New Zealand: Past efforts are given greater emphasis

August 22, 2003

New Zealand

Adapting to a new standards-based system of assessment for secondary school students is the challenge for New Zealand universities' admission procedures, writes Richard Thomson.

From 2004, the University Entrance, Bursaries and Scholarships examination will be replaced by level three of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).

Luanna Meyer, convener of the Committee on University Academic Progammes'

subcommittee on university entrance, said universities were "fairly confident" they would be able to manage the system, although it would require "a great deal more work on our part".

"We're moving away from relying on an ability test based on some kind of bell-curve notion, to one that's based on ability and a recognition of prior learning," she said.

Advantages included being able to look at different dimensions of students'

performance, and evidence that specific literacy and numeracy standards had been met, she added.

Although the qualification is changing, there are no plans to change the process by which students gain admission to university.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority, which administers school assessment, sets the level at which students gain university entrance after consulting universities. New Zealanders over the age of 20 have open entry to university. The majority of those under 20 who gain entrance get at least three C passes in final-year examinations. In 2002, 87 per cent of those who sat the exams reached the qualifying standard.

A spokesman for the qualifications authority said the exams were not intended to be a hurdle but a positive indication that a student could succeed at university.

Most courses are open entry - anyone who meets the entrance criteria may enrol. Some programmes have limited first-year entry, typically law and commerce, and at Auckland all first-year courses except arts and sciences are limited. More commonly, universities limit entry to second-year programmes.

Students apply from September and tend not to apply to more than one institution.

Results from final examinations are available to students in mid-January.

Universities receive these results electronically and incorporate them into enrolment systems. Course offers are made in late January and enrolments confirmed by the end of February. The academic year begins in March.

The qualifications authority said the system was "tight" but workable.

Ms Meyer said that the big unknown was the effect of the NCEA, because it would offer more combinations and there would be more difficulties in translation. And with some schools threatening to opt out of NCEA in favour of Cambridge's International A levels, one administrator worried that the admissions process would become a matter of comparing "apples, oranges and bananas".

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