Universities act to stem sharp drop in entrants

New Zealand’s universities are urging high-school students and their parents to make sure they understand exam requirements following a 17% fall in the number passing the entrance exam in 2014 compared to the year before.

Earlier this year, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority revealed only 58% of teenagers in their final year of school had gained University Entrance, or UE, by the end of 2014, down from 70% the previous year.

That meant just over 20,000 young people had won the right to start university in March, about 4,000 fewer than normal.

But not all school leavers with UE plan to go to university and it has taken several months for the full impact of the drop to become clear.

The executive director of Universities New Zealand, Chris Whelan, says some of the students who failed to get UE by the end of 2014 managed to get into university after all.

He says the eight universities received applications from 900 school leavers who failed to get UE and about 16% went on to gain UE through catch up credits or resubmissions to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. A further 6% are doing bridging programmes at university, and a very small number gained special admission and were accepted despite not having UE.

Even so, Whelan says overall domestic student numbers have fallen 1%, or about 960 students this year, and six of the eight universities say their first-year numbers are down.

The drop in the UE pass rate has been attributed to changes intended to make the qualification slightly more difficult and ensure students are better prepared for university study.

Whelan says students now need to gain sufficient credits in both literacy and numeracy as well as 14 credits in three approved subjects.

He says students aiming for university need to make sure they are studying enough literacy and numeracy credits.

He also warns that a common issue last year was that many students aimed for the minimum number of credits required in literacy, numeracy and the three approved subjects.

“Instead we strongly recommend that students study for more than the minimum number of credits in order to give themselves some critical ‘wriggle room’, in case they fail some credits or don’t hand in some work.”