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Higher Education

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Mature student admissions in England

28 February 2013

An assessment developed by ACER to facilitate the selection of mature-age students for university study is set to be used in England for the first time.

ACER will this year pilot the Mature Students Admissions Pathway (MSAP) at the University of Salford, Manchester.

MSAP provides prospective students who are not recent school leavers, and who now have a very different current capability, with an opportunity to gain entry to university. It tests candidates’ abilities to understand and analyse material, to think critically about issues, and to organise and express their thoughts in a logical and effective way.

The University of Salford will use MSAP as part of a wider program to address mature student admissions. The program will begin with a pre-test workshop designed to reassure candidates about the test. A post-test ‘bridging’ program for those who have passed the test will then provide support between offer and registration, alleviating anxiety about attending university and facilitating peer support, including providing an opportunity for them to ‘buddy’ with current mature students.

Under this model, MSAP and the pre-test workshop will help ensure that students accepted into university have the capacity to succeed, while the bridging program will help prevent attrition by supporting students in their transition to higher education. Those who are not offered a place will receive assistance from the university on other pathways available to them.

MSAP has been used in Ireland since 2009 and is based on the Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT), developed and implemented by ACER in Australia since 1992.

Aptitude tests such as MSAP and STAT have been recognised for providing consistent and unbiased performance measures across demographic subgroups, because such tests are designed to measure each student’s ability to analyse information and think critically, rather than testing knowledge of a specific subject area.

Of course, there is a distinction between ‘ability’ and ‘achievement’.

‘Aptitude tests such as MSAP and STAT are designed to identify individuals who have the capacity to undertake university study, rather than predict levels of achievement at university,’ notes ACER’s STAT and MSAP project director, Ms Susan Nankervis. ‘A wide range of factors, not just ability, influence student achievement at university.’

A report on the findings from the first national Australian study on the validity of STAT, conducted by Dr Hamish Coates and Tim Friedman at ACER and published in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management in March 2010, found that STAT’s estimates of first-semester performance are comparable to those linked with final-year secondary school achievement. In other words, STAT is able to predict students’ university success at least as well as Year 12 scores are able to predict students’ success.

As MSAP is based on the same principles as STAT, this study suggests that these aptitude tests are a reliable and efficient alternative to Year 12 scores that ensure students who are capable of success at university are able to gain admission.

The University of Salford will pilot their mature student admissions program with their 2013 intake to the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work; the School of Computing, Science and Engineering; the School of Built Environment and a small number of programs within the School of Media, Music and Performance, with a full launch across the university for their 2014 intake. ■

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Further information about MSAP is available from <>

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