Bond University
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Article Title

Secondary School and University Results as Predictors of Success in Law

Abstract

Selection of students for university places has become an important public issue. Generally, issues of access and equity in admission to higher education have been high on the agenda of the federal government in the 1980s, and continue to be so. They have been the subject of numerous reports. Most of the attention has been focused upon finding alternatives to traditional routes to matriculation, as well as raising awareness among high school students of the possibilities of tertiary education. Schemes have been developed to allow applicants without traditional HSC or equivalent qualifications to gain admission to university. Thus programmes have been developed for mature-age students, aboriginals and others without traditional qualifications to take bridging courses to enable them to cope with tertiary study more successfully. Programmes have been developed to allow secondary schools to develop less academically rigorous courses than the HSC to enable students to study practical subjects while keeping open the possibility of tertiary study. Universities have accepted these qualifications where appropriate as a basis for matriculation but not as equivalent to the HSC for admission to high demand faculties. Important as this work is, it addresses a different issue to that faced by high-demand faculties such as Law. The problem is not so much how to develop alternative minimum standards for matriculation and to encourage wider consideration of tertiary education in the community. The problem which we face is how to select from among the large number of suitably qualified candidates those who should be offered admission to Law. This issue has been addressed much less by the literature in recent years. In a higher demand faculty such as Law, a key issue which has to be addressed is whether the criteria which are adopted for admission are the fairest means of achieving the goals for which they are designed. Those goals should not be taken for granted. At present, in Australian law schools, the main criterion for selection is academic merit according to the results achieved either in the HSC or its equivalent, or tertiary performance. It is not obvious that this should be the basis for selection. Given that the majority of applicants to law schools could, if suitably motivated, succeed in passing a Law course, and that academic ability at Law is only one aspect of what makes a good professional lawyer, selection might be based on other criteria, such as aptitude and motivation for legal practice, or even by ballot from among a qualified group of applicants. Law schools could also consciously endeavour to address social, economic and racial inequalities through selection procedures. It is important however to distinguish between the mainstream methods of entry and alternative methods which might apply to disadvantaged groups or for other reasons. The choice of academic merit as the criterion for mainstream admissions does not preclude having other criteria for entry, or supplementing it by interviews or other aptitude tests. On the other hand, there are important limitations on the capacity of law schools in devising admissions policy. The University of Sydney, for example, attracts a very large number of applications. Taking only first preferences into account, 1900 applications were made for Combined Law or Graduate Law in 1991. With this volume of applications, the Faculty must have objective and easily applicable criteria which at least reduce significantly the potential pool for selection. While random ballots or queues would be objective means of selection which are not labour intensive, it seems to be fundamental to the work of a university that academic ability should be a basis for selection, even if it is only used to reduce the pool from which the candidates are ultimately selected. It is also a basis for selection which is widely accepted in the community. In general, the debate on admissions policy has not been on whether academic criteria should be used, but whether the scores which are used validly and fairly reflect academic merit. In this context, there is considerable debate about the HSC. One possible alternative is post-first year entry to law.

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