MITCH HARRIS: The tertiary education sector is crumbling

29/03/2017

I have a friend who has recently taken up an appointment at one of our second-tier Universities. She has old-school integrity. She believes her students should hand their work in on time. She thinks that mistakes should be corrected and near-enough is not good enough.

She tells me that she is regularly complained about by students to her managers. If she doesn't pass an assignment or asks for it to be finished on time they go straight to her superiors. Her superiors usually back her but back down to the student as well.

That is because students are no longer students. They are economic units that the tertiary institutions have to hang on to if they want to survive, regardless of whether the student is suited to the course they are enrolled in or not.

A survey by the Tertiary Education Union found 57.1% of university staff and 71.7% of all staff at polytechs and trade-training providers felt increased pressure to pass more students, regardless of their performances.

We have done a terrific job over the last generation of getting young people into higher education. But I fear we have gone too far. Too many students are racking up debt doing degrees that will never give them a return. And now we see falling education standards as our centres of learning have become revenue-generators in order to stay alive.

The various university spokespeople all deny it, but we seem to be witnessing an entire sector becoming degraded. There are sham educational institutions which are effectively fronts for immigration scams and swathes of made-up courses unlikely to ever result in a meaningful career.

It is time again to ask the fundamental question: What is education for?

Mitch Harris is host of Afternoon Talk on RadioLIVE