The supremacy and allure of the university model of higher learning is waning and in desperate need of an overhaul if we are to properly prepare students for existing jobs and real-world business conditions.
Gary Banks, Dean of the Australia & NZ School of Government recognises universities are failing graduates. "It is hard to escape the implication that society may be reaping diminishing returns from the more recent increases in participation in higher education”.
Universities have sat on their laurels for too long having become accustomed to their dominance of tertiary study, they have allowed themselves to become pre-occupied with money making exercises by filling up each course to bursting point just to squeeze out every last Government subsidy dollar leading to “lenient treatment of underperformance" according to Dean Banks.
1. The removal of quotas has let universities enrol as many students as they like. As the take-in requirements are lax, many underperforming students make it into a degree, blowing out student numbers, so that by graduation there is a glut of graduates entering the job market competing for a sliver of available positions. "Some subjects may have well over 1000 students, with one professor managing perhaps 10 sessional lecturers and a tute with only 10 students is a dream now, it's often 20 or 30 students, if indeed they have tutes at all”, said Colin Long, Victorian Secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union.
2. Declining standards of trainee teachers is interlinked with falling school results. This year, you can breeze straight into a Bachelors of Secondary Teaching at UQ with a very mediocre OP 11, or an Entry Rank of 74. Poor teachers result in underperforming students. As there are very few teaching positions throughout Australia, universities should be ashamed they are still encouraging students to apply for degrees which lead to non-existent jobs. "No one should have more at stake in the existence of excellent school teachers than the universities. It is therefore unfortunate that some seem to be treating education courses as another cash cow”, states Dean Banks.
3. International students are also being treated like ATMs. They represent a $17 billion a year export industry for Australia and insiders are concerned many of these international students are not fit for our universities. "Indications persist that many of those who do get enrolled are not up to scratch, including rumours and anecdotes of easy teaching and marking to get them through”, said Dean Banks.
4. Most international students come for a business degree. Dean Banks believes there is a correlation between the declining standards of economics degrees in Australian universities and the influx of international students. "Economics involves more 'theory' and calls on greater literacy, with less tangible linkages to a job in business than is attractive to many international students”.
5. The pressure on academic economists is also playing a factor in declining economics course standards, as academics are pushed to get their work printed in top journals in order to gain a promotion, neglecting focus on the students.
6. As most Australian students prefer to study in their home city or town, (as opposed to the bulk of international students who will go to another city for their tertiary studies) there is less competition amongst universities compared to overseas meaning teaching standards become relaxed and decline.
7. Most degrees are just too broad. Employers want ‘job-ready’ workers, workers with real world experience, confidence and specific role knowledge.
We are at an impasse, businesses are not training staff anymore and universities are not set up to train students to be ’job ready’. If the business community won’t give any ground on this major employment Catch-22 problem then universities must adapt, communicate with business, work together to offer relevant degrees and be honest to prospective students about job prospects in the field.
While Australian university standards decline, the value of a specialist degree from Australian colleges is on the rise. To find out why take a look at the blog article: ‘Colleges can Teach Universities a Thing or Two’.