Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has warned domestic demand for university places may spike next year amid prolonged weakness in the job market, and universities will likely need to play catch-up with first-year students to compensate for this year's coronavirus-related disruptions.
He also indicated that funding hurdles for universities - which emphasise graduate employment outcomes - may be waived on account of the unprecedented global pandemic.
Mr Tehan said state and territory authorities will need to alter their approach to assessments and the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank "to enable year 12 students to ... acquire some sort of a leaving certificate" to protect pathways into tertiary education, vocational training and work.
He also acknowledged it was possible demand for university would spike due to the lacklustre jobs market and the government would look at any extra support required by the sector. He said there might be a need to "reassess" the ordinary funding rules for universities.
The aim was to set a nationally co-ordinated pathway for school leavers into universities, he said.
"That is the definite aim that all education ministers are working towards. We want to see ... if we can get a nationally-consistent outcome."
Some universities have begun to make changes to admissions processes, including considering students based on year 11 results and special tests.
Securing pathways for school leavers is the next priority for education ministers after the federal government unveiled a major childcare rescue package.
The Australasian Conference of Tertiary Admissions Centres, the federal body representing state admissions authorities, said on Friday all centres were committed to protecting access to further studies even in "extraordinary" times.
"The ATAR is a rank, not a score, so any changes to assessment processes in individual states will not affect the validity of the ATAR as a tool for tertiary admissions," it said in a statement.
Acknowledging concerns this year's disruption to schooling will deny students critical knowledge needed to take on university study, Mr Tehan said schools would work "as hard as possible" to provide adequate teaching.
But he said universities might also have to adapt first-year to equip students with any additional knowledge.
"My view is that the combination between what education students get in year 12 and then what they will be able to get in that first year of university will have students ready for second year with the knowledge that they need," Mr Tehan said.
He said it was possible demand for university will spike next year, partly because people are seeking to study or retrain in a weak economy with high unemployment.
"At the moment, we think there's additional capacity in the system for if there was extra enrolments but we are absolutely committed to working with them to see ... how we would go about providing the support that would be needed," he said.
To unlock funding increases, universities currently face performance measures that emphasise graduate employment outcomes. Mr Tehan said the government was talking to the sector about possible changes.
"Obviously, when you're faced with a pandemic, the likes of which we're faced with now, there is a need to reassess some of the regulatory requirements that you have in place," he said.
The Australian National University's higher education researcher Andrew Norton said demand for tertiary places in 2021 could be much higher than previously anticipated because of deferrals from 2020 and poor employment prospects.
Professor Norton said universities would have spare capacity because of lower international student numbers, "but due to current public funding caps universities may have to reduce offer rates to avoid taking students they cannot afford to teach".
The chair of the NSW Education Standards Authority, Peter Shergold, said the key message in his state was that the HSC would go ahead.
"We will change some of the arrangements, learning will be different, but we will inform school authorities and school principals of increased flexibility this year, to ensure all students in safety can make sure they can gain their HSC," he said.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino promised this week that all Victorian year 12 students would "complete their studies" and said the government was working on options, including adaptation to online learning, delayed assessments and exams and extra support.
"Our year 11 and 12 students will receive the care and support they need during this important time in their schooling," he said.
Source - SMH