Which bridge did you design?

There is a front page article in The Age about the rise in the number of student offers being made by Victorian universities, in the wake of the first full year of the demand driven system for allocating places.  The numbers have risen by about 3,000 first round offers, although there are marked differences across the universities.  There is a very big increase at RMIT and virtually no change at Melbourne.

Students who applied to get into an associate degree in business were in luck  – the cutoff ranking plunged from 69.65 last year to 50 this year.

The cutoff ranking for an associate degree in civil engineering at RMIT fell  from 78.55 to 62.35, while an applied science degree in psychology at Bundoora  campus decreased from 81.35 to 68.

Emmaline Bexley, a lecturer in higher education at The University of  Melbourne, said it would be a mistake to suggest this would lead to a ”dumbing  down”.

”Letting people in with an ATAR of 50 is brilliant as long as students are  educationally prepared,” Dr Bexley said. (Que?  educationally prepared at 50?)

She said while universities tended to use high cutoff rankings as an  indicator of the prestige of their degrees, this was a ”bit of a game” and the  rankings were more indicative of demand for a course than what was required.

”This is going to give institutions more flexibility and allow a larger  group of students in,” Dr Bexley said.

Read more here.

I just love chirpy Emmaline who thinks it’s brilliant that the universities are letting in someone who has achieved a rank of 50 in Year 12.

I just want to have the bridges identified which are designed by civil engineers with cut-off points of 62.

And I also noticed that the cut off score for entry into Primary Education courses is in the 50s – pity the poor children in a few years time.

Now maybe I am being closed-minded about this and that the cut-off score is not a good predictor of university performance – although I certainly have seen research which shows this to be so, although the relationship is not linear.  But absent any financial flexibility, it is not quite clear how universities are going to adjust to an even larger spread in the abilities of the student body, notwithstanding Dr Bexley’s gushy suggestion that a larger student body will give institutions more flexibility.

I am also concerned about the wisdom of the 40 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds having a degree – why?  What about 35 or 45?  Central planning still in vogue.

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57 Responses to Which bridge did you design?

  1. C.L. says:

    I just want to have the bridges identified which are designed by civil engineers with cut-off points of 62.


  2. Infidel Tiger says:

    We need fewer people going to uni not more.

  3. Fleeced says:

    As long as the course itself is rigorous enough, it will filter them out. You’re putting too much weight on the year 12 rankings, which are next to useless.

  4. conrad says:

    Yes, she is a good example of the people found in higher-education research groups — most of whom never actually teach undergraduates (they are generally the people that run the teacher courses for university lecturers — which, based on personal experience, are almost entirely worthless), and obviously have no real connection with reality or knowledge of simple statistics that show how well people with TERs of 50 perform. Curiously, Simon Marginson is at the same centre, and generally he seems vastly better connected with reality.

  5. conrad says:

    “As long as the course itself is rigorous enough, it will filter them out. You’re putting too much weight on the year 12 rankings, which are next to useless.”

    That’s not true. Many courses are targetted at the lowest common denominator, and so if this becomes lower, that is where you go. This is basically enforced in places where you are obliged to pass (one way or another) a certain number of people (generally 80%+), which is most places.

    Also Year 12 scores do have some predictive validity, especially at the lower and top end (i.e., if you get students from aboubt 70-85, which is a fair chunk of the distribution, it won’t make that much difference, but it will if you get the guys on either end. These numbers are course dependent).

  6. JC says:

    Forget the bridge, are they letting anyone into medicine with a score of 50?

    This reminds me of the funny stuff you often hear about from lefties peddling Cuban health care.

    But but their doctor/ patient ratio is the best there is.

    What they don’t tell you is that nearly all these so-called docs in Cuba wouldn’t qualify as a nurses aid in the US.

  7. Matt says:

    University entrance scores are only a method of rationing scarce university places in a non-market manner. Provided that the course is well taught and assessed, the university score is irrelevent. The engineer passes the course and the university awards the degree that asserts that the engineer has the skills to design the bridge. It makes no difference what the person scored in high school – he wasn’t shown how to design a bridge there!

    I assume you would object to a student with a low score buying a place into a engineering course. In fact, you seem to be against a market-based solution to higher education.

    I can’t see why if I choose to pay for a place in a medical degree program (for example) why my marks should matter as all – so long as I complete the course and demonstrate competency. Obviously this presumes buying the right to undertake the course does not entitle me to pass the course. What right does the state have to tell me I cannot study whatever the hell I choose to pay for?

  8. jtfsoon says:

    You’re putting too much weight on the year 12 rankings, which are next to useless.

    Don’t be absurd. The difference between 80 and 100? Yes, you could have a very bright guy who doesn’t study getting 80 and an average bright swot getting high 90s. But 50??

  9. jtfsoon says:

    Just to clarify – I agree with the point that it’s just a rationing device but to assert that scores at the extreme ends (and I consider 50 extreme mediocre) tell you nothing about future performance is just silly.

  10. Biota says:

    Soft entry requirements must be followed by soft passing requirements. Nobody should be made to feel as though they have failed. Otherwise those that allowed the lower entry requirements will be shown to have failed.

  11. JC says:


    You’re right that in a perfect setting the state has no right to dictate to you what you can study. But we don’t live in a perfect state and year 12 results are a reasonable way of selecting the cream.

    And frankly if you did score an unbiased 50 and chose medicine in an open ed market, I would most certainly want to change the licensing system we have for docs as I would then want to know, if the doc is bright or a right royal dummy.

    Having said all that, quality private universities generally intake on scores and avoid selecting dummies.

    So I fail to see how an open ed system would help a 50 scorer.

  12. TJW says:

    As long as there is sufficient competition for jobs once they graduate, the top students, in both Year 12 and their undergraduate course, will end up being the ones designing bridges. And, plus, we’ll have some nice engineering graduates serve us as McDonalds (it’s quite complex properly construct a Big Mac.)

  13. Aqualung says:


    Additional possibility:

    Suppose a Cuban doctor has 5 patients. One dies from being given the wrong medicine and another dies from the doctor approaching the wrong end when amputating a foot.

    Behold the miracles of socialism!

    Doctor patient ratio is now 3 to 1!

  14. Rococo Liberal says:

    IT is correct. We need to stop all this effing credentialism.

    I notice on the Melbourne Universtiy website that you can now do courses in pop singing. FFS!

    As WS Gilbert said: “If everybody’s somebody, then no-one’s anybody”

  15. ar says:

    Oh yeah, like the greens would let us build a bridge over one of their precious rivers…

  16. JC says:


    That’s why plumbers are earning 200K a year without much fuss.

  17. Sean says:

    In fact, you seem to be against a market-based solution to higher education.

    Government pay 66% of fees iirc. Wouldn’t that mean a tax payer wants to allocate scarce resources to their best use or is policy about making people happy?

  18. Judith, please contact me re LDP national conference.

  19. Infidel Tiger says:

    By my extimates, only 2000 people tops a year should be attending university.

    The rest should be given vocational training and a particpation ribbon.

  20. johno says:

    The interesting thing about these changes is that under the old system the government issued enrolment quotas to university for each course. Universities would then set their entrance score based on the government quota and the number of students applying to get in.

    Under these changes the government has abandoned the quotas (a good thing), but they still set the price they pay the university for different courses and how much the universities can charge students.

    So now the universities work out how much it will cost to educate a student, how much capacity they have and how much they are being paid by the government plus the regulated student fees. They then set their entry score based on how many students they need in a particular course to make money.

    This is an important step forward, but the next big reform has to be getting rid of the price controls (government subsidies and student fees) and letting the universities set their own prices without any subsidy.

    Thank goodness we have the FEE HELP scheme to ensure the bright and deserving will be able to afford the fees, although the government might want to tighten up on the implicit subsidies in the scheme or else it will encourge the unis to set very high fees and cost the government heaps.

    With luck my great grandchildren can look forward to a proper university education.

  21. papachango says:

    Sorry I can’t resist but… as one who actually did a civil engineering degree*, can we stop the cliché about designing bridges? Probably only about 10% of civil engineering graduates end up as structural engineers, and probably only about 2 or 3 % of them actually work on bridges. There’s only so many frickin’ bridges that need to be built in a given year. The rest of us do things like roads, buildings, drains, water-supply netwrorks, sewers, traffic systems, earthworks, or even get out of it entriely as it’s fairly crappily paid and long hours.

    Come to think of it some of the civ engies who only just made it through end up either as glorified building foremen, or at local councils putting in kerbs and drainage pits – not very ‘sexy’, and less catastrophic if you screw up your designs. This is where the 62’ers might end up…

    * The cutoff point for Melb Uni Engineering in the late 80s was based on the old HSC, and was something like 320, which equated to getting a B average. I’ve no idea how this compares to an ATAR of 62

  22. papachango says:

    Actually it was closer to a low A avereage = 320 out of 400 = 80%

  23. papachango says:

    Oh, and I should add that RMIT was always lower than Melbourne Uni – something like 300 instead of 320.

  24. Louis Hissink says:


    Plumbers ? 1/2 hour work, put copper elbow on copper water main, Perth, on a Saturday afternoon, $350. Customer dug the pipe out, all plumber had to do was cut pipe, put elbow on and solder/etc. Nice if one can get it I suppose.

    That works out $700 per hour which is what I get stiched up by when corporate lawyers do work for us. My daily rate pales in comparison, and I have 2 science degrees.

  25. Jack says:

    What is the matter with letting some poor kid into uni on a score of 50 ? After all Wilkie scored south of 30 and is now dealing with the most important issue the nation has ever faced and the labor party is running the country and is currently only scoring 30.

  26. dakingisdead says:

    This is dumber and Dumber.

    There are only two possible outcomes: Either the courses are dumbed down, and there is already evidence of this, to ensure outcomes are maintained.

    Or the drop out rate increases expontentially as bright kids get frustrated with dumb kids and dumb kids find the coursework to hard. How does anyone set staffing levels etc when there are large drop out rates?

    Do the unis get the full funding at enrollement, after 6 months attendance, upon course completion or what?

  27. Abu Chowdah says:

    The entry score for degrees is a reflection of competition, not difficulty.

    When I went to uni, getting in to hard sciences was easy – around the 50 percent Mark, while my course, law, was in the upper nineties.

    But the fact is, law is no harder than any arts degree. It’s just like philosophy or English lit with a thick veneer of Masonic bullshit.

    It’s likely the case that engineering only needs drones who can add up and not fuck up. I’ve never met an engineer who struck me as very cerebral.

  28. Papachango says:

    It’s likely the case that engineering only needs drones who can add up and not fuck up. I’ve never met an engineer who struck me as very cerebral

    Lol… See my comment above about council engineers doing drains & kerbs. But even they need to be fairly numerate… It’s a differerent type of thinking skill to law or Englsh lit. Those of us that had a bit of right brain as well often did a combined business degree or an MBA later on and got into business management.

    HTML buttons are back… Yay!

  29. wreckage says:

    Most people who are not brain damaged can do most things. A thorough engineer who’s not that academic is much, much better than a genius who never checks his work.

  30. . says:

    And I also noticed that the cut off score for entry into Primary Education courses is in the 50s – pity the poor children in a few years time.

    I went to school with some real dummies. Who ended up doing B Ed’s. If I have kids and they are teaching in the school my kids are enrolled in – they will be pulled out.

  31. Roger says:

    Griffith Uni Education Department here on the Gold Coast has a significant number of students studying to become primary school teachers with OP scores in the 20 – 25 range (uni entrance scores here are 1 at the top to 25 at the bottom, where getting 25 means you not only didn’t get any answers right, you also mis-spelt your own name). In addition, the admin has encouraged the students to protest a State Govt plan to have them (the students) have to pass a basic test in spelling, grammar and arithmetic before they receive their final OK to teach in Queensland, claiming it would be unfair and unreasonable. Of course, there’s lots of talk about Social Inclusion, Social Justice, Equality of Outcome etc etc. God help the next generation of children!

  32. Pickles says:

    Louis – $700 an hour for mining legals? Mate you’re getting got at.

  33. Abu Chowdah says:

    I don’t think engineers are dummies, just noting that entry to law, medicine and other lucrative degree choices is based on the Market, not an indication of superior intelligence.

  34. JC says:


    Yea that’s an anomaly.

    It think though that you simply would be unable to complete an engineering degree unless you were smart, partially riddled with aspergers, acne craters at 22 and have a terrible score history with gals.

    Having said all that the completion of the course alone would suggest smarts.

  35. wreckage says:

    The weighting for various courses changes your ranking outcome, too. You could blaze in mathematics but then score poorly in a number of poorly ranked subjects… like design and/or workshop subjects, if they even have them anymore, or even art (design, right?) and be perfectly suited to engineering or architecture but have a low entrance rank.

    Conversely, I did moderately well in heavily weighted subjects and ranked very well for a normal student in a rural, public, high-school; but that included history and english courses that would do no good whatsoever in a science/maths kind of degree.

    In short: it’s a ranking. It was always a ranking. It has no bearing on aptitude. That’s aside from the fact that the ranking you need for entrance to any given course is determined by demand.

  36. papachango says:

    JC – depite all the cliches I don’t entirely disagree. They reckon something like 20% of engineering grads are in fact on the autism spectrum, many undiagnosed.

    But you also have to actually do some work. Even if you’re a genius you don’t pick up the formuale and principles of geotechincal enginnering or
    fluid dynamics by goofing off.

    I couldn’t believe how slack my friends were who did Commerce, Law, Architecture, not to mention Arts.

    About the only other degree with a similar (greater) workload was Medicine.

  37. papachango says:

    I’ll never forget the graffiti in the dunnies of the Eng faculty, just above the toilet roll.
    ‘Arts degrees – please take one’

  38. Abu Chowdah says:

    Those degrees – engineering, medicine, and law to some degree – are mechanistic. In X case, apply Y. Engineering would appeal to the mynah bird mentality of people with asperger’s in particular.

    No question you have to be smart to get into medicine. But you don’t need to be a genius to succeed as a GP. Just methodical, logical and anal.

  39. Pingback: Is this a math story? at Catallaxy Files

  40. Scott says:

    Must have been a big drop in enrolemnts.

  41. Andrew says:

    Abu, screw you – how many mynah birds have won the Nobel Prize?? Having Aspergers is a lot harder than it looks!

  42. Sam says:

    So, Judith, you would like the government to tell the universities how many people they can admit again or maybe to set the entry requirements for the universities?

    You can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue for university autonomy over their enrolment levels and entry requirements and then criticise the outcomes that result.

  43. Nato says:

    It would probably be just as safe on the bridge designed by one who dropped out of grade 9 and worked as assistant in the field for 10 years as one designed by a fresh Masters-level graduate.

    Safer by far than one designed by the dux of all their classes who has since worked for 10 years away from bridges.

  44. Judith Sloan says:

    But Sam, it is a very distorted market including the excess subsidisation of all students by the taxpayer. Were students confronted with the true costs of their choices (even with an income contingent loan arrangement in the background)and universities were free to see their own fees, I would be happier to live with the outcomes.

    I think one of the points being made above is true: the proposition that simply letting in students with low school marks does not mean that they will pass the university course ignores the very strong incentives for universities to keep up pass and completion rates. Indeed, there is even talk of the government rewarding universities for completion rates … it is pretty obvious where that will lead.

    I’m not sure going to universities is quite like buying a shirt. Universities should be keen to maintain standards and market a product that is designed for people with a certain intellectual ability – rather than water down the product and thereby adversely affect the bright ones.

    In my experience of working at a second tier universities, way too many students were simply wasting their time trying to get through the BEc. Four goes at Economic Stats told me that.

  45. perturbed says:

    I just posted this over at Bolt’s, but in case it doesn’t make it through for whatever reason:

    The issue is (as others at Bolt’s blog have identified) not so much the mark they enter with as the one they graduate with. It’s reasonable to argue that some people who did poorly in the school environment might blossom at uni. In that respect, this criticism is possibly on the wrong foot.

    However, this assumes that the courses will maintain the same standards of rigor w.r.t. getting rid of those who simply don’t make the cut. If those standards are maintained, all will be well. If they are not, then we have a problem.

    I’ve seen extraordinary efforts made by lecturers in some disciplines to help struggling students over the line when the kindest and most honest thing to do is to let that student stand or fall (mostly fall) by their own efforts. I can see pressure being put on lecturers to have mercy, to mark that struggling student just a little easier, to jolly the whole crowd along into the next year (“after all, Associate Professor, it’s their fees that pay your salary!!!”). And that, I think, is where the worry lies.

  46. Jacques Chester says:

    CL, in fairness, that was the first time anyone had ever seen that behaviour in a bridge of that kind.

  47. papachango says:

    For some reason I can’t see the embedded video that CL linked to, but let me take a wild guess – is it the famous footage of the Tecoma Narrows bridge moving up and down like a skipping rope then collapsing in strong winds?

    In Structural Eng 101 got hours of lectures on that and precisely why it happened.

  48. wreckage says:

    way too many students were simply wasting their time trying to get through the BEc. Four goes at Economic Stats told me that.

    Oh, so true.

  49. Abu Chowdah says:

    Abu, screw you – how many mynah birds have won the Nobel Prize?? Having Aspergers is a lot harder than it looks!

    Showing some emotion. The therapy is coming along nicely!

  50. Bill says:

    I do actually know an engineer who designs bridges, and who may well have scored around 62. His bridges dont collapse, or behave like skipping ropes, but locals say the approaches are so low that they flood every time there is a big river.

    Renders the bridge useless for three weeks or so.

  51. Sean says:

    In Structural Eng 101 got hours of lectures on that and precisely why it happened.

    And then in differential equations ad nauseum

  52. Jeremiah says:

    Wow I could talk about this till the cows come home, but first I would like to express solidarity with Papachango a fellow Civil Eng brother. And no I don’t design bridges either, I got into oil and gas by following the big $$$ signs. Oh and for the record: no renewables do not scare me at all, there’ll be oil around (and in demand) till I’m dead, buried and the worms are at me.

    I support the market dictating entrance places but the quality of the course has to be maintained no matter what! I’m not all that confident that it will be like that though in this affirmative action environment we currently live in. Secondly taxpayer funds should not be used to support students bumming around uni failing course after course until they finally drop out or take an arts degree in “gender studies” or some other crap.

    Maybe the solution should be a quota of subsidised places and the remainder should be full fee paying? In Perth a lot of people just go to Notre Dame (very low entry requirements and full fee paying) and then transfer over to the other uni’s anyway.

    Engineering employers here in Perth still tend to favour UWA grads over Curtin grads purely because of the tighter entry requirements despite the fact that I believe Curtin engineering courses are actually of a much higher standard (UWA engineering sucks in my opinion) although that is slowly changing as word is leaking out and employers and students are making the shift.

    Engineers with people skills are worth their weight in gold, I aced my TEE but got pretty average marks at uni because I figured that I would absolutely decimate the majority of my socially retarded colleagues in an interview, plus I played sports and had a second degree in commerce ie: well rounded, and I was right!

  53. papachango says:

    oh gawd now you’re bringing back bad memories… partial differential equations…

  54. Winston Smith says:

    Bill, I understand that the reason for the low approaches is because roads can be easily and quickly repaired if the flooding is severe. Bridges take way too long to fix. Same philosophy as a blow out panel.

  55. kae says:

    “Don’t be absurd. The difference between 80 and 100? Yes, you could have a very bright guy who doesn’t study getting 80 and an average bright swot getting high 90s. But 50??”

    But it’s not a score or a result, it’s where they come in the rest of the field which is assessed. The sooner that people realise this and realise that the TER/OP “score” isn’t a measure of how smart someone is in the grades and marks manner, and that the TER/OP is a way to limit numbers in programs the better.

    Universities pride themselves on being able to teach anyone anything – unfortunately my dentist and my mother (a teacher), would disagree with this. (Both are of the firm opinion that property dentistry/how to teach are not being taught nowadays.)

  56. DaveP says:

    Judith, a quick web search suggests you are a professor? Surely you know the atar is a rank? I.e., if you have an atar of 60, you did better than about 60% of those who passed their VCE that year. How is that a problem for bridge-building? Pity the students who go to a uni where even the professors don’t understand entry rules!

  57. Ian says:

    At my University ATAR/ENTER scores are falling in some courses and rising in others. There is some capacity for fiddling the system by selecting few year 12 entrants and padding your course out with non year 12 entrants (whose year 12 scores, even if they are only from one year previous, don’t count in the clearly in calculation). In my experience low ATARs correlate with students struggling and failing to complete in science courses. To my horror, I discovered that at my University there is an entrance scheme for students from under-represented schools that offers places in December, prior to ATAR scores being available. Then when we find out in January that the student has an ATAR of 40 the offer cannot be rescinded. When I complained about this I was told that ATAR did not correlate with success at University. This was, of course, from a University bureaucrat who had (mis)read the available data and conveniently ignored the parts about failure to complete and the positive correlation between ATAR scores and success in science-based degrees.

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