion paper sets out "reasonable and effective" ways of dealing with the accelerating cost of the university sector.

"But neither side of politics seems ready to tackle the root cause of the cost rise," he said. "Instead of spreading available funds ever more thinly, we should think how to properly fund a finite number of students with real aptitude for university study, chosen from all parts of society."

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