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Wastewatch: measuring graduate incomes

Written By: - Date published: 8:33 am, March 14th, 2012 - 22 comments
Categories: Steven Joyce, tertiary education - Tags:

The Nats abandoned their wastewatch.co.nz site a few years back after being unable to identify significant waste. They should have just waited a few years. Now, the examples are neverending.
Today’s case: Steven Joyce’s plan to publish the average incomes of graduates of different courses. A huge administrative task to tell us nothing.

They’re going to do this by data-matching incomes of people five years after graduation. That means linking your IRD data to your study data. Your qualification provider already gives some info to IRD for student loans but IRD doesn’t get all your study details – which degrees you’re taking, what qualifications you end up with. So, they’re going to have to go through and start matching all this data. And it will be for a huge number of people to get statistically meaningful results. Lots of bureaucrat man-hours there.

Do they have the legal power to do that? Not without your permission I wouldn’t have thought. IRD personal data is closely held and not released for mere statistical exercises like this. Reckon they would have to get your permission. More paperwork.

Joyce has offered no costing for this plan. I guess it’ll be ‘met from baselines’, which means cutting other stuff that is actually useful.

And what are we told at the end? That people who take some courses earn a statistically significant amount more than others. Well, as they say, duh. Does that mean we should shut down the low-earning courses and bump everyone into the high-earning ones?

a) the high-earning course may require abilities that not everyone has
b) courses are different lengths. Are we going to close down diplomas and make everyone study for seven years at medical school
c) in a diversified economy we need lower paid occupations just as much as we need higher paying ones (which is one reason why lower-paid jobs should be paid more, they’re vital too). If we discover that people 5 years out of medical school are paid more than people five years out of nurses’ college does that mean we need more doctors and fewer nurses?
d) some professions have gradual, ongoing advancement, others don’t. I would think that, say, a plumber with five years’ will have progressed quite rapidly in that industry’s income scale, whereas an academic with five years’ experience after getting their doctorate is still close to bottom of the heap.
e) there’s obvious gender and ethnic issues. A woman five years’ out of tertiary is less likely to be in the workforce than a man (labourforce participation rate for 25-29 men – 89.5%, women 74.5%) because women are more likely to be raising children. Maori and Pacific Islanders have higher unemployment levels. So, courses that are prominently taken by women, Maori, or Pacific Islanders are likely to show lower incomes than those taken by Pakeha men – that’s without even talking about the pay discrimination factor.

So, those are all reasons why any data you get on different incomes from different qualifications is going to be next to worthless without some pretty serious caveats. I’m sure there are more I just haven’t thought of off the top of my head.

But, finally, there’s a more fundamental issue – education isn’t all about the money.

In launching this policy, Steven Joyce lamented the fact that he took photography in fifth form. Apparently, that was a waste of time that would have been better spent learning how to cut dirty deals with casinos or something. It’s a shame if Joyce feels that way about everything he’s learned that has directly contributed to his career (and by that measure, surely his degree in Zoology is a bigger waste).

But, is it really such a waste that he took photography and never used it professionally? By any economic measure he still turned out pretty good, and taking photography allowed him to experience something more – learn a skill and an art for the beauty of it. And, if he had really enjoyed it and been any good, he could have even made a decent living of it.

I wish he had, come to think of it. Would have saved the rest of the country from a lot of half-baked ideas and dirty deals.

22 comments on “Wastewatch: measuring graduate incomes ”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    In principle I don’t have too much of a problem with this, although I would have thought there was enough pay information out there already? The job seeking sites certainly have this sort of ‘average remuneration’ stuff available, I’m pretty sure hich-school jobs counsellors do as well. So what is new/different about this information that makes it necessary or better?

    Also I wonder why they need to go through this whole individual rigmarole process to find it out, so we’ll get the first data 5 years from now.

    Everyone who is employed pays (or should be paying) ACC, which has a huge number of job classifications available. It should be possible to connect people’s wage payments with their employers and then check the business code of their employer. This would give a very rough and ready approach (a secretary at a factory might be misclassified?) but it seems like no new information would need to be collected to do this (except possibly permission as Zet suggests).

    • shreddakj 1.1

      Don’t forget, National love to do everything the expensive, inefficient way. Like building more roads, instead of funding a decent public transport system.

    • Blighty 1.2

      yeah, it’s not that different parts of the government don’t have your info. it’s whether they have the right to data-match, what the exercise would cost, whether it would tell you anything useful, and the reductionist approach to education that pervades the whole thing.

  2. The Baron 2

    Oh noes, Zetty has his knickers in a knot again after interviewing his keyboard.

    All this proposal involves is providing more information to prospective students, some of whom may be interested in the likely salaries they may achieve, to allow them to make more informed decisions.

    Its you who has made up the other 70% of scare mongery in your post, Zetty.

    Why is the left so scared of transparency and informed decision making? This, teacher and school performance – in fact, its anything that might hold public servants to account isn’t it?

    • Blighty 2.1

      The issue is that merely looking at average incomes doesn’t contribute to informed decision-making.

  3. Bored 3

    Why is the left so scared of transparency and informed decision making?…..one might ask that question about the rationale for asset sales, just one example from the myriad of issues that Nact have tried to spin doctor away in-case detailed examination reveals that informed decision making is entirely absent.

    By the way why don’t you change your name to The Barren? At least then there might be some transparency to everybody about the intellectual wasteland behind the comments.

  4. The Baron 4

    Why not? Knowing that the average BA History grad earns $25k a year at maccas versus the average B.Sci biochem grad on $60k sounds pretty handy to me if I was 18 agian.

    I know there are heaps of other factors in play. Why does that make providing one of them useless?

    • The Baron 4.1

      Fail – this was meant to be in reply to Blighty above as 2.1.1

    • Blighty 4.2

      because if you don’t provide the full picture, you give misleading answers.

    • Lanthanide 4.3

      Apparently you already know this, so why do we need a brand-new government initiative, which won’t be free, to find out?

      I suggested one alternative that may be cheaper than the scheme that has been proposed.

    • Colonial Viper 4.4

      Uni grads join the unemployment scrap heap like everyone else, although they have bigger debts.

      A sad declining energy depleting civilisation which has no economic room for arts, history, language or culture. Might as well become a race of free market Ferengis.

  5. s y d 5

    i suspect that graduate earnings are going to be directly linked student loans and the supposed ability to pay back – this will be the ‘shake up’ hinted at yesterday.
    If you want to study photography or zoology, by all means go ahead, but the amount you can ‘borrow’ will be severely restricted.
    However, I’m sure that loans will be directed to where there there is a supposed expectation of payback – I foresee legions of accountants and lawyers taking us into the brighter future.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Accountants and lawyers, well that’s a really productive economy we can build with those, should get Christchurch rebuilt asap.

  6. tc 6

    All roads lead to Rome……doing a low income producing course can often lead a person to a high income one as they must find their own path in life.
    How many of us high earning professionals are in areas we never started on at Uni ? More mother knows best bullshit from the biggest bullshiter of them all.
    Must be a slow day in dirty deal central, this is a precursor for some pretermined policy announcement and will play the role of supporting data when the time comes.

  7. mac1 7

    Spot on, Zetetic.

    Current research would compel Minister Joyce to value his year 11 photography course.

    “In a landmark Australian study, the power of the arts in the classroom has been proven incontestably and irrefutably to lift test results in literacy and numeracy to the equivalent of an extra year of school.”

    Read more here- http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/opinions/arts/www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/opinions/arts/the-transformative-power-of-the-arts-in-education-187929

    Government intervention in this area would certainly be cost effective.

  8. ropata 8

    I have no problem with incentives to head for certain careers (and disincentives for others), NZ needs skilled and qualified teachers, builders, IT workers, doctors, nurses. Applicants should also be assessed for suitability.

    Arts and humanities contribute greatly to society but (other than educators) only a few shining talents make a career of it, so to me they seem like an unaffordable luxury.

    • McFlock 8.1

      Trouble is, without the humanities it becomes far too easy for the wider picture to be lost and we end up wondering why we need so many teachers, doctors and so on.
      Yes I’m biased, but I really think that humanities are a bit like a car chassis – it isn’t obvious, and doesn’t really do anything, but you tend to miss it when it’s gone. All of a sudden and without warning, and at the most inopportune moment.

    • Populuxe1 8.2

      Bollocks. Artists, as a rule, are considerably more entrepreneurial than most MBAs. They have to be in order to survive. They frequently find multiple crossover applications for their skills. They are happy to take lower paid, part time work so that they can continue to work on their art. And no artist has ever been afraid of a blank piece of paper – unlike the so-called “business”-orientated, they actually generate ideas rather than exploit other people’s .

  9. Some of assumptions underlying this are astounding.
    It assumes that remuneration is the main factor for choosing a course, or a career.
    It assumes that averages are representative – they are not. A median, quartiles and sample size would be helpful.
    Annual income data assume full-time work – not all graduates can or do work full time.
    It will not include the graduates that head overseas as soon as they can to get away from the terrible salaries in NZ.
    This is a dumb idea, and a waste of money.

  10. Peter 10

    I not that the new IRD Commissioner has a Master of Arts in English Literature and Sociology. I wonder how she would fare under Joyce’s new order?

  11. tsmithfield 11

    Students invest a considerable amount in taking out a student loan. It is only fair that they be given some information on the likely return they will make on their investment. This doesn’t have to mean restrictions to courses or such. In fact, Joyce, on Newstalk ZB last night, ruled out that possibility.

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