New HE entry system more flexible to increase inclusion

Chile’s 16-year-old access system for universities, professional and technical institutes is being replaced this year. The new system gives higher education institutions greater flexibility in assessing entry tests, secondary education score marks and school ranking, which are the main instruments used by universities and technical institutes for admitting students.

The main purposes of the change, according to educational authorities, are to make access more equitable by expanding opportunities for applying students and valuing talent diversity as well as providing educational institutions with greater flexibility for promoting their educational projects.

The new access system replaces the 2003 standardised, written, university selection test (PSU for its Spanish acronym) by two obligatory access tests – one on reading abilities and another on proficiency in mathematics – plus a number of elective tests. The PSU tested knowledge while the new tests measure abilities.

The weighing system also changes. While previously students gained access to university only if their PSU mark weighed a minimum of 50% of the admission score, as of this year (admission process for the academic year 2021), the PSU mark accounts for only 30% of the admission score. This is to make room for other types of assessment such as the secondary education mark average.

In addition, students that fail to obtain the pass rate of 450 points in the new test but are among the top 10% of secondary education students will now qualify for university entrance.

“This [latter] change makes the university admission system more inclusive, diverse, equitable and just because it opens the doors to youngsters that could not apply earlier,” says Leonor Varas, the evaluation director of Universidad de Chile (the University of Chile).

Special admissions increase

The new access system also increases the number of so-called ‘special admissions’ from 15% to 20% and by 25% in higher education institutions located in far-away zones. Special admissions relate to applicants who do not meet the scores required for a specific degree and - or have particular characteristics. There are 28,000 places for the academic year 2021, excluding vulnerable students who can be admitted via a programme specially designed for them.

The Universidad de Chile’s ‘special admission’ programme, for example, provides places for disabled students and is increasing the number of vacancies for indigenous people and for UNESCO’s Explora programme for science students.

It is one out of 18 universities that have Explora-UNESCO special admission for students with talent and scientific vocation.

This special admission is on top of special places reserved for students who took part in Explora, a government programme for secondary schools that promotes knowledge and interest in science, technology and innovation.

Universidad de Talca (the University of Talca) has created a special admission system for socially committed students, “who want to change things and fight to do so”, according to César Retamal, the access director.

Universidad Tecnológica Metropolitana (the Metropolitan University of Technology) and Universidad de Santiago (the University of Santiago) are giving priority to women in areas such as science and technology where their participation is low.

Other special admission initiatives receiving funding include those that have a gender focus and that are developing new curricula, as is the case of Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez which is modifying its courses in order to help students “face challenges in an uncertain, complex and changing context”.

Carlos Rilling, the University of Chile’s vice director of undergraduate courses, sees special admissions as an entry route for students “with different life experiences, different origins and different characteristics who have developed specific talents”.

For its part, the government is allocating state universities about US$127 million for facing new challenges such as long-distance teaching, networking and providing special support to economically disadvantaged students.