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The ATAR cut-offs to enter some of the state’s most popular university courses including nursing, engineering and commerce degrees have declined over the past five years, an analysis of the 100 most in-demand degrees has found.
But some teaching degrees are getting harder to get into, with NSW education courses increasing their entry rank by up to 7 per cent since 2019.
The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank for prestigious courses such as law at the University of Sydney and University of NSW have mostly remained steady since 2019, but there has been a slight decline in the cut-off rank for commerce degrees at those institutions.
An analysis of the December lowest selection rank for the most popular 100 courses, determined by the number of first preferences through the University Admissions Centre, shows the adjusted ATARs required to enter nursing degrees were significantly lower for those who started university this year compared to five years prior.
The lowest selection rank – or cut-off – for entry into each course, comprises the ATAR plus any bonus points the student may have received due to other factors such as hardship.
In 2019, the ATAR cut-off for nursing at Australian Catholic University, North Sydney campus, was 70. By 2023, it had fallen 16 per cent to 58.65.
At University of Technology Sydney – which conducts the state’s most popular nursing degree – the cut-off ATAR was 82.1 in 2019 but had fallen to 75 by 2023.
Some nursing ATAR cut-offs had climbed significantly in 2021 or 2022, during the COVID-19 pandemic, before falling sharply last year.
Degrees including medicine, dentistry and veterinary science were all highly represented in the top 100 courses, but ATAR data is not available because additional selection criteria are used.
Australian National University higher education expert Andrew Norton said fluctuations in ATARs were usually due to a decrease in demand or an increase in the number of positions available.
He said there was a big spike in nursing popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic which may have now changed.
“I am not massively concerned about the ATARs in those ranges. They’re going into an occupation where there are clear protocols, high levels of clinical oversight so there are quite a few protections built into the system,” he said.
“What may be more concerning is that lower ATARs signal a significant drop in student demand for nursing, for which there is significant workforce demand.”
The Minns government has promised study subsidies for healthcare students totalling $121.9 million over five years to tie them to the public system for at least five years. Students will be able to apply for the scholarships from January 1.
All six teaching degrees in the top 100 courses increased their cut-off rank or remained steady, except primary education at the University of Sydney. It fell from 85 to 81.05, but remains the most competitive teaching degree on the list.
Norton said the rise in teaching scores could be a byproduct of the tightening of prerequisites, including the requirement for year 12 students to get at least three HSC band 5s to enter an education degree.
All three engineering degrees on the list dropped three points from 93 to 90, while many health sciences and applied science degrees had higher cut-off ranks in 2023. They included diagnostic radiography at Sydney University and occupational therapy at Sydney University and Newcastle University.
University of Newcastle deputy vice chancellor Professor Mark Hoffman said the lower ATAR nursing cut-off was a result of reduced demand.
“Overall nursing continues to be one of our most popular undergraduate study options for students, however off the back of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a slight downturn of nursing student enrolments right across the sector,” he said.
Australian Catholic University executive dean of health sciences Suzanne Chambers said the ATAR was just one factor the institution considered to be important in its goal to widen tertiary education participation.
“If you just focus on the cut-off, you only see the lowest point without recognising the students entering our nursing degrees in North Sydney and Blacktown with ATARs of 99, or that the median ATAR for these campuses is almost 70,” she said.
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