In my role as hardworking commercial cleaner I recently had the misfortune to encounter the end of a university exam. A young woman in floods of tears was being gently informed that she would need to leave the room as she was distracting the other students.
‘I didn’t get any of it…’ was the only thing I heard her say through the gulping.
How do these unprepared students find themselves in these university courses?
Well, the pressure to attract and retain university students is immense. More students = more money. Universities compete with one another for students, often drastically lowering the entry requirements at the beginning of the academic year to boost their bums-on-seats. Except there aren’t seats, because many Australian universities are now moving to a ‘flipped classroom’ model, where lectures are delivered online so domestic students can ignore them in their own time, and international students pay someone to watch them for them. It’s cheaper, you see.
Here’s the shortfall between what universities say they require for admission and what they actually accept;
And here’s a graph showing the increase in student numbers since 1972
In 1972 two percent of Australians held a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. By 2011 18.8% had one.
Of course, in 1972 not everyone could attend university – clever Aboriginal kids weren’t filling the lecture halls for example (because of poverty, but also, obviously, racism). University has become more accessible, to be sure, but this alone doesn’t account for the meteoric rise in student numbers. That rise can be mostly attributed to lowering standards. This is not necessarily a bad thing – there is merit to a more broadly educated population, but the level of learning and education should only drop so far. Otherwise, the population is not, in fact, educated. They are instead, indebted.
Of course, the race-to-the-bottom of undergraduate expectations gradually devalues all Australian degrees. Perhaps the only consequence of any interest to a university sector so completely reliant on international students’ money is the resultant depreciation in the value of their degrees.
But that’s long term thinking! STOP IT.
In there here-and-now post-graduate degrees have emerged as the new Bachelor’s degree which funnels more students into post-grad – after all, they’re good value – they require less teaching from academics and actually perform the majority of undergrad teaching.
The government loves students too – you’re not listed as unemployed if you’re studying, it’s like being on the dole, except at some point you’ll have to pay it back! And the implications of HECS are now well known – it simply places graduates into higher effective tax bracket, further concentrating the inequities of the housing market against them.
Universities are also providing the education that kids could once expect at public high schools – only this way, they help pay for it themselves.
My observations are fairly pedestrian, I suppose, until you encounter the real cost – the woefully underprepared post grad student, who gained entry to their Masters or PhD on the basis of their Bachelor’s Degree, only to discover that, at some point, they’re actually expected to know something, to understand something, to learn something. Finally, there is a piece of assessment that cannot be fudged, interpreted subjectively or constantly whittled away with concessions to ‘anxiety’ or ‘stress’ – (an academic friend tells me it is not unusual for more than 50% of his students to be listed as having a disability – almost all due to ‘anxiety’).
They’ve already paid for several years of uni, and are now hopelessly outgunned by the work. This, to me, is predatory lending. No wonder there are so many tears.