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ATAR scheme to counter Mosman monopoly

Alex Downie looks at the University’s new E12 scholarship scheme.


The University of Sydney has doubled the intake of students admitted under its E12 scheme to 201 students, up from 109 last year.

The scheme offers an additional pathway to Sydney University for NSW high school students who are financially disadvantaged, or who attended a government-identified low socioeconomic status (SES) high school.

Under the scheme, students can gain early acceptance into Sydney University, conditional on meeting predetermined E12 ATAR cut-offs, which are lower than standard ATARs.

Unlike several of the University’s other entry schemes, such as the Broadway scheme, which exclusively assesses a student’s ATAR, the E12 considers applicants based on their personal applications and their principal’s recommendation.

For some courses, the E12 ATAR cut-offs are substantially lower than the standard cut-offs. The E12 cut-off for Physio, 85.00, is well below the course’s 98.35 cut-off. And while the 17 E12 students entering combined law this year needed ATARs above 95.00, the standard cut-off was 99.70.

Nevertheless, a preliminary study conducted by the university found that E12 students were 5 per cent more successful than other students in completing their units of study. Interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald, University Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence attributed this to the ATAR’s failure to fairly assess students from poorer areas, regional areas and Indigenous families.

Successful E12 applicants also receive a $5000 first year scholarship, free USU access card, and an iPad. Second-year Arts student Lauren Prescott came to Sydney on the E12 scheme and is the first member of her family to attend university.

The scholarship assisted her transition to university. “I had to quit my job in Year 12 to take care of my mother when she fell ill, so the scholarship money was really helpful,” she said.

Lauren has flourished at university, but she “went into hibernation” in her first semester.

“I remember telling another student that I live in Minto. She looked at me, surprised, and asked ‘Why are you even here then?’ It turned out that she was from Mosman.”

The affluent North Shore and Eastern Suburbs hold less than 15 per cent of Sydney’s population. In 2010 they were home to 65 per cent of the University of Sydney’s student population.

In contrast, only 8.64 per cent of domestic students at the University of Sydney came from a low SES background in 2012 compared to the average intake of 15.7 per cent across all Australian universities.

In 2010, the University White Paper set a target to increase the enrolment of low SES students to 15 per cent.