The University was surprised last week to see reports of large discrepancies in ATAR cut-offs, and the admissions rank used by universities to make offers to students.

It was disappointing to see complex university admissions data being misrepresented both here and across NSW to present a picture of declining standards. At a time of pride for so many applicants and families, celebrating the offer of a place for admission to university, seeing their achievements undermined by distortions in the interpretation of UAC admissions data is extremely unfortunate.

It is important to clarify at the outset: the University of Newcastle will never admit a student to a degree that we do not believe is capable of succeeding in their studies. The data on which assertions of slipping standards are being made is incomplete: first, they relate only to the main round of offers, so exclude approximately half the offers we have made to applicants. Drawing conclusions about percentages of students admitted to programs based on incomplete data is misleading.

Secondly, the ATARs quoted appear to be ‘raw’ ATAR data, which is a simple rank calculated by an algorithm. Each admission is based on more than an algorithm. It is a complex judgement about an applicant’s track record, accomplishments and – most importantly – their potential, complexity that has been largely ignored in the hyperbolic headlines of the past week.

Raw ATAR is not a reliable guide to someone’s capacity to achieve success in higher education. It is a part of a system developed in the days when universities had a capped quota of places available to applicants, which is no longer the case under the demand-driven system. Now, we admit any student with the talent and commitment to succeed. How can it be, when over 60% of University of Newcastle applicants to undergraduate degrees are not current school leavers? Their raw ATAR does not reflect their life experience, their professional skills, their work ethic – so our admissions system must.

The University evaluates each applicant by giving them a selection rank. The raw ATAR is part of this, but the rank also takes account of many other factors including school recommendations, the impact of an applicant’s location on their performance in school, particular subject achievements that are known to be indicators of success, auditions, portfolios and interviews for Indigenous applicants.

If the University chose to use ATARs as the sole basis for admitting students, it would unfairly preference those fortunate enough to go to the very best schools. The University of Newcastle is a university for everyone with the talent to succeed.

Accounting for the many factors that make successful student allows us to make well-informed judgements on our admissions, but we also have other options for those who may need additional preparation. The University’s enabling programs, which have a record of success over more than 40 years, and our pathways through from TAFE and other educational institutions provide important alternative pathways for many students.

We warmly welcome our commencing students to the next stage of their educational journey. You should be proud of your achievements in joining a university ranked in the top 300 worldwide. We look forward to working with you as you fulfil your potential.

Professor Andrew Parfitt is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at the University of Newcastle.

This piece originally appeared in the Newcastle Herald.