The diminution of Australian education standards

By Leith van Onselen

A university degree in Australia used to mean something.

To gain entry to a decent course at a decent institution, students were required to work hard at school and gain a tertiary entrance score above a high threshold.

Not any more.

Thanks to the former Labor Government’s uncapping of university places in 2012, allowing universities to recruit as many students as they can fit, actual tertiary entrance scores have plummeted, meaning every man and his dog can now get a degree, devaluing their worth in the process.

A classic example of this phenomenon was illustrated in The Canberra Times yesterday, with New South Wales universities admitting students with entrance scores up to 40 points below their theoretical cut-off:

Students with marks up to 40 points below the advertised course cut-off are being accepted in fields such as business, teaching and engineering, according to the 2016 admissions figures from the University of Sydney, UNSW, Macquarie University and Western Sydney University…

The admissions data, seen for the first time by Fairfax Media, comes four years after the cap on student numbers was lifted by the federal government in 2012 allowing universities to recruit as many students as they can fit. The majority of degrees are funded by the federal government through student loans paid to the universities. The loan, often worth more than $20,000, is later repaid by students when they earn over $54,000…

The figures show top Sydney universities are offering places to thousands of school leavers with marks significantly below the minimum entry standard…

Individual university applicant reports show that students with ATARs as low as 46 have been offered a place in the Medical Science degree at Western Sydney University from next year, while Macquarie has invited students with ATARs in the 30s and who failed to score above a Band 3 in HSC economics to take up Commerce degrees.

The sad truth is that Australia’s universities have morphed from educational institutions providing a public good into degree factories, whereby they teach as many students as possible to accumulate Commonwealth government funding through HECS debts. Quality of teaching, and students’ ability to secure subsequent employment, remain distant priorities.

The problem is accentuated by the proliferation of international students, whereby degrees are sold to maximise profit at the expense of dumbed-down standards, with foreign students also enticed with the prospect of gaining permanent residency once they finish their courses, thus maintaining the population ponzi.

There has, of course, also been widespread rorting by private education providers, who are also more interested in maximising revenue rather than providing a decent educational experience and outcomes.

Australians need to ask themselves: what is tertiary education actually for and who does it benefit? Is it a public good used to boost the nation’s productivity and prosperity, or is it merely another commodity to be sold for short-term profit?

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Comments

  1. The Vice Chanceller of UNSW want to do away with ATAR all together and just let anyone enrol in any course they want.

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/lets-end-the-atar-says-unsw-vc-ian-jacobs-20160127-gmerue.html

    He read the story about private colleges enrolling those with intellectual disability and wanted a part of the action!!

    Seriously speaking, Australia really need those caps on Government funded university places back in place, and have some realistic industry feedback on how many graduates the country needs.

    • Strange Economics

      At least the rentiers with the elite private school business model are stuffed by allowing wide entry.
      Why pay $30 k a year and get a big government subsidy as well so that the school can waste it on the Principal (CEO) $ 1 million salary and spend it on sports and music scholarships to other students all to get a higher average ATAR . Meanwhile young Julia gets an average education there.
      Now everyone will get to uni and do “Law” anyway. (and be unemployed at the end with the the oversupply of graduates. and with computers replacing junior lawyers jobs to do searches).
      If you restrict entry you are back to keeping the graduate jobs for the well off of the private school industry.

      • casewithscience

        Junior lawyers are not useful for anything really. It takes years of abuse and discipline before they should be let anywhere near a client.

        I agree some aspects of junior lawyer-ing needs to be computerised, but we will not get a new generation of lawyers without having people go through the process of being a junior lawyer. It is a conundrum.

      • so if you don’t need an ATAR why go to school at all? skip it, go straight to university – get a degree – move on. Great

  2. Strayaaa… Capitalism in education – in 2009 when I graduated, something smelt off, by now it’s rotten to the core – that wide spread cheating scandal was hilarious, the asian girl off-shoring essays online and selling them to students hahah globalisation at its best. But why go to uni? Just be a property investor, you can google how to do that

  3. Silly boy!!! It’s about having a growing and prosperous service sector to replace all that minig activity.
    All part of the RBA’s magical rebalancing.- along with the idiocy you pointed out.

    • Yep, this is the weakest time to run this argument. So many snouts in this trough and all the other troughs are running dry!

      “Australians need to ask themselves: what is tertiary education actually for and who does it benefit? Is it a public good used to boost the nation’s productivity and prosperity, or is it merely another commodity to be sold for short-term profit?”

      Um… the trick was never asking the question in the Australian media. And getting the mostly permanent answer by quietly setting up the legislative infrastructure that way anyway (answer is option 2 by the way). Then add just enough of the aforementioned snouts from either lab or lib to your own farrow to not take too much of the muck but make the squealing unbearable to change anything. Rinse and repeat.

      • Thanks OT I was wondering where the original seed was sown here – Howard with his hairdressers?
        I think if you could really dig through all this stuff I reckon we’d find a truckload or two of corruption on both sides of politics.

      • i think you’ll find most ills afflicting this once great country can be laid at the rodent’s mendacious paws. the many worshippers of the rodent baffle me.

  4. When you’re in the business of running a educational sausage factory, why turn away the offal and ears?

    • Nice one bruvva.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qksndNDMDOw

      I recall having a hard time getting into my Computer Science course at the end of year 2000. I actually didn’t get the enter score I needed, I managed to get in by doing a Tafe course first and then moving to University. What struck me when I got in was that a lot of the international students had no idea what was going on, I thought with my lower score I’d struggle to keep up with the others, but in the end I was getting top marks.

      Still part of it was because I really put in the hard yards and got extra tuition. Huh hard work.. Look where that got me? Still can’t afford a house. 🙂

      • No slur on yourself Gavin – I have several friends and rellies who bombed the TER/HSC only to re-attempt via TAFE, get in and ultimately emerge from Uni with high class degrees and marks. For a variety or reasons it is hardly surprising that a 16/17 year old may have trouble applying themselves and end up with a poor result… a years worth of extra maturity can make all the difference sometimes (or a change in learning approach)

        The proven route for this use to be to re-attempt through TAFE, like yourself and my friends and family, unfortunately with what the NSW Govt is doing to TAFE it is being rendered increasingly difficult or impossible not to emerge without a heavy debt load either nowdays (another topic)

        But on the subject of Uni admissions I think this article sums it up quite well, particularly the conclusion:

        http://andrewnorton.net.au/2016/01/28/low-atar-offers-result-in-few-low-atar-completions/

        “My perspective on this is primarily a consumer protection one. Prospective students are not being informed of the risks they are taking. Universities say that they are looking at what predicts success other than ATAR, but only rarely do they release any evidence of this that can be checked by independent analysts. The regulator’s vague statements are less than confidence inspiring. The numbers of people taking major risks are not that large in the context of total enrolments. But we should be doing more to ensure that they are making decisions that are in their own long-term interests.”

        i.e. not being tricked into undertaking educational qualifications for which they’re not suited, and emerging years later with nothing other than a lifetime worth of debt.

      • Universities are probably Australia’s most lucrative ‘state industry’, and makes some sense in getting value out of them now?

        Breaking the linkage between high school and university should be an objective, with TAFE filling the gap; with school leavers given an opportunity to becoming informed about life and alternative study pathways (including O/S).

        Re. quality, Oz universities have always had a ‘so so’ quality reputation internationally (not helped by autonomy and permanent tenure), and Australia does not have a good quality system whether TAFE, uni or RTO. Quality is limited to inputs i.e. eligible students and qualified teachers, curriculum or approved training package, then outputs, but nothing about assessment of actual teaching and learning?

        Financially universities have to meet increasing demands of users or stakeholders, with much competition for govt. funds from ageing populace (pensions/health care). International students are a result of 1980s Labor policy (and most nations now) following on from Colombo Plan, to subsidise Australian student places, internationalisation of curriculum and soft diplomacy, especially in Asia.

        However, as others suggest, life long, work place etc. learning are often more effective and up to date, while universities have become self serving ‘neo liberal’ or some say corrupt profit centres spawning ASX listed spinoffs (seeded by public money on public resources with management as shareholders?), supported by ongoing international student income and job security for ‘tenured’ faculty and administrative management, while about 20% of teaching jobs are casual and all students paying fees/holding debt.

        Universities and higher education are in for a big shake up in future and often only have their own management to blame due to not adapting with the times and avoiding scrutiny.

        Some go further and describe universities as ‘job shops’ seemingly invented to employ ageing baby boomers and/or graduates….

      • For a variety or reasons it is hardly surprising that a 16/17 year old may have trouble applying themselves and end up with a poor result… a years worth of extra maturity can make all the difference sometimes (or a change in learning approach)

        The proven route for this use to be to re-attempt through TAFE, like yourself and my friends and family, unfortunately with what the NSW Govt is doing to TAFE it is being rendered increasingly difficult or impossible not to emerge without a heavy debt load either nowdays (another topic)

        You couldn’t have summarised it better, for me it was learning how to study effectively. What going to University taught me was that there is a way to study and prepare for exams. That really made all the difference. But yeah at 16/17/18 I wasn’t really as motivated to study for a variety of reasons, cars, chasing girls etc..

        Sadly with regards to Tafe I see it being decimated first hand, I have been attending some practical workshops (unrelated to comp sci or my current career) but more so in metal work and vehicle restoration, but the cuts being made to Tafe means every semester I’m not sure if my course will be available. It’s very short sighted planning by the government.

  5. Any employer who doesn’t do a mini viva exam of a new(ish) graduate before employing them and who doesn’t insist on a 6 month probation period is mad.
    A short essay on an academic topic to test knowledge, spelling, grammar etc is also needed in this day of professionally prepared CV’s.
    Essays, group work and open book exams are a problem too where the student does not have to pass a final exam each session.
    The numbers are now such that a credit is the new pass from 15 years ago, but I am sure that all employers of more than one or two graduates a year know all this already.
    The private education rorts by some providers are the greatest waste of govenment money after superannuation rorts!

    • I’m recruiting for a graduate allied health position. Out of the 60+ CVs received, there are only 3 without major spelling or grammar mistakes. I have also received several photographs of people’s resumes in lieu of actual attached documents!!

      • Sounds like we need to attract more people to Arts degrees to ensure a better calibre of English and other Humanities subject teachers at Secondary School.

      • TOGTFO? 🙂

        Seriously though – I’ve noticed the rapid decrease of quality in the last uh… say 8 years or so. When we hire IT graduates, we have to screen them just as thoroughly as the ones without a a degree – as they are quite honestly – almost indistinguishable.

        And then even the good ones, you talk to them and bloody hell! they’ve got huge gaps in their knowledge. And it’s not their fault really – the courses have become such fluff that they don’t know what they don’t know.

        At the risk of sounding old, back in my days (finished uni in 1999, in an eastern european country) I did 5 years of uni for an IT degree. And they were *HARD*. I mean – advanced maths and physics up until the first semester of the 4th year. And serious programming languages (and I include here x86 assembly) . And digital and analog circuit design… and elements of electric engineering (suitable for the profile, but a pain in the ass, nonetheless)

        All that – for free! The degree had a capped number of places per year (IIRC – my year had 300 places) and you had to sit a set of 3 exams to make it in. The Bacalaureat grade didn’t matter at all (because reasons) – but that being said, even if you bombed out at your bac, you could still (theoretically) make it in at the Uni, provided you passed the admission exams. Few actually did, in reality, mainly because it stood to reason that if you bombed out at your bac you were’t really interested in going any further anyways – so off to an apprenticeship with you: “the country needs plumbers too”

        Ah, and the exams were murder! 3.5-4 hours long and some serious maths and physics there.

        When we occassionally open this subject with my guys – they all look at me as if I landed off a different planet. And I might as well have – as it’s been unheard of in their generations…

        Sad, really… 🙁

      • For what job?

        Maybe you could demand that the applicant has done VCE or HSC or IB.

        Unless you prefer to hire immigrants instead of Aussies.

    • Employers vetting the suitability of employees themselves and having to consider the consequences of getting it wrong ?

      Outrageous !

      • Most HR deptartments are staffed by clueless idiots. I have interviewed short listed candidates gathered by HR to be amazed at how useless HR departments truely are. The candidates to say the least were unbelievably crap. HR and recruitment is also another bullshit service that has flourished unchecked with poor standards.

      • Most HR deptartments are staffed by clueless idiots. I have interviewed short listed candidates gathered by HR to be amazed at how useless HR departments truely are.

        Yep. I have been passed the details of candidates to review who weren’t even applying for the job I was advertising.

      • Ha ha, sorry to be a pain in the rump Fezy, but you misspelt truly …. I mean this in good humour, not busting nuts.

    • Group assignments suck.

      Why should I have to work with foreign “students” who are hopeless in English.

      Of course I have played in a basketball team after school along with working in a supermarket as part of a team.

  6. All respect, but you haven’t really pointed out a problem here, you just got nostalgic for the times when “degrees meant something”.

    The importance of tertiary education in a 21st century economy means that more people will need to do them. A ranked entrance score, means that necessarily, more people with lower scores will go to uni.

    There are plenty of challenges in the education system. Is letting more people do degrees one of them?

      • Even in 2004, doing a degree did not gurantee a job in AUS. Not even an entry level job.

        I know a guy from South Asia who did a degree in AUS 10+ years ago and then got a job in Germany. When he came back to AUS, all he could get were crap jobs like taxi driving.

        It says a lot about Aussie industry (what is left of it) and the corrupt government of AUS.

    • Following Adam’s comments; for most degrees why does it matter if a potential Uni candidate has average vs above average entrance scores? So long as the degrees themselves are not dumbed down, the students will have to learn the material to complete the degree. If the students are intelligent enough to comfortably work through a degree with poor scores in high school, why does it matter?

    • There are plenty of challenges in the education system. Is letting more people do degrees one of them?

      If an Engineering degree today has lower standards to acquire than an Engineering degree did a decade ago, then yes, most certainly that’s a problem.

      • Is there reason to think that they standards for engineering degrees have dropped?
        If they have, is it because they have dropped within particular institutions, or is it because new institutions with lax standards have appeared?
        If the latter, there is a simple solution for employers, already widespread in some fields- throw CVs from graduates of the new institutions in the bin, and carry on.
        That aspect is simply not covered here.

      • Academic transcript is a far more reliable indicator than high school atar scores. I have a high school friend who got a very low atar, however he picked himself up through the uni system. First he enrolled in one of the less prestigious unis, then he transferred to a better uni due to his performance in the IT course. Finally he was able to secure a job and is now making great money in the IT industry.

        Basically atar has little bearing on how someone may turn out in a professional field.

      • Is there reason to think that they standards for engineering degrees have dropped?

        I don’t know. However, it is a common complaint (including from my wife, who whinges that graduate Engineers these days barely know the stuff they should *and* don’t seem to know how to find things they don’t know, either).

      • @drsmithy,

        I remember engineering managers coming to lecture us at uni about how to prepare for the workforce – and making the same complaint as your wife as part of the lecture. Possibly if standards really have slipped, the rot set in during the mid sixties

        (wrt Engineering specifically, a factor could be the ongoing reduction in the frequency with which engineers actually do calcs by hand obviously due to ongoing reliance on computers. Usually done in exams just once, compared to doing them repeatedly in the workforce which builds a kind of muscle memory and, importantly, a sense for what the plausible range of answers is without doing the actual calc)

      • I’ve found over the years with engineering you end up becoming a manager of something, be that people, contracts, or projects. Then it becomes more about planning and scheduling.

        Rarely have I seen engineers in Australia actually do, you know engineering with actual maths and science. The ones that do are ironically paid the least (think academics, consultancy grads), with that sort of engineering being more a specialist area.

      • I’ve found over the years with engineering you end up becoming a manager of something, be that people, contracts, or projects. Then it becomes more about planning and scheduling.

        IT is the same. Senior positions (particularly in the context of salary) that remain hands-on or technically focused are rare.

    • You forgot to state also that the reason a lot of semi illiterate people can do any modern job is because of computer technology. I learnt by rote the times table and how to manually add, subtract & divide. I’ve lost that ability and now use a calculator. Most young people are completely tech savvy and rely on the computer to get them through most jobs – retail services, the till does the work for example. Even medicine, I was asked by a young doctor what I thought my ailment may be (honest to God) and then she consulted a NZ medical online site and put in my complaints & symptoms and then gave me a prescription. I consulted another older, experienced Doctor and he said that she had got it right – from the Computer technology!

      • Today's Empire Tomorrow's Ashes

        Health Pathways or similar?

        I’ve been to GPs where I honestly had more clue about the cause than they did (I was suggesting diagnostics and bloods to run).

        Not to mention nutrition isn’t part of their degree. Guffaw. Start at the gut biome, peoples.

    • When I’m back in Australia I find it hard not to feel that I just stepped into a parallel universe and nowhere is it more apparent than within our institutions of higher learning. Everyone acknowledges the chronic skills shortages especially wrt 21st century Engineering skills yet our colleges/Universities accept and apparently even graduate those students that shouldn’t even have attempted the High School certificate.. In a way it’s a problem in microcosm of the same broader problem within Australian society. I know I bang on about Allocative Efficiency and real world Productivity far more than any Engineer is entitled to, but in the end analysis real world national Productivity is about efficiently utilizing the resources at your disposal (Human capital, universities, monetary capital, political capital….) to produce what you need. Just as our universities fail to produce what our society really needs, so to does our society fail to guide our kids and adequately provide direction and develop 21st century jobs and globally differentiated 21st century skills. For an outsider it’s a weird combination, globally world leading Housing prices supported by a technical skills base more at home in the 1950’s than 2050. If Aussie graduates of today will be our differentiated work force of 2050 then they need the skills, knowledge and commitment to continuous education and continuous improvement, yet our society apparently cant afford to tread this path because our institutions can’t efficiently develop our human capital. Hmmm Now why was it that I came back?

      • Thanks great link.

        I’m mid-30’s – I suppose that means I sit somewhere between the old and the young. Although, I can’t seem to shake the idea that “Generation Uphill”, to borrow from the economist, are entitled, self-focused and just on average, generally incapable.

        Adulthood is postponed into late 20’s, everyone seems to want their ideal lifestyle immediately and not understand the value of hard work, and image is the language of self-expression and not anything of deeper worth.

        Maybe that’s exactly why they need social, economic, policy attention rather than neglect?

        In that spirit, maybe kicking in a few bucks so the “dummies” can go to university, isn’t such a crazy thing.

        Thanks,

  7. From a neoliberal perspective, everything is a commodity to be sold for profit. Education is no different. There is no public good, not one that any government should attempt to define or concern itself with beyond providing laws and security for property, individual freedom and territorial defence. A properly functioning market of private individuals will decide what is good. So, if there is a problem to be found here for neoliberals, it is that erstwhile socialist governments won’t get out of the way and let the system become fully privatised. Government is creating the distortions !

  8. My cousins wife attended Curtin University and passed her commerce degree. She is Japanese and speaks no English. I have no idea how she passed.


  9. Individual university applicant reports show that students with ATARs as low as 46 have been offered a place in the Medical Science degree at Western Sydney University from next year,

    Doesn’t actually sound like a problem – kids who do well in this degree get the chance to go on to the ‘real’ medical degree that lets them become doctors, which is a much better way of finding out whether they are doctor material than whether they can get a great score in Year 12 (possibly on subjects like studies in the language they speak at home or English Lit).

    The others go on to do medical grunt work such as lab tech or pharma sales, which seems entirely suitable for slightly below average students (what 46 ATAR means after all).

    KInd of seems an example of the system essentially working.

    (check out the handbook entry –

    http://handbook.westernsydney.edu.au/hbook/course.aspx?course=3673.1

    Looks like a degree intended specifically for mid-range students. ATAR 46 is exactly where it should be looking)

      • Fair enough, I hadn’t taken that into account wrt ATAR.

        But I still don’t see the problem – if the course has its own standards so that students who don’t achieve to the standard don’t end up with a degree then the notion that a degree means something is maintained.
        And if the course aims to give people the bare minimum knowledge of medical science to go into medical sales, it’s a very long way from targeting the best and brightest.

      • The standards are bent, moulded, massaged and lines changed/blurred – this is the problem stats sailor.

      • Umm stat Isn’t the issue waste? Stuffing courses with people who, according to best indicators, have little chance of passing doesn’t seem like a good use of our educational institutions. (Note: This is way outside anything i have any idea about!!!!)

      • @flawse,

        Yes, that’s a halfway reasonable concern, though having sat through a class address ( a few years ago now) where the Dean of Engineering told us first years to look at the person sitting next to us, because they wouldn’t be around by the end of the year (but don’t worry about it too much – when he went through it was the person on both sides) I’m not sure that anyone has ever seriously tried to tackle that sort of waste.

      • Umm stat Isn’t the issue waste? Stuffing courses with people who, according to best indicators, have little chance of passing doesn’t seem like a good use of our educational institutions.

        True to a point, but most of those people should be weeded out in the first year, if not the first semester.

        The real problem here is not entrance requirements or caps, it’s a monetised University system with a priority of profit (ie: keeping as many students on the hook as long as possible) rather than setting and enforcing academic standards (ie: kicking out the ones who don’t pass).

      • Any lecturer who tries to ‘maintain standard’ and fail most of the student will get a bad review from students. Any lecturer with a bad review will not have the contract renewed. So all that remains are people who give easy passes. That is however not the biggest issue..

        The biggest issue is that none of the lecturers care about the students as they’re too busy getting grants and publishing papers. If you don’t publish a certain amount of paper, you’re fired. In such an environment, why would they give a damn when your classes of 500 students plagiarize each other?

      • To be fair, the traditional point of Universities is furthering academic research. Teaching is more of a side effect.

        Many, many things now taught in Universities should be taught in technical colleges and TAFEs instead.

    • Like Ronin said 46 is completely woeful. As a teacher of high schoolers I can say that anyone getting under 50 probably shouldn’t have gone onto year 12 and definitely not Uni. Basically parents want us to do the babysitting in the hope that they will grow in those extra years of school and get serious about the future. An atar below 50 means this hasn’t happened.

      • Re the subject of failing students.

        I wouldn’t put this at the altar of the professors. To fail a student and have them kicked out of a course, for instance, can be an administrative nightmare (or so I’ve heard). Proofs of grades, disputes with the student, various red tape upon red tape. It’s usually just easier to give them a low grade.

        Scarily, I’ve heard about this stuff going on in the medical profession, post-med school of course. By that stage, 6 years of university education and a doctor in the internship phase, the government has already invested so much; if it is found that an intern is useless it is very very difficult to ‘fail’ them at this point.

    • A better question, given this is about the standard of secondary kids being allowed into uni, might be –

      Would you prefer to operated on by someone who got an ATAR of 60, but was top of his finishing year at med school, or by someone who finished last in her med school., but had an ATAR of 99?

      • True. The private school holy grail is tertiary entrance scores – so they can market their own wares – look at the stats as private school performance outperforms the closer you get to this point. The stats also show considerable under performance by spoon fed students in a university setting. It is not all about rankings. It is ALL about maintaining standards within universities.

      • From experience i can tell you that the quality is terrible.
        It does matter who gets accepted on these courses – these are group learning situations, tutorials, group assignments class discussions etc. In the group situation the quality is directly affected for everyone and the least able pull down the level for all …

      • EF,

        If empathy/EQ was a requirement for getting into medicine, would there be any qualified surgeons in the world anywhere?

      • Very true, maybe on the moderate or mild end of the (sociopath) spectrum tho, not the severe diabolical end.

      • I’d rather be operated on by a brilliant d!ckhead than a mediocre surgeon with a lovely bedside manner…

      • @Bedugl, the example i gave was extreme (refer to the links I provided) and he was an incompetent dickhead, not all sociopaths are competent. You would not want him to be operating on you.

      • Just FYI, the knowledge and skill you need to be even a competent Doctor so greatly exceed what is taught in medical school that it makes your performance there largely irrelevant. That is why it take 5-8 years (and much harder examinations) post medical school to qualify as a specialist or even a GP.

      • I was insinuating that by the time a doctor has been through medical school their ATAR is totally irrelevant. Based on your comment it’s two or three orders of magnitude more irrelevant still.

  10. Hence why companies are no longer specifying the requirement to have a degree when they look for candidates now, they are looking at experience and not putting much worth on if a prospective employer has a degree or not.

  11. Thanks to the former Labor Government’s uncapping of university places in 2012, allowing universities to recruit as many students as they can fit, actual tertiary entrance scores have plummeted, meaning every man and his dog can now get a degree, devaluing their worth in the process.

    How is this the fault of uncapped places ? Surely the problem here is universities letting in unqualified students and not subsequently failing them ?

    50 people starting a medical degree who are incapable of completing it is a better problem to have than 50 people who are capable of completing a medical degree but can’t enroll because there’s not enough places.

    • It’s not.
      And I note that no data has been brought in on the issue of whether the 1st years are washing out at greater rates, or whether educational standards for particular professions have actually slipped.

      Conversely, there has been a lot of credential creep whereby occupations that had absolutely no requirement for a degree now need one – there are even RE Agent degrees now ffs! The calibre of the people attracted to those professions shows no sign of changing, so it means that universities and university courses for less academically inclined people have sprung up. Obviously those courses are going to have very low entrance requirements.

      Additionally, is there much or even any reason to think that ATAR scores are a useful predictor of success at uni? Studying alongside people with scores in the 90s who dropped out while people with far lower scores did well makes me wonder.

      • Additionally, is there much or even any reason to think that ATAR scores are a useful predictor of success at uni? Studying alongside people with scores in the 90s who dropped out while people with far lower scores did well makes me wonder.

        Yeah, I’ll stick my hand up as one of those. OP1 but average uni results.

  12. My advice to young people is to not follow the crowd.
    I have always loved the saying that the B students end up working for the government, and the A students end up working for the C students. Says it all!

    • The reality is virtually all C students ends up nowhere. The C students that have A students working for them, are usually already rich.

      Also the really smart A students realizes there are better opportunities and pursues said opportunity before finishing uni. Think Facebook and Microsoft.

  13. I’d prefer to see first year free and full standards applied from day 1, weeding out the unwilling or incapable at the end of first semester. Semester 1 could be by internet from anywhere except for the exam which would be independently supervised and count for 100%. Standards based marking would apply much as for the HSC. Posts could be granted to the top 10% of those who failed at a user pays fee.
    Anyone could sit the exam at any time in their lives, so those who get distracted, have unmanaged ADD, etc can start again later.
    No HEC’s or Help needed for the first semester as it is all delivered on line by video and text so pretty much a once off setup and yearly review with changes only as needed.
    Very low cost from public purse, much lower than unrecovered loanswhere the costs are full use of all the physical facilities and teaching and admin staff, because anyone can register on line for $100 per try and progress through to just before the exam entirely on line.
    It’s a digital world – lets get Semster one delivered digitally totally off campus.

    • Anyone could sit the exam at any time in their lives, so those who get distracted, have unmanaged ADD, etc can start again later.

      The other problem this idea would address is that for many people, especially males, the age of 17-18 is a kind of “peak adolescent uselessness”, and if they were judged on their abilities at 19 or 20 or 21 instead, they’d do a lot better.
      Additionally, while there are lots of learning difficulties emerge early in life and have a chance of being managed by the end of secondary school, lots of other conditions, e.g. depression, frequently emerge in later adolescence, so may be yet to be diagnosed, let alone managed.

      I general, when picking an age to sort people into winners and losers in a way that will follow them around for the rest of their lives, 17-18 years old is probably the worst age you could possibly pick.

    • Agree with Explorer January 28, 2016 at 11:43 am

      Also with ages, learning practical skills suits most 18-21 years, wanting to understand the how and why comes later…

  14. FiftiesFibroShack

    There’s a problem if they’re dropping the requirements to pass more students. The idea that anyone can get into any course appeals to me, the idea that anyone can pass any course, does not.

    • Yes, equality of opportunity shouldn’t be conflated with equality of outcome. Although with the current trajectory of standards and priorities, the two will probably become synonymous soon enough.

  15. Sounds like the UK when they opened up the poly’s as uni’s. You can get a degree by sending in enough tokens from your favourite cereal now.

  16. almost identical story can be told about almost every country around the world – it’s not different in USA, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Middle east, Asia … we are not different, worse or better

  17. The problem you lot have is you don’t realise that standardised exams don’t promote true learning, it promotes rote learning. Even more so on closed book exams.

  18. Is there any evidence that those entering into these courses are less well educated ?

    If not then this is a good thing all round. If there is, then this is a problem.

    Opening up university to more people is not a problem, and complaining about it smacks of resentment – the classic hatred of the upper class towards the middle class for engaging in art, literature, galleries, plays, fine music and wine – the preserve of the wealthy.

    I mean whats the point in being rich or well educated if just anybody can do it hey ?

    Evidence of poorer standards – or this is a bad reflection on ourselves rather than the Universities and its students.

  19. casewithscience

    Having worked as a couple of universities, I do not agree with your analysis. The better view, I think, is this:

    1. Universities are focused on high-level, high quality activity, predominantly cutting edge research and development in their relevant fields;

    2. Universities are not properly funded for research activity;

    3. In order to prop up funding for their focused activities, Universities must make income from other areas.

    4. The easiest area to drive income is through under-graduate and course work post-graduate courses. Which courses now subsidise the highly-valued research operations;

    5. As private industry and government continues to reduce research activity (Australia is second lowest in the OECD for private industry engagement in research, and lower than China and India), the Universities are forced to expand admission for the bread making courses, while ignoring quality control (because of the expense in carrying out strict quality control and the lack of profitability accordingly).

    The idea that universities pump out grads just to “make money” is ridiculous. University execs are generally academics, or closely aligned to academia. Those types of people would generally require high standards of teaching. No, the reality is that they are prepared to sacrifice standards because it is the only way to fund what they truly value, being development of new knowledge.

    In other words, the solution to the problem is not regulatory control of standards (which will just breed new means to get around the rules). The answer to the problem is to properly fund research.

    • how universities got the idea that research is more important than teaching?
      Education (passing of the knowledge) should be their ultimate goal not creating new knowledge – we have research institutions for that

      • Universities are supposed to be places of learning, and that by definition must include both research and teaching. The fact is that the research done by universities is of dramatically higher quality than that conducted by research institutes – the average sandstone academic has 10 times the publications and citations of a research institute scientist.

        @casewithscience – spot on, my experience as well.

      • casewithscience

        Dear doctorX

        I thoroughly recommend that you:

        1. Read the legislation establishing the universities;
        2. Review the history of universities as academic institutions.

        Broad-field education is a relatively new thing to universities. For 800 years, Universities really existed as faculties for research directly, where students would be taken on as a side note.

  20. Actually this is not new. In a post grad course waaaay back in the eighties, we had Asian students with insufficient speaking English to ask/answer questions, but guess who put their hands up when the profs called for questions. It was agonising sitting through some of this nonsense, so it sounds as though thirty years on not much has changed. The tragedy in those days was that these students were taking the seats off locals which sounds a bit myopic, but that was the reality. I transitioned between the free system and the new HECS system in my undergrad years and found the former period to be more about academic achievement, the latter more about maximising bums on chairs. It sounds counter intuitive, but I believe the academic entry requirements for locals, at least, was strictly enforced until HECS appeared. It bears out the observations mentioned in this article.
    It seems to me a tragedy that the standards are hollowed out as it diminishes the effort of those that did earn their awards under proper academic rigour. If the the perceived value of Australian further education diminishes in the minds of overseas clients, the industry of selling further education into this market will eventually wither until our system is left with the dross of foreign students. A bit like the way capitalism is currently devouring itself.

    • If you’re going to give it away for free, you want to make sure you’re giving it to people that deserve it. If you’re selling it, you don’t care.

  21. I met two 25 year old primary school teachers within 18 months of each other.

    They were as dumb as dog sh!$.

    And uncouth.

    Lower standards or just slipped through the cracks?

    • The entrance requirements for teaching – especially at less than high school level – have never been particularly high in Australia.

      This aligns with the general cultural feeling of indifference towards – if not outright contempt for (apparent on MB often enough, and from people other than the usual suspects like 3d1k) – teaching as a profession.

      We reap what we sow.

      • That’s because anyone with half a brain would avoid teaching profession in Australia like a plague.

  22. More and more employers are starting to drop degree requirements. Continuous education model makes a lot more sense for a lot of industries these days anyway. Very little stays static.

  23. My thoughts as one with both degrees and expertise from MOOCs -Autodidacts come in different shapes and sizes. This world is built for them – with connectivity and access to learning tools unprecedented. Those betting on degrees to succeed will need to queue up and beat the gen ahead of them who rely on blocking tactics, connections and first mover advantage. The only way to be at the top is to be able to teach yourself as you go. If you rely on professors you are ten years behind and already learning the wrong thing. You will never get your turn, even if you are better.

    With technology the way it is, you can access lectures from Harvard, Berkeley, anywhere really from a public library – we should all be experts across multiple fields. You can pay professionals to teach you what they have learnt in 20 years in 2 months. If you are ruthless about learning you will find the best in the world, send them an invite, and be debating wit them one one on one in minutes on said topics – no need to debate with b gradeers to get a collegiate environment.

    Other: The problems you have by having specialists who know fuck all about anything else is that their solutions toolkit is compromised to the spectrum of ideas they have been exposed to.

    What we are acknowledging now is that merit is not as important as positioning – and as the hierarchy of value in terms of skills changes in step with the wealth reality and resources reality – it will really only be a handful of value adders in any society – those that understand multiple stacks and can piece together the future in tandem with those high IQ individuals with the brain power to solve critical problems. Everybody else has a vested interest, however it has nothing to do with the survival of the group.

  24. Scrapping a cap on the nr of placements for a course does _not_ have to equal lowering of standards; the latter just is necessary if a uni wants to increase its students nrs in an easy way. Go to any university in e.g. Belgium where there are no caps, but where the academic standards are still very high. Anyone can go there to study, but graduating actually requires meeting those high standards.

    Unfortunately it seems to be true the prime reason for Asians to study in Australia is the prospect of PR; the actual study itself is just collateral.

    Just spent some time traveling through Asia where I’ve heard this story straight from the locals. Along with the notion: migrating to Australia? Easy, just buy a house and after a few years you obtain PR.

    • Acknowledge exists considerable focus on achieving permanent residency in students from Overseas who study in Australia.

      For some, by time they qualified, they on hit lists back home and IMHO reasonably terrified of returning home.

      Australia could benefit, by encouraging all students who become qualified to first work in Australia for three years, then be offered various overseas posts for two years, as part of our foreign aid.

      Those on Permanent Residency need guarantee for their return.

      Such provide countries of origin some return from their sending students here.

  25. Universities were successful at glorification of University qualifications over practical trade qualifications.

    Examples include basic Teaching and Nursing, these previously started with trainees busy doing drudgy tasks, drudgy work. As they learned practical teaching or medical tasks, they decided IF they wished to continue. Those who progressed, passed regular in-service courses, were encouraged to go on to increasingly more specialist Teaching or Medical skills, most of which were at University Degree and higher standards.

    Changing training to University courses, means so many who go through the Degrees find they prefer other employments rather than the drudgy practical sides to their trade and leave.
    Result is we ran out of practical trade qualified people.

    Need concentrate on encouraging students to become practical assistants, while encourage those with practical training completed to return to relevant Degree courses part time or external/online, with regular short term block work.