Guide to Australian University Admissions
New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory
The Universities Admission Index (UAI) is used in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Australia, as a measure of rank in the Higher School Certificate in New South Wales and the ACT for entry into university. It has been under wide scrutiny for disadvantaging higher percentile students especially in the Australian capital (ACT).
It is awarded to students on the completion of HSC (for NSW) and the completion a "T-Package" (tertiary package) (for ACT) - both at the end of year 12. In essence, it provides a ranking of individual students by indicating what percentile they sit compared to all their peers of the same age. The AST test sat by all tertiary students however links a student's ability with the school's mean, thereafter implying that a bright student in a poor school will be disadvantaged. That is to say a student may receive 100% at a poor school, but may still achieve 100% at a better school. This is an example of the problematic nature of the calculation process. Generally, in NSW, the UAI is determined by a series of end-of-year exams (HSC exams) plus assessment, whereas in the ACT, the UAI is determined by ongoing assignments and exams spanning through both years 11 and 12.
This is different from some other states (e.g. Queensland) where the score used for admission in the state is numerically different from the national score (i.e. a Queensland OP has to be converted using a conversion table to yield the equivalent ENTER, and vice versa.) Very wide speculation and research has been conducted to point the failings of the system.
UAI scores are not directly equivalent to a percentile rank among those who completed year 12 (i.e. a UAI of 99 is not equivalent to placing in the top 1% of the state). Table A8 (pdf) demonstrates the statistical distribution of UAI scores - in 2004, 1.6% of students who completed year 12 scored at or over a UAI of 99. UAIs are awarded in increments of 0.05. The UAI's predecessor, the Tertiary Entrance Rank, was different because it defined the student population as only students in year 12. The UAI attempts to rank students who did not progress to their senior years of High School, by estimating what they would have got.
A student's UAI is given as a number between 30 and 100. Students who receive 30 or below receive a 'pink slip' which simply informs them that they received below 30. UAIs of 100 are extremely rare and are only achieved by a select few (generally, about 20 out of 65 888) every year. It appears that some of the students who receive such perfect scores are not among the highest achieving students at university. It has often been said that receiving a perfect UAI comes down to luck, for students in the upper percentile.
The organisation responsible for administering the UAI, the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC), scales all subjects using simple mathematical formulae to try to ensure equity of marks across subjects.
To be eligible for the UAI on top of the HSC there are certain rules that students must comply with. These can be accessed from the official Board of Studies and Universities Admissions Centre websites. The BSSS however is known to conceal much information about the calculation process due to potential findings that would possibly further bring the board under scrutiny.
To calculate the UAI the UAC uses the raw exam marks of the HSC — what is presented to students is an aligned mark — and the moderated assessment mark. The student who comes first in the subject is then assigned the maximum mark, normally 50.0 on a one unit basis but may change with scaling. Following that all students who sat the course have a scaled mark calculated based on an estimate of what each student would have achieved had they sat that course. This is repeated for all of a student's units.
The student's two best English units are added along with their next best eight units, which may include further English units, to give an aggregate mark, out of 500.0. Students are then ranked - however, this rank does not translate directly to the UAI. The distribution of students is uneven. Ranking scales upwards - only 29.3% of students will receive a UAI of under 50, and the median UAI is around 65, a statistical trend which is applicable at every UAI level. This is because the spread of marks takes into account those who did not complete their HSC or otherwise attend the post-compulsory years of education. Their hypothetical marks are determined by the School Certificate, one compulsory for all students in NSW. As their marks are generally lower than those who complete the HSC, they cause the uneven spread across the spectrum of the UAI. Hypothetically, assuming that everyone continued to complete the HSC, the spread would be completely even. However, NSW retention rates for students stand at around 70%, and there are students who complete the final years without gaining a HSC.
Students Who Finish High School Overseas
Students who finish high school overseas and who have a qualification such as the SAT, IB or A Levels may have their score converted to a UAI. In 2006/7 Australian students who apply for university on the basis of an SAT score appear to be penalised by up to 6 UAI points in the process. See here for details.