University professor hits out at falling university standards

By Leith van Onselen

In the wake of the Productivity Commission’s latest Shifting the Dial productivity review report, Griffith University economics professor, Ross Guest, has joined the chorus lambasting the dilution of Australian university standards and the weakening of jobs prospects for graduates. From The AFR:

Ross Guest agreed universities were overly focused on research and said it was because teaching quality was not properly measured and reported.

“Universities don’t get funded for teaching quality because we haven’t found generally accepted, robust ways of measuring teaching quality,” he said.

“We should work on that. Universities ought to be spending more of their resources teaching so that graduates are better prepared for the labour market”…

Professor Guest said lower rates of graduate employment, less attractive salaries and a growing incidence of under-employment were mathematical certainties in an environment where universities were producing more graduates for the same number of jobs available.

“It was never a very sensible idea in my view,” he said, referring to the Gillard-era policy of deregulating university places. “It was never a very good return on investment for either the taxpayer or the student.”

Professor Guest said the PC was “brave” to highlight the shortcomings of the university sector.

“We’ve got business graduates who are essentially personal assistants, admin officers,” he said.

“I’m thinking of one or two in particular. They’re really smart young people but they’re taking jobs that don’t need the qualifications that they’ve got”…

Indeed, the Productivity Commission’s latest report showed that employment outcomes for full-time graduates “have been getting worse”:

For those who do complete their degrees, post graduation outcomes have been getting worse. Full-time employment rates for recent graduates have been declining, even as the Australian economy has continued to grow (figure 3.3). Many of those who do not work full-time are not in that position by choice, with the underemployment ratio among graduates at 20.5 per cent in 2016, compared with about 9 per cent in 2008. Graduate starting salaries have also been growing slower than wages across the broader economy (declining from nearly 90 per cent of average weekly earnings in 1989 to about 75 per cent in 2015)…

Further, over a quarter of recent graduates believed they were employed full-time in roles unrelated to their studies, to which their degree added no value. To the extent that someone without a costly university education could have undertaken these roles, this can then have cascading employment and income effects down the skills ladder.

Many employers are also not satisfied with the quality of recent graduates, with about one in six supervisors saying that they were unlikely to consider or would be indifferent to graduates from the same university…

University students are also not satisfied with the teaching in their courses…

Thanks to the uncapping of university places, allowing universities to recruit as many students as they can fit in order to accumulate HELP/HECS funding, actual tertiary entrance scores have plummeted, meaning every person and their dog can now get a degree, devaluing their worth in the process.

What has effectively occurred in Australia is a form of  university ‘quantitative easing’, whereby a university degree has lost its value as graduate numbers have exploded, despite the significant cost to both students and the Budget.

Sadly, higher education in Australia is no longer about boosting the nation’s productivity, but rather teaching as many students as possible to accumulate fees through the Commonwealth government’s HELP/HECS scheme, as well as from overseas students.

[email protected]

Leith van Onselen

Comments

    • And that also comes with PR. I have worked as a project manager before and I as a rule of thumb delete any uni grades in IT because most of the degrees are just pre packaged industry certs raped in a degree name. Most IT industry certs you can download the answers and cheat. The modern uni IT degree in general is not worth the Paper it’s printed on.

      They are mostly design for PR and we should label degrees as a PR degree.

      When young people ask me for advise I tell them better to give your degree money to a company and get real world training because your degree was only meant for PR, your real world training will beat most immigrants doing the same degree for PR that you would be competing with at a job interview.


      • And what companies still train people up ?

        Why would you do that, given no one else does? One of the other bums too lazy to train people is likely to offer the guy you spent megabucks getting up to speed $50 more a week plus a free gym membership and poach them.

      • And what companies still train people up ?

        AWS and VMware do, at least according to the people I know who work for them.

      • University degrees were never intended to give employers exactly the vocational skills that they wanted, nor should they, that’s not a good way to measure their success. Uni degrees were meant to give students a good theoretical background in sometimes esoteric and unmarketable fields, preparing them for a future career in research or further vocational training.

        Maybe we should go back to the College of Advanced Education system so the distinction is clear.

  1. When Atlassian interviews 2000 applicants and hires 10, you know is not education they are looking for.
    Some young lass up here runs a fitness clinic, now worth 33 million. go figure (probably a good name for a fitness clinic)

    • When any company interviews 2000 people for 10 positions, the main thing you know is their recruitment process is very poor.

      • Maybe maybe not. most requiters dont know their tits from their arse when it comes to talented people, they are mostly used to the trash you find in the fire game,
        no good at all in a innovative company.

      • I doubt they literally interviewed 2000 people (at least, not in depth). But 2000 applicants for 10 jobs at a very desirable employer like Atlassian doesn’t sound at all unreasonable.

        More likely those numbers are about an entire process starting at advertisement, or maybe a graduate screening process across the entire country.


      • I doubt they literally interviewed 2000 people

        It had occurred to me that WW’s wording may not have matched what actually happened. At the same time, 2000 Australian computer science graduates applying for the same job – especially at a company run by Mike Cannon-Brooks – seems astonishingly high in the light of this:

        As [Mike Cannon-Brooks] points out, Australia produces only 2000 computer science graduates a year — far less than the 5000 foreign workers that come into the country on 457 visas. The real demand, he says, is more than 7000 workers.

        http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/opinion/restricting-457-visas-will-hurt-technology-sector/news-story/0c10cf123b138ed2b593f5dd8585654f

      • Tech hiring is weird. Most of the time the hoops applicants are expected to jump through have nothing to do with their day-to-day responsibilities and really serve as a means for developers to stroke their egos and haze applicants.

        Atlassian doesn’t need the top 1% of people out there… or even the top 50%… their products are bog standard web-apps running Java on the server side. If they’re rejecting 1990 candidates to fill 10 roles they’re wasting a huge amount of time and energy attempting to maintain some arbitrary standard that is meaningless in the context of their productivity. It’s like making janitorial staff solve rocket science problems before you’re prepared to hand them a mop.

      • At the same time, 2000 Australian computer science graduates applying for the same job – especially at a company run by Mike Cannon-Brooks – seems astonishingly high in the light of this:

        I think the point is that the applicant pool is likely a lot larger than just CS graduates, though, and those 2000:10 numbers aren’t really communicating anything useful (other than, there’s a lot more people looking for work than jobs) without context.

        It’s been a while since I was involved in hiring, but a couple of years ago we advertised a reasonably mundane sysadmin/systems engineer type role and had over a hundred applicants in the space of a couple of weeks – and my employer is not one with a particularly high-profile or high desirability. Now, of those 100-odd applicants, probably only twenty made it through the basic HR cut and then we eventually interviewed four. Over 50 were apparently form-letter search/replace type applications from various Indians *located in India* who didn’t have residency or any other work rights.

        I know one of the Atlassian founders, via his wife, along with a few other people who either have or still do work there, and their immigrant hiring policies are (or were, it’s been a few years since I had the conversation) very much targeted towards high-skill, high-experience, high-value workers who were very difficult to find locally.


      • those 2000:10 numbers aren’t really communicating anything useful without context

        The Australian article linked states that Atlassian hired about 100 people last year.


        Over 50 were apparently form-letter search/replace type applications from various Indians *located in India* who didn’t have residency or any other work rights.

        So basically 50% of your applicants were pretty much spam – I have had a similar problem in the recent past, and regardless of whether it is a good place to work, my employer is way too small to have any sort of reputation that makes it sought after. I also had a problem with applicants and recruiters who didn’t seem to have read the requirements. But yes, putting your email address on the internet somewhere and receiving any arbitrary number of irrelevant responses doesn’t signify anything.

        Having said that, the point of that link was that I can’t find any record of someone from Atlassian complaining they had too many applicants, and in fact, did find Cannon-Brookes complaining that the problem with the Australian unis is they don’t spit out enough grads with CS quals to meet his needs.

      • Dan: “Tech hiring is weird. Most of the time the hoops applicants are expected to jump through have nothing to do with their day-to-day responsibilities and really serve as a means for developers to stroke their egos and haze applicants.”

        So true! In my experience, there is way too much focus on ‘hard skills’ for these sorts of positions, but you must be on guard against those applicants who have years of experience, but can’t cut code.

        A simple coding test using just core libraries from whatever language is targeted will sort this out, and tell you all you need to know about the applicant’s coding ability. Knowledge of specific 3rd party libraries can be learnt on the job.

  2. thomickersMEMBER

    Great!
    So… University Fees UP (way above CPI), Full time employment prospects DOWN and Full-time graduate earnings DOWN.
    Expect a huge student loan debt bomb coming!

  3. Another real factor is that university staff are under pressure NOT to fail students. It is a very competitive market and international students paying $$$$ expect to pass and graduate. They will chose university with highest pass rate.

    • People teaching at both Monash and Melbourne have apparently been told to lower their expectations of student standards-particularly Melbourne. I’ve been told that by staff working at both institutions.

      • I have been unofficially reprimanded for being too “harsh” on students and my grading is currently under review. There’s nothing wrong with my grading, I assure you, but there’s plenty wrong with the quality of the work I’m being asked to assess. Some of it is barely secondary school standard.

    • Everyone inside knows this is happening. But no one is going to go public for fear of repercussions. There is way too much money involved to upset the apple cart.

      But absolutely university staff are under pressure to pass people.

      A generation ago, failure was a real possibility at university. Now almost no one fails. Have students really got that much smarter? Or have standards dropped?

      Examinations have been watered down.

      More emphasis is put on continuous assessments – which can be (and are) outsourced. Plenty of websites offering this service – with the cost depending on the grade you want. If you are paying for a tertiary education, it would be silly not to pay s bit more to help ensure a pass.

      The result? Dumb as dogshit postgrads who are essentially unteachable and should be unemployable.

      It’s the same in the airline industry. “Pay to fly” or P2F. Very junior pilots who pay a low cost airline in order to sit up front and build their hours. some of them are shithouse pilots with rich parents. Which airline is going to fail them and lose the revenue?

  4. You Australians don’t realize that a large proportion of your population:
    – Will never afford houses
    – Cannot compete with the rest of Asia, because your economy is stuffed because of rent seekers and low productivity.
    – Are badly educated, with your educational standards dropping fast.
    – Your Internet speeds are slower than many third world countries.
    – You will battle to prevent blackouts this summer.
    – You are subject to increasingly draconian police and legal oppression of the opposition parties

    Your country is becoming third world. If you are rich you can buffer yourself from this, but your kids will be the “poor white trash of Asia” thanks to your corrupt political system.

    • Cool. Maybe bored rich Asian housewives will take s#x tours down to Australia and our young blokes can show them a real good time. Give them what they are missing out on back home.

    • – Will never afford houses – Most Australians own a property.
      – Cannot compete with the rest of Asia, because your economy is stuffed because of rent seekers and low productivity. We have a higher GDP/capita than the vast majority of Asian countries, which is pretty much evidence of higher productivity.
      – Are badly educated, with your educational standards dropping fast. Our universities are highly ranked worldwide. Sure, Singapore and HK have better universities – as for the rest of Asia, apart from a handful of top tier universities in China (which only the smallest percentage of its 1.3 billion people will attend) there is no evidence that our universities are inferior to most in Asia.
      – Your Internet speeds are slower than many third world countries. Big country, small population, yet most people have adequate internet speeds that does not compromise its usability.
      – You will battle to prevent blackouts this summer. This one (unlike the others) I agree with.
      – You are subject to increasingly draconian police and legal oppression of the opposition parties: We have greater democracy and human rights than most of Asia.

  5. Griffith is one of the unis which took advantage of the cap removal and over enrolled is quite a few courses, including some of their more prestige QLD College of Art degrees. Hasn’t done them any good, asides from all the extra $$$$ the Vice Chancellor gets to spend.

  6. This explains why the universities are debasing their standards, but not why the politicians are putting up with it. So far as domestic students are concerned, the universities make convenient holding tanks to disguise the true extent of unemployment and defuse public anger. It also enables the government to use the universities to run an immigration scam, where the foreign students are promised a path to middle class employment and permanent residence, but only if they contribute substantially to funding the universities.

  7. Universities should be focused on research, otherwise they become a glorified extension of high school. The difference between uni and school is that at school kids are taught, while at Uni they need to be able to learn themselves and not rely so much lectures. Basically, they should be reading, not waiting to be taught. We people coming through who have the drive to The emphasis on teaching is what is devaluing universities. Research is what drives innovation and too much teaching time takes away from that. I think the balance has been skewed too much towards teaching. Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost the purpose of university education. Maybe it is a reflection on the quality of high school also, I don;t know.

  8. How about this? The free market would have made brick and mortar universities redundant, but for government largesse and debt guarantees skewing the decisions of individuals. The marginal cost of delivering a law degree is very modest indeed. If individuals and companies bore the cost, it would force students to make reasoned decisions regarding return on investment. I’d rather not see a whole generation enslaved by debt, all for a degree in the History of Reality Television.

    • Australian universities are about as far removed from free market forces as is possible. They don’t have real customers because of interest-free HECs debts financed by the tax payer, while on the funding side they don’t have shareholders to be accountable to, instead they have the government injecting millions into each university annually..

  9. Teachers at the university I work at seem to fall into 2 camps: Those that feel we need to continue mollycoddling students because they are doing the best they can and we need to make big allowances because English is very hard, and others like myself, that are sick to death of having to spoonfeed lazy ass students who are just here for visa purposes and are having their education paid for by their mummy and daddy. Guess which group of teachers seem to be the ones with investment properties or who have rich parents?

  10. kiwikarynMEMBER

    The other day in my FB newsfeed a request from a friend in distress popped up. Apparently, she was sitting her University Accounting exam online, and couldnt complete it, so was doing the equivalent of “phone a friend” to help her with the answers. Despite several people trying to walk her through it, she still struggled. She declared that next time she “would pay someone to do it for me”. Welcome to University assessment.

  11. Australian universities are Harvey Weinstein:

    “give me your body/money and I will advance your career”

  12. The Americanism of Australia is almost complete. We’ve financialized our Uni’s, we have retarded internships which only benifit the employer, we have demonized those on welfare. The only thing left to do it gut medicare, which the Liberals have had their eye on since Howards days.

  13. Jumping jack flash

    Once you have a student paying you money, don’t let a little thing like inability or failure stop them from paying you. String them along for 4 years.

  14. The Prof better watch himself or he will get sidelined or even turfed out (if they can manage it) for not singing from the Uni hymn sheet.

    Is he trying to scare the kiddies or be counted among the righteous when the SHTF?

  15. i dont know where the evidence is for alleged course “dumbing down”.its anecdotal. theres no data there and theres no way to know because university courses arent standardised and there are no NAPLAN esque exams to actually test anything, which is great for the universities bc it means theres nothing they can be held accountable to. people can claim courses are dumbed down all they like but i still say its not exactly easy to get distinctions and high distinctions, passing isnt hard tho.

    the problem is there are too many graduates and not enough jobs, and a lot of the jobs that require a degree (in addtion to X amount of experience, which is what really matters) dont actually need one / workplace training is better.

    • stagmal, here is news on the dumbing down of degrees:

      In 2009 a new nurse who had just graduated from UWS, Bhavesh Shah, fed a medicine cup of Morning Fresh dishwashing liquid to a 79-year-old man, mistaking it for his usual medication.

      Authorities found Shah had not been able to read the label on the bottle.

      After being registered as a nurse, Shah had failed English language tests six times.

      So, giving out nursing degrees to “students” who fail the English test 6 times! (he obviously got an imposter to do the entrance exam).

      http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/degrees-of-deception-promo/6398568

    • There are now many graduates in the healthcare system whose English is so poor I am surprised they passed their course. How they did pass is a mystery to me. But with increased emphasis on continuous assessment via assignments and less emphasis on exams, it is tempting to assume these assignments were done by a 3rd party.

      http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/would-you-pay-$85-for-a-ghost-written-essay/6964740

      1200 words cost $85.
      After emailing “Eleanor”, someone called “Jessica” replied, asking for our essay topic, word count and any specific requirements.
      We asked for 1200 words answering the following question: “Explain how cloud computing has changed the nature and organisation of multinational corporations in the past decade. Use two specific changes to illustrate your argument.”
      Within three days of first making contact, a 1200 word essay arrived. It costs $85, and we’re given the bank account details of a company to pay.

      http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/uni-cheats-buy-work-in-cyberspace-20121002-26xhj.html

  16. “Universities should be focused on research, otherwise they become a glorified extension of high school. The difference between uni and school is that at school kids are taught, while at Uni they need to be able to learn themselves and not rely so much lectures. Basically, they should be reading, not waiting to be taught. We people coming through who have the drive to The emphasis on teaching is what is devaluing universities.”

    unis dont care about teaching at all. its not their priority. the problem is that we havecombined universities (research institutions) with vocational training institutions into one and its obvious unis are only interested in the former and provide much more limited value in the latter role. these two roles should be disaggregated and we should have dedicated training colleges like we used to. stuff like nursing should never have been a degree and someone training to be a nurse should never ever have to know what a referencing system or bibliography is, or learn how to use one.