by David Clendon
Oh dear. Anyone who felt a wee bit nervous when Steven Joyce became Tertiary Education Minister has a right to feel justified in their fears after his last couple of annoucements.
First, we hear there are plans to link funding for tertiary institutions to the pass rates of their students from 2012. This is a terrible idea.
It could actually make the problem the Government is trying to fix – supposedly “poor quality” courses and “low standards” – worse, by encouraging funding-starved insititutions to pass everyone in order to secure their funding. Universities are starved of funding enough as it is, without creating a perverse incentive like this.
It could also make institutions wary about accepting students who are “less likely” to pass, like Maori, Pacifica, and adult students without previous qualifications, creating a serious equity issue around access to education for these groups.
Finally, it totally fails to take into account the fact that there are numerous factors influencing pass rates. As I blogged when John Key hinted at this in his speech a few weeks ago, included among “failures” could be people upgrading from a sub-degree course to a degree course because they learn that they are up to the challenge, or people moving out of education and straight into work. I would argue that scenarios like this actually constitute “success”, not failure. But linking funding to pass rates is too blunt an instrument to take this into account.
We also learned that the Government wants to review and reduce the number of tertiary qualifications on offer. This shows that they just don’t understand what higher education is all about.
Higher education is not only about churning out the type of “work-ready” graduates that industries say they want. It’s also about teaching life skills, critical thought, research, and other skills which enhance employability in any industry.
We can’t predict now what skills industries will demand in two, three, or five years time when people graduate, so we’re better off focusing on quality higher education that can be adapted to different jobs. I mentioned this in my last blog on tertiary issues too.
While its good to avoid replication of qualifications that are substantially the same, it’s important to remember that a diversity of courses reflects our diverse society, skills, and needs.
With these latest announcements, Stephen Joyce has shown his failure to grasp these key concepts.