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catallaxy in technical exile

Do universities have an ethical obligation to advise students of their prospects?

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The government’s Going to Uni website has started listing courses and entry cut-offs, prompting another round of criticism of the full-fee undergraduate places.

http://www.goingtouni.gov.au reveals that Adelaide University demands a cut-off score of 98 for entry into engineering (aerospace) but requires a score of only 80 if students are prepared to pay $16,000 a year…”The maximum five-point difference rule in scores between HECS and full-fee paying places has become a joke,” Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said yesterday.

For reasons I explained earlier this year most of the objections to the full-fee places are without substance. However, it is not clear that admitting students on low marks is necessarily in their interests. To me, the issue is whether universities have a professional ethical duty to at least advise prospective students with weak school results of the risks they are taking, if not refuse enrolment altogether, in the way that doctors must give the advantages and disadvantages of various treatments and not perform procedures that are inappropriate. Or are universities like car salesmen or real estate agents, with the responsibility for making the right decision being with the buyer?

In the past, I have advocated education brokers, because higher education is a two-way information asymmetry – the student often doesn’t know enough about the course, but the university doesn’t know enough but the student either. In the absence of such people, I am inclined to think universities have some professional responsibility to at least warn students who can reasonably be predicted to struggle. The more the student is spending, the more reason there is to help them make an informed decision.

This issue has not arisen much with full-fee places. Because there is no Commonwealth quota to fill for full-fee students, there is no Canberra-induced reason for dropping the score until all the places are filled. Universities have instead decided on the lowest score at which success is likely, or gone for a rule-of-thumb like 5 points below the HECS students (contrary to Jenny Macklin’s statement, there has never been any official rule on this). It’s been people applying for Commonwealth-subsidised nursing places on an ENTER of 55 that we need to worry about. But if a report earlier this week that RMIT is offering an applied science full-fee place for an ENTER of 48 is correct, then issues of professional ethics do arise.

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Written by Admin

December 21, 2005 at 6:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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