The new $125 million Biological Sciences building at the University of New South Wales (UNSW)Kensington campus Photo: Woods Bagot Falling behind in school leaver preferences: The University of Sydney Photo: Victoria Baldwin
UNSW graduates and Atlassian co founders Mike Cannon-Brookes (left, with scarf) and Scott Farquhar watch as shares open on the Nasdaq. Photo: Trevor Collens
The University of New South Wales has overtaken the University of Sydney as the number one university preference for NSW school leavers.
The result, based on data released by the University Admissions Centre last week, is the first time UNSW has taken the school leavers’ top spot from ‘s oldest university, which retained first place for all first preferences including mature age students in November.
UNSW’s Vice-Chancellor, Ian Jacobs, said that the result reflected the acceleration of UNSW’s multi-million dollar investment in its 2025 plan to crack the world’s top 50 universities and increasing demand for its science and engineering courses.
“This has been built on many, many years of hard work,” said Professor Jacobs, who just completed his first year as UNSW Vice-Chancellor. “The students come in for open day and they see a university infrastructure that is now second to none.”
This year the university also lured students through appealing to their sense of security. Students were guaranteed a place if they scored above a designated ATAR for each course, months before the main round of offers are made on January 20.
Professor Jacobs added that the recent focus on the success of Atlassian, a technology company started by two UNSW graduates that floated for $8 billion on the US stock exchange in December, had also increased the visibility of the university among high school graduates.
“There was a lot of talk about the university’s quantum computing and renewable energy programs and, at the end of the year, there was a lot of talk about Atlassian and they [students] say ‘I want a piece of that’.”
The university’s school-leaver applications were up 4.4 per cent on last year’s, taking it to a total of 7739 students after an aggressive recruitment drive saw administrators speak to 2800 high school students since ATARs were released in December.
High-achieving students have been offered up to $22,000 in scholarships and feted at university receptions.
Jonathon Strauss, from the UNSW Future Students Office, said that some science courses had seen a 200 per cent increase in demand this year amid a shift towards future-orientated courses.
“You can’t get away from some of the traditions and reputation of an institution but students are now also seeking far richer information, such as the likelihood of getting a job after graduation.”
According to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, stands to make a $57.4 billion increase in GDP by shifting 1 per cent of the workforce into science and technology focused roles.
UNSW was not the only university to report an increased interest from school leavers.
Western Sydney University saw a five per cent increase in school leaver preferences, particularly in the fields of psychology, physiotherapy, nursing and midwifery, said the university’s Vice-President of People and Advancement, Angelo Kourtis.
The university, headquartered in Parramatta, rebranded itself last year to target high school graduates, with a slick television advertising campaign as well as a name and logo change from the University of Western Sydney.
Mr Kourtis said there had been fewer mature-age and non-school leaver applicants this year.
“Usually with strong economies mature-age students don’t seeking out as many higher education opportunities, because the economy is buoyant reskilling is not as prominent,” he said.
He said that there had been a shortfall in the number of applicants for teaching courses following tough new regulations on teacher benchmarks, including a requirement for three band-five HSC results instituted by NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli.
“What we have seen is a downturn in teacher education in primary and to a lesser extent secondary and that is to about the national debate around teacher standards,” he said.
The University of Sydney would not comment on school leavers first preference data.
“The University focuses on attracting the preferences of and admitting the most academically meritorious students,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor Tyrone Carlin.