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Discrimination in university admissions?


What is discrimination?

Discrimination can be defined as unwarranted unfavourable treatment towards an individual or groups of individual based on their actual or perceived membership in a certain group or social category. Such treatment is usually in a way that is worse than the way people are usually treated. Discrimination could be based on someone’s gender, race, location, or socio-economic basis, etc. Discrimination is against the law under the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT), Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), Anti-Discrimination Act 1996 (NT), Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (QLD), Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA), Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (TAS), Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (Vic) and Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA). It is said there is some bias towards interstate students during medical interviews in some universities. This article aims to explore the legal basis behind discrimination using the ACT provisions, the possible bias against interstate students and suggest some future change. 

Legal basis

Discrimination legislation:

Section 7(2) of the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) sets out a test for discrimination. It states whether there is discrimination on the basis of a “characteristic that people with attribute generally have”. Section 8(1) deals with direct discrimination. Section 8(2) however, provides that a condition or requirement that would otherwise be discriminatory is not unlawful if it is ‘reasonable in the circumstances’. 

The Australian Constitution: 

Section 117 of the constitution provides that ‘A subject of the Queen, resident in any state, shall not be subject in any other state to any disability or discrimination which would not be equally applicable to him if he were a subject of the Queen resident in such other state”. This means that residents in any states should not be subject to discrimination of any form regardless of where they are from. 

Admission of interstate students

It is said there is a certain amount of bias towards interstate students during medical interviews. Some universities tend to place interstate students in 2nd round interviews, and give their 1st round interviews to local students. Whilst such actions may be viewed purely as convenience for both students and interviewers, it can also be argued the lack of interstate students in 1st round interviews constitutes discrimination. 

Ideally, admission should be based on the candidate’s own merits, personal achievements and suitability to the profession rather than the state they come from. Since Australian MBBS graduates are specifically trained for the Australian medical system, they represent the best return on investment by the Commonwealth and State or territory governments, which fund medical students’ education and internships. It is currently unknown whether there would be a reason that could be deemed as “reasonable” to give priority to local students. Likely, there is no reason to discriminate students based on their state of origin. This is most likely unconstitutional and against the provisions of Anti-discrimination legislation. 

Future change

If such discrimination and bias is occurring against interstate candidates, this is a problem that university admissions boards needs to investigate into. Solutions should aim at devising a system that does not allow bias against interstate students. 


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