AUSTRALIA selects its students too young for university courses such as medicine, law, accounting, engineering and teaching, a federal government advisory body has warned.
The Higher Education Council suggests that young people complete either an extra year of schooling or complete a common first-year arts/science course at university before going on to courses for the professions.
Either change would reduce the pressure on Year 12 pupils (16 to 17-year-olds) who are attempting to graduate from secondary education while taking competitive university entrance exams. This would bring up the age of entrants to professional courses.
Report authors David Andrich, of Perth's Murdoch University, and Annette Mercer, of the University of Western Australia, said that Australians can enter university up to two years younger than in Western Europe. In the United States professional programmes are generally postgraduate.
"Any change in the selection procedures without a reduction in this intense competition among students, who are the youngest on entrance into professional faculties when compared with those countries studied, is not likely to reduce the stress and its consequences at Year 12," the authors argue.
Earlier this year, the federal government announced a Aus$1 million (Pounds 500,000) fund to seek alternatives to what it saw as the unfair and confusing tertiary selection procedures.
The Higher Education Council report is the first of two reports it has organised.
Sharon Burrow, Australian Education Union president, said she was doubtful of the proposal succeeding while the federal government was engaged in a war of words with states over cash in all areas of education and student support payments.
"We would be very cynical of the Government's preparedness to pay for it, in light of its mean-spirited attitude to students with its changes to Austudy and the Youth Allowance," she said.
The Year 13 proposal is not new in Australia. A pilot scheme ran in some schools in the early 1990s when demand for university places greatly exceeded supply. When demand eased, students preferred to enter a university course that was lower on their list of preferences rather than complete another year of schooling.