Australian students who enrol at university after joining the workforce or undertaking previous study perform as well as or better than those entering directly from school, according to the first report to be published by the Australian Credit Transfer Agency.
Agency researchers compared the performance of undergraduate students in their first year at university in 1993 and 1994. They found that all groups performed comparably although students with university experience did better overall.
ACTA president Barry Conyngham said universities should be reassured by the results when considering a broader range of applicants for admittance. He said the federal government had removed a requirement on institutions this year to accept a certain quota of school leavers and was encouraging them to admit students from more diverse backgrounds.
The agency was set up recently by the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee, with funding from the federal education department, to develop formal procedures that will allow prospective university students to gain credit for work experience or courses done at other post-secondary institutions.
The initial study of first-year success rates compared the performance of students who had enrolled straight from school, and those who had previously been at university, with other groups that had undertaken post-secondary courses or had been working for a number of years.
The results showed that students who had previously attended a technical and further education college did as well in their first year at university as school leavers. The report said this was an important finding in relation to higher education credit transfer and articulation arrangements.
Professor Conyngham described the findings as encouraging. "Now is the time for universities to consider applicants from a full range of previous study or experience backgrounds, confident they will perform at least as well as the school leaver group - and sometimes better," he said.
But the investigation found that the general performance of commencing undergraduates declined noticeably for all categories between 1993 and 1994. Those who were most successful included students who had already completed a higher education qualification and mature age entrants, that is, students over the age of 25.
The researchers said changes in student performance needed to be monitored over the medium to long term so that trends could be assessed and action taken.
Professor Conyngham said that although two years did not constitute a trend, the findings suggested a more systematic approach was needed in considering applicants. ACTA would be able to help by arranging for expert assessment of applicants studying before they enrolled and providing advice on their credit claims.