The academic performance of first year students at Victoria University by entry score and SES, 2009-2013

1 May 2015

Key Points

This report examines the impact of tertiary entry scores, socio-economic status and other factors on the first year performance of higher education students at Victoria University in Melbourne. Victoria University has diverse entry paths and substantial numbers of students from low socio-economic status (SES) and/or non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB). The key findings are noted below.

  •   On average, students with higher prior achievement, as measured by the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) scores, achieve higher marks in their first year courses; this is a statistically significant relationship.
  •   Other factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic status (SES) and non-English speaking background (NESB) also have significant effects on first year performance.
  •   However, even when adding these other explanatory variables, there is a large amount of variance unexplained; many lower ATAR students get high first year scores and substantial numbers of high ATAR students get low first year marks. Thus, we account for the potential for a varying relationship between ATAR scores and academic performance across the mark distribution.
  •   A new measure of SES is developed which is considered to be superior to the standard definition used in higher education. Using this newly developed measure we find that, controlling for other explanatory variables, low SES students perform better than high SES students for a given ATAR score in their first year results.
  •   When we allow for all observable factors, predicted mean marks for high SES students are better than those for low SES students. This shows the extent to which factors other than ATAR scores pull down marks for low SES students. But across the ATAR range marks rise more rapidly with ATAR for low SES than for high SES students.
  •   School quality (as measured by median school VCE score) has a small influence on first year performance. Again, controlling for other variables, VU students from lower performing schools seem to perform better than their peers from elite schools.
  •   ATAR scores play a very different role in different enrolment paths. Only a little more than half of VU’s first year students enter direct from high school. For those entering from a VET award course or from another institution, performance since their initial ATAR score may be a more important factors in securing admission than the original ATAR score itself.
  •   There is preliminary evidence of discernible changes in student performance by ATAR scores, age, gender, NESB, field of study and school rank over time. In particular, there are signs that the NESB disadvantage has been reduced for the 2013 cohort.
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