Archive for the ‘Education industrial complex’ category

Graduate over supply in teaching getting worse

May 26, 2012

Although the Commonwealth’s corporatised universities continue to churn out large numbers of teaching graduates, supply has rapidly saturated demand as over-hyped boomer retirement predicitions have failed to create enough openings for new graduates. In Ontario Canada for example, graduate unemployment is now running at 68 percent. An Ontario schools superindentant claims that even if Ontario stops training teacher’s entirely, it still won’t have a teacher shortage for at least 5 years.

It’s a similar story in New Zealand with large numbers of teachers being laid off by the Canterbury earthquake, and in Australia for that matter , but no slowdown in the number of graduates coming out of the teacher’s colleges (which are now run by the corporatised universities). The recession is also putting pressure on governments to increase class sizes, which will only add to graduate unemployment.

Of course it wasn’t always this way. In the 1980s, supply and demand were kept in reasonable balance since teaching colleges were run in the public interest and didn’t take on graduates if they didn’t think they could find them teaching placements after graduation.

Western governments have wasted billions of dollars on mismanaging tertiary education in easy times, but now they’re finding everything is interconnected and mismanagement of one sector of the economy will also create big problems elsewhere.

 

I fought the EIC and the EIC won (for now anyway)

April 20, 2012

In the first of what may turn out to many battles between young Americans and the Education Industrial Complex, a group of enterprising law graduates have been defeated in their attempt to sue their law schools over misleading marketing claims.

Universities throughout the English-speaking West have been churning out horse shit about graduate employment outcomes for 20 years now,  and it’s high time graduates started taking them to task.

Hopefully the efforts of these students will encourage others to start taking a stand.

 

Why can’t you just accept the empirical evidence!

March 6, 2012

 

Student debt – who should pay?

February 18, 2012

The recent Occupy protests in the Anglosphere have focused attention on the issue of student debt, and whether or not students  who are unable to pay back their debt should have their debts written off.

Many on the liberal right argue that they shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions, while many on the left argue they were doing something that the government, the banks and the media encouraged them to – get an education – and shouldn’t be held personally accountable for their indebtedness.

My view is somewhere in between. On the one hand they should have to make some contribution to paying off their debts, if only to discourage yet more students to get into debt, while on the other hand, those who encouraged them to get into debt ( the banks and the tertiary institutions) should also shoulder some of the cost.

Since everyone’s personal situation is different, government departments should also be given more flexibility to strike workable deals with particular students. For example, in New Zealand, the government reduces interest on student loans for students who stay in New Zealand after graduating, and increases interest rates for students who go overseas. However, not all degrees are of equal value to the country, and if a student is unable to find work in New Zealand, then why not let them go overseas to earn the funds to help pay off their debts?

The Education industrial complex compounds recession

January 16, 2012

Graduate underemployment in the UK is reaching new heights, and the government’s handling of the situation is getting increasingly farcical.

In this Telegraph story for example, a geology graduate is complaining of having to work for free, for a US-owned pound store to get a weekly dole payment, instead of working in a voluntary job in a local museum.

I’ve nothing against people having to work for the dole, but if a skilled, high-IQ graduate is doing an unskilled job for a foreign company and not paying any income tax, how on earth does that benefit British society?

Of course, the really important thing to take away from this story isn’t that some graduates are being put in silly situations, which is par for the course when dealing with welfare services, but the massive gulf between the number of graduates and the number of graduate positions.

Prior to the late 1980s, graduate underemployment wasn’t really a big issue. Sure we had serious under-employment and unemployment, but most of it was concentrated among people with low skills or those living in acutely depressed areas. Graduate unemployment didn’t get out of hand because you needed relatively high marks to go to university, universities didn’t put on the hard sell to attracts students, and they regulated access to vocationally-orientated courses like teaching to make sure most graduates found placements after graduating.

However, in the early 1990s, universities were commercialised and encouraged to compete with one another to attract as many fee-paying graduates as possible (and the bastard child of Milton Friedman and Anthony Giddens was born!) At the same time, universities and politicians started pouring out simplistic propaganda about the financial benefits of university education. This resulted in a huge surge in enrolments, particularly for liberal arts degrees, but also for fashionable fields like web design, and to a lesser extent for science degrees. As enrolments grew, so did the universities, and sizeable amounts of coin were also pumped into non-teaching related costs like student dorms, college landscaping and advertising.

What makes today’s graduate underemployment worse, is it represents a huge waste of public investment in education and training. If large numbers of students end up working in fields that don’t require degrees, then what benefit is the country receiving from investing in their education? Not only that, but many students have large student loan debts (often to foreign bankers) which means they’re less likely to start families and are more likely to take off overseas in search of higher wages.

It’s time we stopped pretending the national interest is the sum total of millions of “autonomous” young consumers “finding themselves” and is, just that, the national interest.

The American obsession with quantity over quality (and economic sadism)

December 17, 2011

Despite grappling with a massive national debt, President Obama seems determined to get even more of his fellow Americans into the debt hole that is modern university education. Earlier in the year, he made an appeal to increase graduation rates (well actually he’s been repeating this crap ever since he got in) and recently he’s announced plans to ease the debt load on graduates in low-paying jobs through federal assistance.

For those of us in the UK Commonwealth this is also bad news, since what the US does has a big influence on what we do.

Of course there is no evidence that high levels of university participation create economic wealth. Luxembourg, Switzerland and Austria are three of the world’s richest countries yet have relatively poor levels of university attendance and low graduation rates. They do however, have high academic standards and a reasonable number of high level STEM majors. If mass university attendance was the key to economic growth, Poland would be the richest country in Europe. If fact Poland isn’t even the richest country in Eastern Europe – Slovenia is, and Slovenia has much lower graduation rates.

Now I’m not saying that Obama shouldn’t help low-income earners with massive student loans. Clearly these people are in a tough financial position and since the government encouraged them to go to university, it’s partly to blame for their financial predicament. Students shouldn’t be treated like WWI infantrymen who are casually sacrificed en masse in some vain attempt to gain a few yards of terrority. However, providing debt relief while encouraging more students to go to university is only going to feed the bloated education industrial complex.

If too many students are unable to pay back their loans, then at least three things need to happen:

1. the number of students going to university (especially in the liberal arts) needs to decrease

 2. the quality of university education needs to improve (especially in the liberal arts)

3. universities need to be made financially liable if students can’t get jobs

Admittedly, the president can’t go around saying something negative like “don’t go to university” and expect to win elections, but he can say “we need more STEM majors” or “students need to be better informed about the pros and cons of academic education” rather generic crap like “we need more graduates”. He can also say something like “we’re all responsible for the training of our young people,” and make universities partly financially liable for students who can’t get jobs.

The chances of any of this happening under Obama are pretty slight as a high proportion of the students who will be shut out of university will be from Democrat voting minorities. However, given that the Republicans won’t get the minority vote anyway, there is a small chance they might start to listen to reason as the recession wears on.

 

Untangling the education industrial complex

December 10, 2011

Listen to any left-liberal commentator on education and you’ll find they almost always support the idea of mass university education. Humanists always seem to assume there’s a huge pool of intellectually curious people who want to attend college and make themselves more informed citizens.

But how many people actually go to university for humanist reasons?

With the arrival of the Internet, we now have a rival to universities for the academically curious. Instead of sitting passively in lectures and writing essays, you can read blogs by highly educated people, join in comment threads, and write your own posts on topics that interest you. But how many young people actually make use of this free, accessible medium in a serious way? Judging by the number and quality of blogs out there, not many.

When I went to a reasonably well-respected university in the 1990s, most students looked bored at lectures, didn’t engage in any kind of political activism, failed to ask intelligent questions at tutorials, rarely read books that weren’t directly course related, and tended to write rushed, mediocre essays. If they were as intellectually curious as liberal commentators claim, most of them sure didn’t show it.

If you haven’t been to university and are sceptical of my claims, visit your local university library and check out all the students at computer terminals reading facebook and gmail instead of news sites blogs and academic articles.

Now, if most students aren’t going to university out of intellectual curiosity, then they’re going because they want a better job, they want to delay looking for a job, they want to improve their social status, or they want to socialise and party. In humanist terms, these aren’t very strong reasons on which to build a case for masses of young people attending university.

Sure some students are intellectually curious, hard-working, and get relatively good marks for non-vocationally oriented degrees. Many of these students also feel they shouldn’t have to pay lots of money for a degree which is a labour or love and won’t land them a high-paying job. Perhaps they have a point, and perhaps these are the students the humanists should be defending. However, rather than making university open to yet more anti-intellectual young people, why not re-organise tertiary education to better accommodate the academically curious?

Today’s trend in tertiary education is to blur the line between technical colleges, community colleges and traditional universities. These means a k-mart style experience in which students are paying high tuition fees for what amounts to a mediocre community college-level education. What’s more, these large universities are highly anonymous places where there’s little of the one-to-one assistance found in a traditional elite university.

And lets face it, many students just aren’t cut out for a traditional university education at a four-year college. Studies in the US show graduation rates for STEM degrees are stagnant while graduation rates in liberal arts degrees have doubled since the mid 1980s (hat tip: Parapundit). Not surprisingly, with so many people getting mediocre arts degrees, the market value of arts degrees has plummeted and less than half of liberal arts graduates are unable to secure degree-related employment.

If the tertiary education system was logically untangled, we could have once more have high quality elite education for budding professionals, as well as practically focused colleges for students interested in acquiring job skills, and flexible, low-cost community college-style education for the undecided or intellectually curious. Since these more focused institutes would be smaller, the learning experience would be less anonymous and teaching staff would have more relevant teaching skills. The community colleges could also make use of the large number of low-paid graduates who are unable to obtained tenured positions at the elite colleges. Similarly, the leaner elite universities would have less of a problem with falling academic standards, cost overruns and low graduate employment rates.