Fewer school leavers qualified to enrol at university

Provisional figures show changes to New Zealand's University Entrance, or UE, standard have cut the number of school-leavers qualified to enrol in the country's universities by several thousand for the second year in a row.

They put the UE pass rate for the 2015 school year at 61% – the same as 2014's final figure and well below the high of 71% in 2013, which was the year before the changes to UE were introduced.

The changes were made to ensure teens have the right knowledge and skills for tertiary study and they were not expected to have much impact on the numbers gaining the qualification.

But last year 3,500 fewer school leavers were eligible to go to university because of the 2014 drop in the pass rate, and the provisional 2015 figure indicates a similar impact for this year's enrolments.

However, the director of Universities New Zealand, Chris Whelan, says the 2015 results should improve once resits and appeals are taken into account. He says that happened last year when the 2014 provisional figure of 58% rose to 61%.

"Our pick is it'll probably end up closer to 64% by the time we know how those processes have gone. And that's broadly in line with the long-term average, so we're a lot more comfortable with that number than we were with last year's provisional results."

Whelan says if that happens, universities could expect hundreds rather than thousands fewer potential students this year.

He says the new UE standard is an improvement on the previous standard.

"There were too many young people turning up to university just not ready academically for it and there's nothing worse than someone giving up a year of their life and not succeeding. We think the new standards are sending a much better signal of readiness for university."

The president of the Tertiary Education Union, Sandra Grey, says universities will do their utmost to accept many of the students who failed to get UE because they will not want their first-year enrolments to fall.

The president of the secondary school teachers' union, the Post Primary Teachers' Association, Angela Roberts, says there had been a suspicion that the fall in the UE pass rate in 2014 was because schools and students had misunderstood the new UE standard.

She says that will be disproved if the 2015 pass rate remains around 61%.

She says the fall in the pass rate is acceptable if those who are now missing out were not properly prepared for university study. But she says it is possible that some students failed to get UE simply because of the courses they had chosen at school.

"We're concerned that the limitations that the universities are able to put on what we provide to students isn't actually about whether students are capable of succeeding at university, it's just making it easy for universities to profile students," Roberts said.