Saturday, December 31, 2005



A low bar?

VUW's pro-Chancellor is complaining that the bar is set too low for university entrance:

Ian McKinnon said the bar was set too low. Students needed only three C passes in the old Bursary exams or 42 NCEA credits to get University Entrance, but even those with higher grades sometimes struggled to get a degree.

The first point is that this has nothing to do with NCEA - though I'm sure some National Party press flack will already be whipping up a press release claiming that it is. The NCEA standard is equivalent to the old Bursary standard (and in fact, given the wll-reported difficulties met by students who didn't have the right combination of credits, it is slightly tougher). The second point is that the bar has actually been raised recently - not that long ago it was only four D passes. The difference between then and now is that people who barely achieve UE (even under the current standard) are going to university where previously they wouldn't have bothered. This is a waste of resources, but in a world where tertiary education is the key to opportunity (in that without one, you will be working in McDonalds for the rest of your life), I'm not sure that we can really deny people the chance to pursue it. Yes, 42 NCEA credits is not high enough to guarantee success - but neither is it low enough to guarantee failure. Provided people are given the chance to succeed or fail on their own merits, I don't have a problem with their taking a crack at it. After all, they're paying for it, and the cost of failure is not insignificant...

22 comments:

From an economics point of view - If the course is to hard for them the solution is pretty simple - give them easier courses. If anything the population is constantly getting smarter (there is statistical prof out there) so normally distributed results should constantly lower enterance levels.

I am personally a bit concerned that the real problem is how university staff make arbitrary decisions regarding entrance levels that effectively determine how nany engineers or lawyers or doctors that NZ will have.

> a world where tertiary education is the key to opportunity (in that without one, you will be working in McDonalds for the rest of your life)

really? if that is the case maybe that is what we should be tackling - because that is stupid. University degrees dont teach you all that much and in many professions would be worse than useless - that a business might pass over a more competent person without a degree is disturbing.

Posted by Genius : 12/31/2005 03:34:00 PM

Err, I don't have a degree and I've never worked in McD's. The more people that go to university, the worse it will get in that the presumption will be that if you don't go, you must be deficient in some way. This is not a good thing.

Posted by Lucyna : 12/31/2005 04:33:00 PM

Well if you didn't get University Entrance in the olden times, all you had to do was wait until you were 21.

Actually these days, you're better off with a trade than a degree. Builders earn a more reliable income.

Lastly, very few school programmes genuinely prepare students for the very different delivery methods used at Universities.

Posted by Bloodrage : 1/01/2006 08:45:00 AM

Yeah, conversely people who couldn't get the grades did wait until they were 21, go to university, and earn post-graduate degrees. That's (cause I'm really old) people who failed under the old 'four Ds' system. And people who got Scholarship crashed out of uni.

And even back in my day, there were much higher requirements to get into individual courses, to the point where I was borderline getting into Stage One Shakespeare because my physics mark was too low... Which all comes back to, you never know how someone's going to do until they actually try.

Posted by Ghet : 1/01/2006 11:48:00 AM

Well, High Schools have very little relevance to uni in my opinion. I scraped through school and did quite well at uni, and many people I know have done badly despite high school success. One certainly does not equal the other.

Posted by GeorgeDarroch : 1/01/2006 11:58:00 AM

Genius: you're presuming that the aim is for people to pass their courses rather than being educated to a certain standard. And I'm not sure if the universities share that goal at all.

As for the importance of degrees, as Lucyna points out, its about the supply. we've progressively increased the number of school leavers going on to uni, which has dramatically increased the number of graduates, and effectively flooded the market. There are more graduates than jobs which seriously use their skills (something which I suspect has almost always been the case), and so a degree has become a way of thinning the number of applications for a job to a manageable, decidable level.

When you need a Bachelor's degree to work as a bank teller, and when >call centres are demanding people with degrees simply to answer the phone, things really are screwed up.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/01/2006 12:10:00 PM

Bloodrage: they still do that. It's an important guarantor of opportunity for those who need a second chance. And I agree: success at high school doesn't guarantee success at uni, because its a whole different style of learning. In particular, if you were baby-sat all the way by a "top" high school trying to game its pass-rate (more common in these days of league tables and parental obsession with such), then you may have some trouble.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/01/2006 12:21:00 PM

I have no problems about the entry requirements for first year, after all, everyone deserves a chance. But, there should be stricter entry requirements for second year. that would mean a degree would be worth more.

Posted by The Doorman : 1/01/2006 04:15:00 PM

Genius: population smarter? Bollocks. We're just learning different skills, suited to a world where oil and coal pull the weight and the old daily grind is all automated.

As for the orginal blog post, it is plainly too easy to get in to Uni; tech students and apprentices are doing better out in the real world than the vast majority of those who scrape through into Uni. That big chunk of the students would've been far better grabbing a job at McD's over those years and aiming for manager, and they were the 3C/4D guys and girls at 6th and 7th form level.

Letting them go at 21 after they know what's out there worked well. Throwing everyone in at 18 is just artificial unemployment reduction, bullshit.

Posted by tussock : 1/01/2006 05:07:00 PM

Idiot, tertiary education isn't just limited to university study. Don't forget that people can, and should if they're mainly getting Cs at UE, go to one of the 20 or more polytechnics in NZ and get themselves a good trades diploma. There are lots of trades where businesses are crying out for skilled labour. One of the keys to a good tertiary education system is for people to be free to get the appropriate qualification for what they can do best, at a high standard. Having kids go off to University and getting mediocre degrees (or failing) rather than qualifications that reflect the skills that they do have or could develop more effectively is a waste.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/01/2006 06:43:00 PM

Anon, the trades diplomas in the old days used to be gained via working on the job, learning and getting paid for it. Now you first have to spend lots of time and money learning (probably getting a nice, big student loan to pay off too) before you get to earn anything. It's completely stuffed.

Posted by Lucyna : 1/01/2006 11:00:00 PM

tussock

> Genius: population smarter? Bollocks.

http://www.today.ucla.edu/1998/980831researcher.html
It is called the Flynn effect

Otherwise I agree

Lucyna,
> It's completely stuffed.

so how do we fix it?

Posted by Genius : 1/02/2006 09:15:00 AM

lucyna, not so - most industries are served by an industry training organisation, and those in employment can get trades qualifications that way around too. As I understand it, the problem seems to be that too many young people have been told over the last decade not to get a trade but go to university.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/02/2006 02:44:00 PM

"As I understand it, the problem seems to be that too many young people have been told over the last decade not to get a trade but go to university." That's exactly how I understand it too. Governments that think sending people to university equals qualifying them to do something, and universities that respond in the obvious and eminently justifiable way to funding that rewards increasing enrolment figures ("bums on seats" as the universities themselves put it). I had hoped an incoming Labour govt might do something about it - but then they promised to do something about it, which given their history was a pretty sure indication they were going to keep it exactly how it was but perhaps put another layer of bureaucracy on it. (And lo, it came to pass etc...)

That the bar is currently set too low for university entrance is patently obvious to anyone working in one. I'm not right now, but I was up until 2003 and I doubt anything's changed much in that time.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 1/02/2006 08:39:00 PM

Anon, that's a relief. At least it's not as bad as it could be. Yet.

Posted by Lucyna : 1/02/2006 10:22:00 PM

I agree with Lucyna.

I spent over a decade at university, I had a great time, I learned an immense amount, I collected various degrees before finally dropping out of a PhD programme.

The guy on the desk next to me never went to university. He does much the same work as me, is just as bright as me, and is just as good at the work as me (if not better). He earns over 200k. He doesn't have a MSc: but he went straight from high-school to programming computers and he knows his stuff really, really well.

I was chatting to one of BNZ's IT Enterprise Architects over lunch. He's an old friend - again, no degree, he went straight from high school to working on networks.

A degree will help get you a first job. It'll even influence people who interview you later, sometimes. But once you have your foot in the door the really important thing is what the people who work with you think of you.

Of course, learning is good in itself. But universities aren't the only place you can do that either.

Posted by Icehawk : 1/03/2006 09:47:00 AM

good to hear icehawk. I was starting to wonder if NZ had gone insane.

Posted by Genius : 1/03/2006 01:09:00 PM

There is clearly a problem with the education system.
I am really old, I got a School Cert after 3 years secondary education and then another 3 years as a cadet doing a technical course. Tht was about 60 years ago.

All you younger punks have missed the most important error in the original post I believe.

The students pay fees and take out loans but they only pay for a fraction of the cost of their degrees, the rest is paid by the state ( it used all to be paid by the state)

Some of the tax that I pay on my superannuation and the part time work I do goes to pay those costs and I dont have a problem with that.

If student dont like the charges and dont want to rack up a loan then find a job where you get paid and taught like I did.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/03/2006 11:15:00 PM

Anon: Unfortunately, that was (as you say) 60 years ago - and the world has changed. Few employers seem willing to train anyone anymore; instead, the time (and expense) of training has been offloaded onto employees, without any corresponding increase in wages to compensate.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/04/2006 01:10:00 AM

I'd say you're letting a couple of change agents off the hook too lightly.
1. Universities, in a quest for expansion and prestige have marketed degree qualifications as superior. In an effort to compete, polytechs have devalued their trade qualifications and started offering degrees. Polytech offerings used to be practically-based, now they're more theorectical.
To some extent, the US has successfully exported it's academia (and specialisation)-obsession to the rest of the world. Whereas, as I understand it, Germany retains a solid dual-stream education system, based on recognition of the theoretical/ practical disposition of students.
Perhaps it's unfair to blame the universities entirely when their funding mechanism was modified to encourage them to put as many bums on seats as they possibly could.
2. International corporations based in NZ have imported the same degree-mania as their overseas parents. I worked for ANZ at a time when they simultaneously professed to be encouraging diversity by introducing a 'diversity campaign' whilst simultaneously introducing mandatory degrees (or study towards one) for everyone in middle management.. diversity was evidently desirable in everything except thought..
Back when I went to polytech, an NZ Certificate in Engineering gave better prospects for employment than a degree, as it wasn't issued till the student had three years practical experience in addition to study (ie similar to a trade). Nowdays the qualification would be relatively worthless overseas (just as well I have the work experience behind me).. another good reason for remaining in NZ, as the idea of completing a degree so that some academic can certify my knowledge is a revolting prospect.
In the same way, causing marginal students to rack up a big debt cramming their heads with information they will never use, is socially disgraceful.

Posted by Huskynut : 1/04/2006 10:51:00 AM

I'd say you're letting a couple of change agents off the hook too lightly.
1. Universities, in a quest for expansion and prestige have marketed degree qualifications as superior. In an effort to compete, polytechs have devalued their trade qualifications and started offering degrees. Polytech offerings used to be practically-based, now they're more theorectical.
To some extent, the US has successfully exported it's academia (and specialisation)-obsession to the rest of the world. Whereas, as I understand it, Germany retains a solid dual-stream education system, based on recognition of the theoretical/ practical disposition of students.
Perhaps it's unfair to blame the universities entirely when their funding mechanism was modified to encourage them to put as many bums on seats as they possibly could.
2. International corporations based in NZ have imported the same degree-mania as their overseas parents. I worked for ANZ at a time when they simultaneously professed to be encouraging diversity by introducing a 'diversity campaign' whilst simultaneously introducing mandatory degrees (or study towards one) for everyone in middle management.. diversity was evidently desirable in everything except thought..
Back when I went to polytech, an NZ Certificate in Engineering gave better prospects for employment than a degree, as it wasn't issued till the student had three years practical experience in addition to study (ie similar to a trade). Nowdays the qualification would be relatively worthless overseas (just as well I have the work experience behind me).. another good reason for remaining in NZ, as the idea of completing a degree so that some academic can certify my knowledge is a revolting prospect.

Posted by Huskynut : 1/04/2006 10:52:00 AM

Education doesn't, or shouldn't just happen between five and twenty-one. The world keeps changing.

Right now, it's true that any job involving buildings will offer a pretty decent wage - that will suddenly stop being so when there's a property crash.

I think there should be a lot more encouragement for job-based learning, whether that's at foundation or advanced degree level. I've never heard of anyone doing a "sandwich" degree in NZ (two years at uni, then a year in industry, then a final year in uni). Do they exist here?

Posted by Rich : 1/04/2006 11:03:00 AM