Mapping University Prerequisites in Australia paper released

Completing fundamental subjects in secondary school, such as history, languages, mathematics, and science, combined with a strong foundation in English, is essential to equip young Australians with the agility and flexibility to navigate life post-school, regardless of whether they continue to tertiary studies or enter the workforce directly.

As shown in a new paper, Mapping University Prerequisites in Australia, released today by the Office of the Chief Scientist and the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI), few undergraduate courses in Australia have prerequisite requirements, and, notwithstanding the efforts of individual universities and states, there is currently no coordinated approach to providing advice to secondary school students on which subjects they should study in Years 11 and 12.

“The paper has revealed how few prerequisites are currently in place at Australia’s universities.  We hope it provides useful information for the sector to sharpen their policy considerations going forward,” says Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.

The paper analyses the mathematics and science prerequisites of more than 1,500 undergraduate courses in Australia across eight key disciplines, capturing important new information to inform stakeholders, including universities, schools and students.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown Australia the importance of mathematics,” says Professor Asha Rao, interim AMSI Director. “Issues such as out-of-field mathematics teaching and lack of university maths prerequisites need to be remedied to ensure that the future skills supply is available as the demand continues to grow.”

While returning to prerequisites may not be compatible with Australia’s current higher education landscape, students still need authoritative advice about which subjects to study in Years 11 and 12 so that they can be as prepared as possible for university study without relying on catch-up or bridging courses.

Dr Finkel noted, “I am not advocating a return to prerequisites, given the valid and important reasons for flexibility in entry requirements.

“What I am advocating is that universities develop a clear and common set of advice to students about fundamental subjects – English, maths, science, languages and history – that will set them up best for success at university and throughout their lives. The signals around these subjects should be strengthened so that students can make informed choices.”

Also released today is the Australian Informed Choices position paper, which both complements and draws upon the lessons learned in the Mapping University Prerequisites in Australia paper. Informed Choices presents a strategy to improve the continuum between senior secondary schools and universities, through creating a coalition of thought-leading universities, and producing common advice on Year 11 and 12 subject selection principles coupled with individual university-based incentive packages.

“Universities are facing unprecedented challenges as they re-orient their offerings in the face of the pandemic,” says Dr Finkel. “What better time to consider how to improve the signals they send to students looking for the best possible advice on their upper secondary subject selections to ensure a smooth path into tertiary studies and successful working careers?”