The Scots College and University of Sydney controversy explained

April 08, 2015
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Did you sit the HSC to get into the course you’re currently doing?

If the answer is “yes” then you, dear reader, are a sucker.

Getting into uni in less than half the time it takes to do the HSC, and with lower academic expectations, is easy – just ride the privilege wave. You don’t even need to know how to surf, as long as your parents provide you with the board.

But know that they’re in limited supply. Last year there were only six, and all went to one of Sydney’s most expensive private schools: Scots College.

What’s going on?

It’s been revealed that six Scots boys gained shortcuts to the University of Sydney without sitting the HSC, instead doing a 17-week diploma.

Students who pass with an average of 65 per cent or more are guaranteed places in the following USYD courses:

Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science

Bachelor of Health Sciences

Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience

Bachelor of Visual Arts

Bachelor of Music

Bachelor of Oral Health; and

Diploma of Law

The program, called the Diploma of Tertiary Preparation, was drawn up by the uni’s profit-driven branch, Sydney Learning.

Who gets to do this?

Eight Scots students took up the pilot program last year, six of whom were offered places at the University of Sydney.

The Diploma of Tertiary Preparation was originally intended for mature-age students who missed out on the HSC, and who pay Sydney Learning $12,000 for the course.

Most schools can’t afford to pay for their students to take part because the program isn’t government-funded, but Scots College has lined up another 11 boys for the diploma this year.

What it means for everyone else

Students who do the HSC and get the required marks will miss out if a Scots kid has his eyes set on the same course.

What’s especially stomach-churning is the fact that ATAR cut-offs were much higher than the 65 per cent average that Scots boys needed for guaranteed university access.

Animal and veterinary bioscience was 84.55, health sciences 80.05, liberal arts and science 70 and diploma in law 68.9.

Sound fair?

University of Sydney staff don’t approve. They’ve said it lets parents buy their kids’ way into an elite tertiary institution without having to struggle through the HSC to qualify.

In response to the frustration, the University of Sydney’s academic board last month decided that diploma applicants younger than 21 would also need to have the HSC or equivalent qualification for its degrees.

Not “have a decent result,” just “have” it, meaning a student could still skate by on minimum requirements to come out with an HSC to go with his $12,000 diploma.

In defence of the $12,000 diploma

A university spokesperson said the program was “an honest attempt to widen access to the university”.

It’s a curious thing when widening access involves pushing out students whose minds and motivation are evident in their marks, in favour of students who simply have money.

What the pollies are saying

NSW education minister, Adrian Piccoli, expressed concern at the news and said access to university “should be fair and equitable”.

“Any scheme that gives some students an unfair advantage is unacceptable and I will be discussing this with the federal government, which is responsible for universities,” he said on Monday.

Opposition leader Luke Foley said revelations that students could “avoid the HSC and sit a fast-tracked diploma to gain access to university” undermined the HSC.

Saimi Jeong

Saimi Jeong studies a Master of Arts in Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney. She has written for Guardian Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald and reports for Burwood Scene. Follow Saimi on Twitter @Saimi_J.

Image: Andrea Schaffer, Flickr Creative Commons license