When one of Australia’s most prestigious universities got caught out making things harder for disadvantaged students they unwisely tried to play the “PR Card”
In 2009, Melbourne University dramatically lowered its entry requirements for some rural and poor students after the Federal Government set targets to boost the number of undergraduate students from poor backgrounds.
But the Age newspaper revealed this week that the university has moved to raise the university entry score for disadvantaged students for the popular biomedicine course from 88 to 92 from next year – just three points lower than the current cut-off score for other applicants, and a much narrower margin than for other courses..
The university reportedly said the change would reduce the proportion of Biomedicine students from disadvantaged backgrounds from 48% to 35%.
Now the rights and wrongs of the case are not relevant here. What is relevant is part of the explanation from the university.
Mark Hargreaves, director of the bachelor of biomedicine, said the university wanted to balance the demand of high-achieving and disadvantaged students. ”Thirty-five per cent is still well above the government target,” he said.
”From a PR perspective, while still high this is considerably better than the current 48 per cent.”
Eh? Run that past me again. ”From a PR perspective?”
Is this policy about PR? And “better” for whom? The university or the students?
Not unexpectedly, the university’s student union said the change showed Melbourne University was more concerned with reputation than helping disadvantaged students.
Issue Management is not brain surgery. However, maybe the Director of a medical course should have realised that defining an unpopular decision in terms of good PR is the wrong diagnosis. Good issue management needs a high level of transparency. But this strategy surely needed a second opinion . . . from a PR professional.