Growing numbers of Australian universities are virtually guaranteeing a place to students who lack the necessary entry grades but who can pay the full tuition fee.
Although only a dozen universities have so far decided to offer full-fee places, the number of institutions - and the number of students taking up the offer - is increasing.
The development has alarmed academic and student organisations, which feel that rich students are buying their way into select university courses with lower entry scores than those who cannot afford the full fees.
In New South Wales, four of the biggest universities offer full-fee places: New South Wales, Sydney, Charles Sturt and the Australian Catholic University.
These universities are offering more than 200 full-fee courses in 2001, a 23 per cent increase on this year. Fees range from A$7,000 to A$36,000 a year (Pounds 2,700-Pounds 14,000).
Students leaving school this year and wanting to enrol in a bachelor of commerce degree at the UNSW in 2001 need an entry score of at least 94.35 out of 100. But those paying the full cost of A$11,000 require a score of just 89.40.
At the University of Sydney, a student applying for a combined arts and law degree needs a score of almost 100 but this drops to 94.05 if they are prepared to pay A$16,000 a year. Of the institutions offering full-fee places, only the Australian Catholic University does not vary the score for paying students.
Following the election of the conservative Howard government in 1996, a long-standing ban on public universities charging the full cost of tuition was lifted. For the past three years, universities have been able to impose full-cost fees for up to 25 per cent of the students enrolling in a particular course.
The majority of students continue to opt for paying a fraction of the full cost through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme. Under the scheme, students can defer what they owe until they are earning more than A$20,000 a year.
National Tertiary Education Union president Carolyn Allport warned that, in future, "all doctors, lawyers and media people will be people who have paid for their courses rather than those who have an aptitudefor it".
The National Union of Students also attacked the move but added that universities were being forced into this position as a result of reduced funding by the federal government.