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Joyce dumbing down education

Written By: - Date published: 11:10 pm, March 9th, 2010 - 28 comments
Categories: education - Tags:

So Steven Joyce’s big bright idea for tertiary education (which he recently inherited from the hopeless Anne Tolley) is to punish institutions with low pass rates by cutting their funding.

Now, I’m no big city psychologist but I think I can pick how academics will react: ‘hmm, this kid basically gets it I guess, not really up to standard but if I fail them the department will lose funding’. Can’t wait to be looked after by a doctor or a nurse who pipped through because failing them would have meant a cut to the department’s funding.

It’s basically the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. From a minister who obviously doesn’t have a clue or doesn’t care about anything other than cutting cost for the next financial year.

It reflects the typical short-term thinking of the capitalist class and its political party. All they can see is the immediate cost of education, not the future benefits.

There’s a reason we have chronic skill shortages in this country in everything from doctors to nurses to linesmen to engineers. Because the Nats cut university funding and apprenticeships in the 1990s and it took Labour a long time to fix things. We’re basically missing a good part of a generation of skilled people (drowning in BAs and BComs though), and that’s going to be real trouble as the senior workers retire and there’s too few coming up to replace them.

What we do need to do in education is ration on academic potential, not ability to pay. Even with interest-free loans, the cost of tertiary education is prohibitive for the poor.

We should look at the European systems. Limit the number of places for all those essentially useless bachelor’s degree topics, the main point of which seems to be for the student to get a piece of paper saying ‘degree’, not learn anything. Increase the places for areas where we have skills shortages.

Make a number of places (say half) are free to those with the potential (that wouldn’t just be based on marks, you’ve got to allow for the fact that people with more potential get lower marks at low decile schools because of the environment). As for the rest of the places, I wouldn’t object to those people paying a higher share of the cost of their education if they can make the academic grade. The important thing is that you don’t price people with real potential out of tertiary education.

We also need a decent student allowance so students can live above absolute poverty.

The Right love Joyce but if you ask me he’s just a more articulate version of the same foolishness that infects the rest of them. He’s willing to invest billions in motorways that will never realise benefits greater than their costs, yet unwilling to invest in education, which truly is the key to a brighter future.

28 comments on “Joyce dumbing down education”

  1. Ed 1

    “Picking winners’ by favouring selected courses is not quite as bad as effectively pushing for lower standards so that more pass, but it is still not a particularly good idea. The biggest thing many students learn is how to learn, organise, and present ideas clearly. Internal competition between NZ universities has been largely wasteful, we have too many tertiary institutions, and yes we do need more apprenticeships, but the answer is not to cut both.

    Joyce will reduce the value of a New Zealand university degree and more of our better students will go overseas. He should ask the universities – or even the TEC, how to get more value for the dollars the government is prepared to spend – there are fish-hooks in most simplistic ideas. We cannot afford thinking linked to parliamentary terms – education is a generational issue – you are spot on that we are paying now for National’s mistakes of the 90’s – just as we will pay most for the mistakes they are making now in another 10 to 20 years.

    • Marty G 1.1

      I think we should ‘pick winners’. We should be favouring teaching doctors and nurses over churning out more drop kicks with marketing degrees who don’t need to learn a thing to pass.

      Yeah, competition between the institutions is so stupid.

      I don’t want to cut the number of apprenticeships. Far from it. I would rather people were doing something that they’re actually going to find useful like that than waste 3 years on a history BA and come out the other end with no job prospects.

  2. Zepher 2

    Not to detract from a good post, but

    “you’ve got to allow for the fact that people with more potential get lower marks at low decile schools because of the environment”
    Decile ratings can be pretty misleading sometimes and may not reflect the schools enviornment, which are influenced by various factors. Having some core factors considered could be helpful though. Eg The previous school’s ERO report in that year, crime rate in the area, demographics etc.

    I do have sympathy for people coming out with certain BAs and discovering that there’s no work.

    • Richard 2.1

      I do have sympathy for people coming out with certain BAs and discovering that there’s no work.


      On the other hand, I have two engineering degrees (BE(Hons1), PhD) and a BA in English. I got good marks in both bachelor degrees, mostly As, and I graduated the BA about a decade after the BE.

      Now, certainly, it is the engineering degrees that employ me, but it was the BA that actually involved a lot more thinking and learning.

      If I had to choose to do only one, I would choose the BA. Although, I wouldn’t have chosen this before I had actually done the BA. When I started the BA I thought that the engineering degree made me a well educated thinking person, and the BA was just a nice way to amuse myself. Having done the BA I would say almost the reverse. The process of getting the BA made me a well educated, thinking person. The engineering degree is just for the money.

      I think that many people with only science and engineering education experience would be shocked by how fundamentally pitiful and narrow science-type education often is, in comparison to humanities education.

      Of course, this is not to say that all BAs are necessarily fantastic. It is certainly possible to scrape by in BA papers, learn bugger all, and end up with merely an expensive piece of paper that says ” “degree”; but the same applies for all fields.

      • IrishBill 2.1.1

        Having both a science and arts background, I agree with Richard. If you want a really pointless degree you need to look over to the BCom.

        • Marty G

          yeah, I’m not trying to be a snob about these degrees. I just know too many people who felt they needed to go to uni and did something that left them in a cul-de-sac when they left uni. I’d prefer they were learning to think critically, and learning about a useful topic.

          I actually think that getting a degree should involve more than a series of papers in a narrow field. It should to broader based than that.

          • Mark

            Arent you arguing against your own post with the comment about freinds going to UNI because they felt they needed to and then learning nothing useful.
            Isnt this the whole idea of Joyces proposal.
            To stop wasting taxpayers money on people who are only filling in time .

            • Marty G

              No, I don’t think that’s the idea of Joyce’s proposal at all.

              Read my post. It’s about the problem with incentivising academics to not fail students.

              • Fisiani

                It ‘s more importantly about not accepting first year students who do not have the skills to graduate. That would keep the pass rate high. It’s also about excluding from further study those who fail. It ‘s called separating the wheat from the chaff. It about winners and whingers.
                When I was at University I was in a vocational second year class of 220 people. We were told that there were 200 places available for the third year class. ie 20 would lose out. As class rep I protested to the Dean that the year group was particularly good and that such an arbitrary cut off was unfair. Surely some good people with potential would lose out. I well remember his reply. “Of course we lose some wheat with the chaff. So be it. Just ensure that you are in the top 90%. Our long standing and rigid insistence on quality is well known and means that our graduates will all get jobs.”
                Every graduate obtained a job within two weeks of graduation.

          • Ag

            You’re ignoring the civic function of university education. The right attack the humanities and social sciences because they teach people to think critically about ends. The right tend to either think that questions about ends have already been decided by God (the conservatives), or that they are the sort of thing that ought not to be part of political discussion because they should be left up to individual preference (the neoliberals).

            If you don’t want public debate about the direction our country is taking, then abolish the humanities and most of the social sciences. But, New Zealand is stupid enough without making it worse, so that’s probably a bad idea.

            I guess if you had been to university and done some of this stuff, you might realize how stupid your piece looks to genuinely educated people (and before you start, most of the sciences are pathetically easy compared to the humanities subject I studied at college).

            Perhaps doing something about the devaluation of degrees might be worth exploring instead. A Bachelors degree isn’t worth much. If you are serious, then you need at least a Masters.

  3. tc 3

    “It’s basically the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard…” so far but give them time and I’m sure they’ll find an even dumber idea.

    More classic Nat policies choking our skills supply just like they did in the 90’s…..a brighter future eh. Try getting a decent plumber/electrician today…..that’s another Nat legacy from the 90’s with slashing apprenticeships.

    Never mind some courses are designed to have a tough pass rate…..Joyce invites this being softened for funding purposes…..more Dr Nick Riviera’s.

  4. TightyRighty 4

    I love it, the intellectual snobbery of the post and the commentators is amazing, especially given the hypocrisy of accusing joyce of having a dumb idea then berating BCA students for not learning a thing.

    why should the taxpayer continue to fund, interest-free of course, students who don’t pass? we could provide a better level of service to those students who actually make the effort to pass their papers if we cut funding to those who can’t even achieve a c grade in half of their papers for a year. that pass rate isn’t even a 50% average, it’s a 25% average.

    BCA’s provide us with accountants and economist’s as well as marketing managers. it would be a long bow to draw to say that accountant’s and economist’s don’t learn anything to pass their courses, let alone go on to do honours or masters.

    this is just a typically shrill, anti-nat for the sake of being anti-nat, post. nothing constructive, except indulging in some feelings of superiority by suggesting the government pick winners. we’ve seen over the decades how good governments are at that.

    • Marty G 4.1

      “why should the taxpayer continue to fund, interest-free of course, students who don’t pass?”

      you’re confused. The post is about cutting funding to the institutions because students fail, not the idea of not allowing failing students to keep enrolling – which unis do already.

      reading comprehension.

      • TightyRighty 4.1.1

        are you sure marty? because when i read the article provided i see the first line is this

        “The Government is to stop funding university students who fail and will no longer give them interest-free loans.”

        now of course the second line is this,

        “Universities have been warned they face the same medicine; they too must perform or lose funding.”

        so i’m not going to be a prat like you and accuse you of not being able to understand the very first sentence.

        I get what you are saying about professors gaming the system, if they are rubbish and intellectually unethical, and says more about the ability of the professor than joyces policy. i’m also fairly certain as well that the institutions joyce is referring too are not our respected schools of medicine, who are reasonably ruthless right now about accepting mediocre students, and i think places to study medicine are limited anyway. it will probably apply to departments that attract mediocre students. that will please you, as most of them are in the arts and commerce departments.

        • Marty G

          You’re responding to my post, which is only about the second proposal.

          I can see academics doing what they need to to protect the already stretched funding of their departments so they can continue to educate.

      • Sam 4.1.2

        At least with a BA in History he’d have learned to read quickly and absorb as much information as possible, so you can’t say it’s entirely useless 😛

    • lprent 4.2

      It seems to me that you simply ignored (for political reasons) the premise of the post. That Joyce was simply inciting the academics to cheat by passing people that shouldn’t be passed. Afterall Joyce is providing the perfect incentive for the tertiary institutions to pass people in ever greater numbers regardless of their actual skill levels. Then what is the bet that to ‘correct’ his initial fuckup, he’ll want to introduce ‘national standard’ testing. Which will further distort the tertiary education in the way that that dumbass Tolley is trying to do with kids reading and writing.

      Instead of arguing the point, you are acting like a shrill little dipshit troll by trying to divert the debate in a direction attacking the author rather than discussing the authors opinions.

      • TightyRighty 4.2.1

        but i am arguing the point Lprent? is pointing out the fact that a 25% pass rate is not that much to ask in expectation of students and universities not arguing the point? or is pointing out that schools of medicine already have much more stringent pass rate requirements? or maybe it’s because i think that marty’s expectation that professors should game the system is intellectually unethical.

        or am i dipshit little troll because you know joyce is heading down the right track in his approach to funding tertiary education, and we may actually get a better standard of student leaving university, then degree’s will be worth more. that scares you and marty i think, but you just can’t admit it.

        • lprent

          It is a STUPID expectation. How do you know what in the hell a pass rate will be BEFORE a course starts….

          The pass rate is irrelevant. People running courses are expected to hit a standard and not just place bums on seats. You can get someone who can pass almost anything and yet completely fail to get one paper (in my case it was organic chemistry 🙁 ). But you frequently find that prerequisites are also almost irrelevant as well. I successfully did an entire science degree including the maths with virtually no secondary background in it (apart from crapping out in organic chemistry, which wasn’t that useful for earth sciences anyway).

          The key is to provide the opportunity to enter courses because it is pretty damn hard to predict who will be able to pass a course or not. There are no major predictors of academic success, as virtually any lecturer will tell you. If students don’t pass then they don’t pass. There are adequate mechanisms to remove people who fail too many courses.

          The government can simply close off access to courses to people who are not absolutely certain to pass (which is what I suspect this is really about – budget cutting). But that is extremely counter-productive for the country as a whole.

          You usually find that the best people in most fields just fell into that field almost by accident. The lecturers are aware of this (but apparently it appears to have escaped Joyces understanding). Given a choice between gaming the system so only people that are certain to pass a course (but have no talent for it), and gaming to let people on to the course who may have the talent but aren’t certain to pass – then I hope that the lecturers take the latter.

          Your problem is that you’re simply a small-minded dipshit who appears to have very little idea how talent arises and needs to be fostered. That appears to be the basis of your insecurities about tertiary training.. Your expectation (and Joyces) seems to be that tertairy education is there to churn out mindless (but well-educated) drones. The problem is that they aren’t that useful for driving the economy. It is a short-term strategy of little use to the longer term.

    • Richard 4.3

      Actually, personally I think that there is likely a lot of value in a BCom or equivalent. I don’t have one so, I don’t really know. But like always it depends on the actual experience of the student.

      On the other hand, it does seem to be the sort of learning that is focused on a narrow technical field rather than a broad field. So, it is probably excellent for training people to perform particular sorts of jobs, but rather less excellent at actually “educating” people.

      Education, especially university education, is about much more than mere training for a vocation.

  5. What a silly idea.

    Imagine the equivalent proposal for primary schools where some of the funding was based on results.

    Of course it could be claimed currently that the data is not available and inter school comparisons are not able to be made.

    To introduce this sort of standardisation of results would be required and individual efforts would have to be measurable against the country’s mean result.

    You would need something … like … National Standards!

    Is this why it is being introduced so that competitive funding for primary schools can be introduced? If it is good enough for the Tertiary sector then why not the Primary sector?

  6. Adrian 6

    I can feel a Cambridge High School coming on, 100% pass in everything, YAY!. That was all about the money. For all that most lecturers are a lot more ethical than that and they already put huge effort into getting less able students over the line. My wife is one ( a tutor) and I know how much work goes into a struggling student, the reasons for problems are a lot more complex than simple lack of ability or laziness, they range from money to loneliness to bereavement to childcare to everything that effects kids growing up. Tom Scotts cartoon is a cracker and its interesting to note how other cartoonists are at last turning up the screws on this bunch of clowns

  7. real reason 7

    at least we now know the real reason Tolley was pushed aside. No way would she have been able to deliver this to the public

  8. SPC 8

    Labourers don’t need a degree to build a road, but they will to have a job once the road is built.

    So in 10 years we will have all these roads and these people will be unable to afford to drive a car to get to their next work test interview at Work and Income.

    So we will bring in skilled migrants, while we have these locals unemployed, and this will exacerbate a housing shortage.

    All thanks to National’s infrastructure-planning person.

    Let us rejoice at the prospect that this Minister is the greatest economic moron to be in Cabinet since “Think Big Birch” of the 70’s/80’s and the new reformed ex governmment investment addict “the no investment Birch” of the 90’s.

    It all makes sense, if one sees roads as serving the needs of business and as for skilled workers they can get them free by hiring migrants. But this is a profile of a government that decides its policies on only two criteria – what’s good for business and can they still get re-elected.

  9. SPC 9

    If a country wants a sustainable economic recovery they invest in one before it starts.

    That means upskilling its population in advance. That means more people in education while jobs are scarce. If that means some of the people are struggling to pass while education institutions maintain standards – then so be it. It’s not clever to push people out of education onto the dole.

    One less road will fund education they way it should be through this recession.

    Joyce has chosen a billion dollar road a few years earlier over the lives of thousands of New Zealanders.

    Just like Brownlee would choose a mine over the heritage of New Zealanders over generations.

    This is a government of amoral philistines.

  10. Adrian 10

    Hot off the Press, Associate education minister Peter Sharples found out when we did from the radio and tv about all the changes . WTF, how many more insults can he take before he mans up. Grow some Peter.

  11. JD 11

    “You usually find that the best people in most fields just fell into that field almost by accident.”

    Too true Lynn. Joyce did a degree in zoology and then went on to build a broadcasting empire from scratch then selling it for millions and subsequently became a MP and minister with no political experience.

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