January has again been a very busy month those of us involved in the student enrolment process. This year we noticed that a reasonably large number of students hadn't achieved university entrance, and while there are very definitely options available for that cohort, it was still a concern & we've been waiting to see what the Ministry had to say about it.
Well, there is now a press release out, and I must say that it has a certain optimistic spin. The headline is very positive: "Upwards NCEA trend continues", which indeed it does – at Levels 1 & 2. But the proportion of students achieving University Entrance has dropped markedly, from 70.6% in 2013 to 58.3% for last year's candidates. This will have a flow-on effect on both those students (in terms of their plans for future study) and on the universities to which they'd applied.
There's also this, in the context of a comment regarding the reasons for changes to University Entrance requirements:
Data showed that students who began their university studies with NCEA* Level 3 performed significantly better than students whose highest qualification was NCEA level 2.
This is a little disingenuous in that, in order to gain University Entrance, students have always had to achieve a minimum of 42 credits at level 3 of NCEA: 14 in each of two 'approved' subjects (eg english, history) and a further 14 from no more than two other approved subjects combined (eg at least 14 credits from biology plus mathematics). They've also had to meet numeracy and literacy requirements (the latter of which also changed in 2014). On top of that, many university papers have their own prerequisites for entry eg a student needs to get 16 credits in L3 chemistry to get into some of our first-year chemistry papers.
To leave school with NCEA level 3, they needed a total of 60 credits at level 3 or above & 20 credits from level 2 or above – University Entrance & NCEA are not the same thing, but both involve a reasonable number of level 3 credits.
What's notable from the Ministry's own figures is that the proportion of students gaining that Level 3 qualification has not really changed between the 2013 and 2014 cohorts, so the issue is apparently related to UE. (It's relatively rare for students to come straight from school to university with only the Level 2 qualification.)
This year, aspiring university students needed NCEA Level 3, plus they had to meet numeracy, literacy, and the new UE requirement for each of three Level 3 subjects to contribute at least 14 credits to their total, and that seems to have tripped many students up. Again, the proportion achieving NCEA Level 3 is little changed: down to 78.6 from 79.2%. So students who've not met UE requirements seem to have missed out on literacy, &/or numeracy, &/or that specific requirement for 14 credits in each of 3 approved subjects. And we do need to know why this has happened – could it be to do with how information about the changes was communicated to students, for example, or are there other factors in play?
But as the Minister says, at this point it's important that students who didn't gain UE don't feel that the door has been slammed in their faces. There are still a number of choices open to them, and one of those is definitely to approach the university they'd wanted to attend, and ask about their options.
* NCEA = National Certificate of Educational Achievement