University phone line needs cents and sense

AUSTRALIA. Secondary-school students in most parts of Australia will soon be able to apply electronically to enrol at any of the nation's universities.

A scheme developed in Victoria where students can make applications by keying in their details over the phone is to be extended to the other states.

Students will be able to call their state admissions centre and, after supplying a PIN number, indicate which courses they are applying for at any university. The same method will be used to accept or reject offers.

At present, students fill out application forms at school and then post or hand-deliver them to the admission centre. But if they hope to enrol at any interstate institutions, they must fill out separate applications and submit them to the different centres.

A spokesman for the Victoria Tertiary Admissions Centre says lodging applications over the phone has saved centre staff weeks of work. In the past, up to 15 per cent of application forms contained mistakes that had to be manually corrected.

With the phone system, students are informed by the computer if they make an error and have to correct it before the application is accepted. Although the electronic system has been a success in Victoria, with few complaints from students or their schools, in new South Wales the Secondary Principals' Council has demanded that phone registration be abandoned.

The council claims the admissions centre is intent on raising revenue at students' expense. Calls by students to the centre's number for lodging applications are to be charged at the rate of 75 cents a minute, with the time needed expected to be at least six minutes.

With calls costing between $6 (Pounds 3) and $12 (Pounds 6), the council says many students will be unable to afford to apply for a university place. It adds that only about half of the students who had to pay would actually be offered a place.

However, the admissions centre said the present system was costly, time-consuming and occasionally unreliable, while the new scheme would give students faster, easier access and peace of mind.

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