University boards could confuse students’ UAC preferences

To assess the performance of the current system, Associate Professor Pablo Guillen Alvarez and his co-authors Professor Onur Kesten, Associate Professor Mark Melatos and Alexander Kiefer conducted a field experiment with 832 former high school students. Students were asked to imagine they had an ATAR of 80 and list their course preferences in a mock UAC application based on different advice choices:

– no advice (participants have been informed that the experiment is conducted according to UAC rules which they can search on the Internet)

– UAC tips (participants received specific UAC tips on how to rank their courses)

– University tips (participants were given a specific university from the time of the experience)

– UAC and university advice.

To eliminate bias regarding the choice of university or program, the study listed courses using a unique identification number and monetary payment offered for each course. Assuming applicants preferred more money to less, the payment created a system of preference. Candidates were also informed that entry into one of the courses was guaranteed.

Overall, 75.5% of participants did not act in their best interest (the preferred course with the highest payout). High rates of candidate manipulation (70%) persisted even when candidates received UAC guidance. University guidance made matters worse, with manipulation rates rising dramatically to 80%.

Students attending non-selective government high schools were even more likely to follow misleading advice than those attending academically selective government high schools and private high schools.

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