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Post-School Education in Australia: The Case against Deregulation

September 19th, 2014

That’s the title of my submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry into the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014.

You can read it here

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  1. 2 tanners
    September 19th, 2014 at 15:11 | #1

    Nice piece, although the second and last paragraphs of page 5 seem to be incomplete.

    As you point out, I do not understand how we can bruit a world class knowledge economy while proposing a cut price education system.

  2. Donald Oats
    September 19th, 2014 at 17:09 | #2

    The post-education school in Australia would be a more apt title.

  3. Jim
    September 19th, 2014 at 22:47 | #3

    Well said!

  4. Donald Oats
    September 20th, 2014 at 13:00 | #4

    Good submission, by the way. Whether it penetrates the deep recesses of the white male Commonwealth Christian block or not, remains to be seen.

    On a slightly tangential note, one of the difficulties we have at the moment is in getting through the impediments to students doing mathematics at an elevated level–a standard capable of direct entry to undergraduate mathematics, and allied sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and even biology. The CSIRO (Australia’s Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation) is regularly advertising jobs, scholarships, cadetships, and high school work experience, for anyone who is interested and willing to give it a go.

    Until recently, there was an obviously named division (now called “flagship”) in CSIRO, namely CMIS, short for CSIRO Mathematics, Informatics and Statistics; now, it is known as Digital Productivity (DP). This is a shame, in my opinion, for it conceals the fact that there are scientific careers in CSIRO in Australia which have, at their core, a foundation underpinned by university level mathematics, IT, statistics, and informatics knowledge. These elements are applied to a whole range of fields, including big data problems such as the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) astronomy program, biomedical research (DNA is big, very big, and full of patterns to be understood), 3D, 4D, and 5D image processing and transformation, autonomous mobile sensor networks (think swarms of miniature drones, etc), and so on. The list of vibrant research areas is humungously long. The outcomes are of demonstrable importance to Australia, both societally and industry-wise, so what’s not to like?

    Next time this (or any other) government hacks into CSIRO and/or universities, remember it affects what these organisations can offer back to us.

  5. Ivor
    September 20th, 2014 at 20:06 | #5

    While most will agree with the conclusions at page 7 and 16. The conclusion at page 18 is exaggerated and undemocratic.

    Conclusion: The long term goal of education reform in Australia should be the achievement of universal high school completion and universal access to high-quality post school education and training, either through universities or through technical education.

    The fact is that gains from schooling or the ability and interest to gain from education vary across a population and even in families. This is not necessarily an IQ factor but something else, even birth order, health and other interests.

    Put simply, the pathway out of schooling at age 16 or so, should still provide those that then work in an economy, with every right to a decent, enjoyable life as those who matriculate graduate, or work in professional or para professional careers.

    People leaving schooling at 16 should expect to find well paid jobs that allow them to purchase homes, raise families, and enjoy vacations etc. Society needs a vast number of award and near minimum wage workers, and there are plenty of people looking for such means to earn a living.

    What is the problem with privatisation???? There is no problem here but for the fact that a private institution under capitalism will use its gatekeeper position to extort rents.

    However a private cooperative based on socialist principles will not.

    As Mike Gallagher and the other G8 boffins are realising, they can also use public institutions to extort rents and pay themselves rather handsome salaries charging students extraordinary fees for a couple of hours contact in 600 seat lecture theatres plus a few low paid overworked tutors.

    So I would support privatisation but only for a regulated cost recovery institution possibly as a trust or cooperative.

    Privatisation is not the problem – capitalism is the problem.

  6. Ernestine Gross
    September 21st, 2014 at 15:21 | #6

    Important submission, Prof Q. I do hope it will be taken note of.

    You have a segment on the evolution of the teaching and learning requirements in relation to structural changes in ‘the economy’. In support of your argument, I’d like to give an example where your argument has been ignored.

    To the best of my knowledge, MBA (not Master Builder Association) postgrad degrees were originally developed in some countries [FN 1] to assist experienced science and engineering people to move from exclusively technical work to managerial roles later in their career path. IMO, introducing such people to accounting, finance, economic and legal frameworks (other than their subject specific) is a justifiable educational objective. Surely it is useful to have General Managers who can ask pertinent questions of their Accountants and Personnel staff.

    As more and more social science subjects were added (eg psychology, sociology, communications), a popular phrase for the teaching objectives of MBA became: “to make humans out of engineers”. [FN2]

    With reference to your segment of the evolution of the structure of the Australian economy, it made sense in the mid-1960s to allow a few actual or aspiring senior managers without a prior university degree into an MBA program, provided some additional entry requirements (interviews, HSC) were met. At that time, the regulatory framework (for eg banking and finance, industrial relations) was tight and ‘globalisation’ was a word not invented as yet, even though the then HSC graduates knew very well how the notion of ‘a globe’ is related to the space they live in. In short, at that time, the teaching content could be constrained to material related to ‘the firm’ (as in elementary micro) and the nature of the material (eg accounting, NPV, compound interest, taxation, income and price elasticity) do not require prior knowledge above HSC. As you say, only a relatively small fraction of the population did have HSC qualifications. It may well be that during that time, teachers with a High School teaching background might have been more suitable than some university academics to teach some MBA subjects. It may well be that the theoretically ‘standard’ MBA student, as identified earlier on, could do an MBA part-time in a very short time without feeling stress and he or she felt it was useful.

    Moving fast forward to the early 1990s. With reference to your submission, ‘everything’ had changed. Institutions offering an MBA were at a cross road. A decision had to be made on the curriculum and on admission criteria. These decisions would determine the ‘profitability’ of the program in the longer run. At that time, the managerialist approach had gained traction, starting characteristically back to front with a balance objectives. This approach is not justifiable on educational objectives and therefore there is no reason to expect it to be ‘profitable’ in the longer term, and changing the ‘ownership’ from public to private does not change the problem. The decisions that were actually made by ‘management’ are, I believe, reflected in what happened in the ‘MBA market’: Schools disappeared, merged, de-merged, re-emerged, or never got off the ground. No more has to be said.

    [1] In some countries (eg Germany) engineering degrees included at least one subject each in accounting, finance and labour laws besides subjects dealing with industry specific regulatory matters. For a long time in the post WWII era, MBAs were unknown and it did not seem to damage ‘the economy’.

    [2] Now some people ask whether the time is ripe to make engineers out of humans to reintroduce a bit of humanity because in the absence of anything other than ‘everything is subjective’, abuse of managerial power is difficult to pin down.

  7. Ernestine Gross
    September 21st, 2014 at 15:26 | #7

    oops, “with a balance objectives” should read ‘with balance sheet objectives’ – but you figured this one out anyway.

  8. September 22nd, 2014 at 14:23 | #8

    Very nice. WRT credentialism, it never occurred to me that the skills I use in my current job are actually pretty advanced. They aren’t taught in any one university course right now, but they essentially comprise a sort of modern literacy and numeracy. The sort of skills that you need most organisations today.

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