A common question students have asked throughout 2020 has been: will COVID impact my chance of getting an offer for my goal university degree?

In this video, we unpack this question and share with you what really is going to happen with university offers — whether it’ll be easier or harder for you, and what it means for you entering university.

With less international students able to enter the country, there have been discussions about making more offers and being flexible with ATAR cut-offs for domestic students, to make up for the lack of international students. But is this in fact true?

Read on to learn more!

The Purpose of Domestic University Places
More Students Applying to Start University in 2021 Due to COVID
What These Government Changes Mean for You

The Purpose of Domestic University Places

The first thing to clarify is that the number of domestic university places exists separately to international student places.

In fact, the federal government controls the number of domestic places to university — these are known as Commonwealth Supported Places (or CSP’s) and the universities receive funding for these. This is why you don’t have to pay the full fee of your degree if you’re a domestic student. 

So, even if the universities wanted to take on more domestic students because of the international student shortfall from COVID, they can’t without the government changing the number of domestic university places.

The good news here is that the government has increased the number of domestic places for 2021! 

The Federal Government announced in September they would invest $326 million for an additional 12,000 university places for 2021. Will this be enough however?

More Students Applying to Start University in 2021 Due to COVID

In NSW, by June, close to 15,000 students had applied to start university in 2021, according to the Universities Admission Centre, compared with 7824 at this time last year — a jump of 88%. 

Admission centres in Queensland and Victoria also reported rising demand, with some people wanting to start studying as soon as August of this year. But, why is this occurring?

With gap years cancelled due to travel restrictions, and less work available in the economy, more students who would’ve typically not gone immediately to university after Year 12 have decided to go to university and lock in a course for 2021.

From the above numbers, with a 7000 increase in domestic student applications for NSW only (and this number is from June, meaning it is likely to be higher now), the 12,000 increase in student places does not look like it will be enough, and this would increase competition for places at university, driving up the ATAR cut-offs.

There’s even more good news however… In October 2020, the government’s (controversial) JobReady Graduates Bill passed the Senate and this will create up to 30,000 new domestic places by 2021.

So, what do these government changes mean for you?

#1: Increase in Domestic Places and Demand Will Likely Balance Each Other Out

With this substantial increase in domestic places and the increase in domestic demand for students to get into their goal university, it is likely they will balance each other out. The impact on competition for places and offers, therefore, will be similar to what it’s been in recent years.

This means that it shouldn’t be harder than prior years (it might actually even just be a little easier) to receive an offer, as universities will have more places to offer because of COVID, and so they may be slightly more flexible on the ATAR range required for entry into a course.

This will of course depend on the course — the more popular the course, the less likely this will be the case.

#2: Guaranteed University Funding

In saying this, the government has guaranteed the maximum university funding for domestic students for the next 3 years to give them some certainty. This means that a university will receive the maximum funding for a course/subject area regardless if it takes on the full number of students allocated, or less.

With guaranteed funding, universities won’t feel pressured to be more flexible with ATAR cutoffs just so that they can take on more domestic students which allows them to receive more government funding — since they’ll get the funding anyway!

So this is further evidence that we likely won’t see much downward pressure on ATARs this year.

#3: Cost Increase of University Degrees

Finally, the new reforms that increase the number of domestic university places do have another impact — they will increase the cost of a number of university degrees!

On average, student fees will increase by 7%, while average government funding per place falls by 15%.  

For example, law degree costs will increase from $11.3 to $14.5 thousand per year (a 28% increase).

Communications & Arts degrees will increase from $6.8 to $14.5 thousand per year (a 113% increase!).

On the flip side, mathematics degrees will decrease from $9.6 to $3.9 thousand per year (a 59% decrease), while teaching degrees will decrease from $6.8 to $3.9 thousand per year (a 42% decrease).

In summary:

    • More people are going to go to university next year than ever before as a result of COVID
    • We will also have more university places (up to 30,000) than in the past
    • This should mean there is fairly similar competition on average for places in courses compared to prior years. This may be a little lumpy however, with some courses seeing more competition than in the past.
    • Given universities also have 3 year guaranteed funding, they won’t feel the pressure to put downward pressure on ATARs. 
    • While there are more places, depending on your degree choice, it could cost you A LOT more to go to university!

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Grace Mitchell hopes to one day stand in front of a Year 12 Modern History class teaching the history of the Soviet Union, or have an insightful discussion with a Year 10 English class on race relations in To Kill a Mockingbird. Either way, Grace is beginning her teaching journey studying a Bachelor of Education (Secondary: Humanities and Social Sciences)/Bachelor of Arts at Sydney University. Grace loves to learn new things, write short stories and opinion pieces, read, and play contemporary Australian compositions on the clarinet. When she is not learning – if that is possible – Grace loves to sit and watch the sun set.