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Month: May 2012

Pathways-ED: Youth and work, youth in work

Stuart Middleton
31 May 2012


I got my first job when I was about eight years old when my brother and I, during the school holidays, worked for our Uncle in his grocery shop. We got ten shillings a week, had our own aprons and generally did useful things such as sweep the floor, make up bags of flour, help get the orders together and subsequently take turns in going with Uncle Les in his quaint little van to do the deliveries.

I am pretty sure that this, being a family arrangement, did not involve the IRD.

But such an opportunity was important because later, aged about 12 or 13 years I continued with an after-school job – i.e. each day from about 3.30pm to 5.00pm and during the school holidays, I had a similar set of responsibilities working for Mr Frame in his hardware store.

None of this was remarkable in those days. Young people delivered the newspapers, worked in shops, mowed lawns and so on. I thought that somehow this had all gone by the wayside as adults, seeking work, had replaced young ones doing such activities.

My daily newspaper is delivered by an adult couple driving a car – she doing the driving and he putting the papers into the letter boxes. Franchises galore have captured the lawn market and you never see young people appearing in shops to do the after-school shift.

But apparently it is not quite so. The discussion of one of the tax changes in the recent budget, brought to light the fact that 68,000 “children” were working in paid employment. A recent report shows considerable employment among secondary school age people with some working considerable hours. I recall that the recent discussion of the “truancy” statistics for NZ schools mentioned that part-time employment was a factor.

It therefore continues to puzzle me that the default position for so many young people is to head towards degree study and a place in occupational classes that are seen to be prestigious often in defiances of the evidence of progress being made as a student. One might have thought that all this “employment experience” might have encouraged more to head towards the skill areas in which there are continuing shortages.

Yesterday’s Dominion Post newspaper reported a survey that showed that nearly half of Kiwi employers are struggling to find staff with the right skills. Apparently the global average for this is 34% and for the the Asia-Pacific region, 45%. So we are a bit on the high side.

The skill areas that were listed in the top 10 for NZ were: engineers, sales reps, trades-people, IT staff, technicians, accounting, management, food and beverage, marketing / PR / comms and drivers. Some of these categories require degrees but not exclusively. The IPENZ President, Graham Darlow, is quoted as saying that “the biggest shortage is in technicians and not professional engineers.”

Time and time again the message is the same – New Zealand needs young people coming into the workforce with middle level skills in areas such as those listed above but also with the skills of employment.

Central to this is the accruing of experience in real employment on the way through – informal experience as a young person, more formal as the point of full-time employment approaches. Getting ready to work is a gradual process that requires growth – qualified on Friday and into the workforce on Monday with no previous experience is not palatable to many employers.

I am told time and time again by employers that they respect the qualifications young people have but, and it usually runs along these lines – “they aren’t ready to work”.

I reflect on my own experience as a worker – a little grocer’s lad, a hardware store assistant, a drain-layer, an assistant sexton in a cemetery and a musician – all woven around the journey towards a qualification and a subsequent job which in my case would be to teach. I am sure that the wages I got as a little worker were not an excessive drain on the businesses I worked for. I also guess that later when in university my holidays spent as a drain-layer were more productive.

But I do know that I learnt a lot from those experiences which these days would be called the skills of employment – working hard, following instructions, being able to work in a self-directed manner, getting there every day on time regardless of weather, saving money and learning to mix with a very wide range of people.

Looking back the experiences were invaluable. Perhaps the time is right for a national campaign to offer young people such informal and formal opportunities in the interests of getting the nation cracking – getting people into work that is there by having young people growing up with an expectation that working is what you do. But it is going to take an effort from everyone.



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lk-ED Special: Finally we get towards the end of a confused and confusing debate

Stuart Middleton
30 May 2012


It took a little time but now we seem to know what is happening.


  •           School teacher / student ratios are to change.
  •           The intermediate school additional staffing allowance is to continue.
  •           No single school will lose more than 2 teachers.


What a shame we didn’t get it all on the table at the beginning, then the explanations of the changes and the responses to it might have made sense to the public.


Based in 1 July 2010 returns it looks like this:


  •           Years 1- 6 will lose 471 FTEs            
  •           Years 7-8 will gain 241 FTEs             
  •           Intermediate Schools will within the limits of the 2 FTE maximum loss when applied to the school will retain their specialist position additional staffing allowance. They enjoy the benefits of the increased Year 7-8 ratio which allpies to them as well as to full primary schools.
  •           Years 9-10 will lose 748 FTEs           
  •           Years 11-15 will gain 1,027 FTEs      


The real concern has to be the impact on Years 2-6 where in contributing primary schools where the more generous ratio at years 7 and 8 will not be available to even out the impact across the year levels. Secondary has gained.


There has been some very creative use of “class size” during this discussion and little emphasis on the goal of improved teacher quality. From what I can see the changes, and certainly with the compromise position which has probably pre-empted the work of any Working Group, there will be few resources released by the changes for teacher professional development. It is important to not lose sight of the reasons what all this fuss and pain was intended to achieve.



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Talk-ED Special: Ratio rationale – staffing allowance cuts

Stuart Middleton
EDTalkNZ Special
29 May 2012 


I knew there was a question to ask about the debate on the changes to the staff / student ratios and I am glad I asked it. Of course, as is de rigueur in such instances, I was abused for asking why some schools were claiming large reductions when the ratios in fact did not produce any.

Well the answer is clear now and I thank those who helped me out and as this morning’s NZ Herald makes abundantly clear, the issue is not in the ratios but in a staffing allowance that has been axed at the same time – the allowance for technology teachers in intermediate schools.

An intermediate with 1000 students will lose 6.45 teachers based on losing the 1: 120 for technology and a change from 1:29 to 1:27.5 in the teacher student ratio.

This is a significant change and should have been made explicit in the releases and subsequent reactions. Discussion can now focus on this one issue and resolve it one way or another. Is it an unintended consequence or the result of over sight? Or is it a decision that the allowance should end? Both these possibilities lead to a different sort of discussion and a different resolution.

And resolved it must be – it involves a huge number of people – about 460 in total.



Talk-ED: Ratio rationale

Stuart Middleton
28 May 2012


I need help. Being a bear with a small brain, I have been struggling to understand some of the statements on television from school leaders about the impact of the changes to the student teacher ratio announced recently.

Last Friday evening for example we were told of a school, a primary school that would lose 5-6 teachers. Surely not I thought – this would be outrageous.

So what I did was a simple exercise in mathematics – I listed on a sheet of paper the 1 July roll return figures for 2011 for years 1- 15. Then I applied the old ratios and calculated the number of FTEs (full time equivalent positions) those figures would generate. For comparison I also calculated what the new ratios would generate.

On the basis simply of the number of FTE teaching positions generated, the change in ratios is neutral – in fact there is a gain of 11 FTEs across the entire school sector. But this is negligible given that the number of FTEs 33,170. A small shift in balance sees the secondary sector gain by about 240 FTEs at the expense of primary which loses about the same amount.

So the impacts that are being described to us must be in the calculations of all the additional positions generated by allowances – management, resource teachers, guidance, therapists and so on. These appear to account for a further 13,000 FTEs and I would imagine that the complexity of those calculations creates a somewhat tangled web of different approaches to allocating specific resources.

Has the change in ratios somehow produced a call for a leaner cadre of management in schools?

A reduction in the number of resource teachers feature strongly in the complaints from Principals and there are (or were) nearly 1,000 of these?

I was told the other day that intermediate schools were particularly hit by the changes in a negative way? On the surface the changes in ratios look favourable to them.

I do not doubt for one minute that the perceived impact of the changes on schools is real. School leaders would not go on television and say the things they have been saying if they were not. But if the actual changes to the ratios is neutral in terms of FTE teaching positions, then what is generating that impact?

Is there a discrepancy between the roll figures used to calculate staffing allowances and actual rolls? There shouldn’t be as school rolls have been very stable nationally for the past five years and have actually increased by a little over 4% in the past 10 years. Although national figures inevitably mask a decline in numbers in some areas and growth in others.

Is it that additional staffing outside the FTE calculations has been accumulating in schools where there has been a shift downwards in student numbers? A similar thing happened in the 1980s leading up to the changes in 1989 called Tomorrow’s Schools which saw some spectacular losses in staffing to some schools as new formulae bit in. Schools that had, over a period of time, “done well” in attracting additional staffing paid a heavy price.

Could it be that having staffing delivered in FTEs is limiting? Given the age profile of the teaching service it might, at the moment, be to the advantage of schools to have the salary funding delivered to it in some form of cashed up model?

Education does not have a good track record in embracing change and it would be a shame if the reactions to this change which does appear to simplify the whole business a little, is being challenged simply on the basis that it is change – we don’t like change.

So it is important for the real issues to be brought out in ways that people can understand. The dramatic and breathless condemnation of the changes as the end of learning in our lifetimes won’t cut it. Nor will spurious attempts to alarm parents that there will be extraordinary numbers of students in classrooms, there should not be. Nor will the community be impressed by silly calculations of the time available to teachers for interaction with each student as if that has ever been reflected in how excellent teachers work – “two minutes of talking with the teacher starting now”.

Teaching is predominantly a group activity and that is highlighted by the weight of evidence that the quality of the teacher rather than the precise size of the group is the key factor in the quality of learning.

Communities seek to support their schools and I think that they deserve better than the reactions to the changes in ratios that they have got. What are the real issues?

That’s why I need help. Explanations for the reactions do not seem to come out of a clinical examination of the numbers behind the changes.

I read this morning’s NZ Herald and a little more light is shed on the issue of Years 7 and 8 – it does seem that the additional staffing rather than the ratio is the issue – or does the ratio drive the additional staffing?  Check out the article at:


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Pathways-ED: Big 3 Budget boon!

Stuart Middleton
24 May 2012



In amongst a budget that was pretty flat on excitement, there was some good news for education. Spending will bring some benefits to education some increase in the operating grants and the broadband roll-out will continue. Universities get another slurp into the PBRF research trough and there is a focus on science and engineering for increased EFTS funding.

Of course there is a downside – largely borne by the students who pay back loans a little more steeply, means testing remains and a new targeting of such assistance onto first degrees constitute something of a curate’s egg rather than a golden goose’s egg.

But the big three for me, no surprise here, is the increase in early childhood participation, the increase in the number of youth guarantee places and the NCEA Level 2 target.

To raise the ECE target to 98% from the current 94.7% might seem a modest increase but it is a huge ask in some communities. Access to early childhood education across different communities with different characteristics is discrepant. So if the goal is to be achieved do not expect a little bit for everyone, this will have to be well and truly targeted.

The increase in Youth Guarantee places is throwing good money after good money. The fees free places are providing a valuable opportunity for young people who otherwise might well lose momentum in the school setting, to enter a tertiary programme and, if indications from the first couple of years are a guide, succeed and move into qualifications that will lead them into real jobs.

Then there is the NCEA Target. It is stark in its expression! By 2016 85% of all 18 year olds will achieve NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent). Now this is apparently not just 85% of those who tackle NCEA Level 2 but all 18 year olds. So the increase mentioned in the budget from 68% to 85% is the overall current result but there are challenges in this target that become more apparent when the total is deconstructed into its ethnic components.

The cohort that entered Year 11 in 2008 has performed as follows by the end of 2010 with regard to achieving NCEA Level 2.

  •          NZ European               68%                
  •          Asian                          74%    
  •          Maori                          43%
  •          Pacific                        58%


I actually wonder…

Now remember that probably 20% of 18 year olds have disengaged from school prior to age 16 years. Other students will have dropped out along the way through Year 11 and Year 12. So if this target is to be achieved equitably i.e. all 18 year old Maori, all 18 year old Pasifika etc then we will need to get our skates on. The group who will be the 18 year olds in 2016 are in Year 9 now. Help!

Earlier media attention was paid to the more controversial announcement in the budget that $512 million will be spent on improving teacher quality. We know of course that this is on the basis of savings that result from the squeezing of student / teacher ratio.

Something that intrigues me is a little calculation that I have done tells me that there is some good news for secondary schools in this. Based on national student number profiles (which means that there will be some differences for individual school to take account of their senior school profiles), the equalisation of the ratio across all the levels of the senior secondary school at the level of the current lowest (Year 13) rate will result in a 12% increase in teacher numbers nationally at the senior level.

Was this intended? I was surprised when I did this calculation because the Minister had said that schools would generally be affected by + 1 teachers. Am I wrong? If not then I am excited because increased teachers at the senior level should mean increased flexibility for schools.

If we are to hit that NCEA target in 2016 then that will be crucial.


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Pathways-ED: What's the matter with size?

Stuart Middleton
18 May 2012


It is all a little surreal. I am up in Samoa for a couple of days finishing a task for the National University of Samoa and it happens again! The minute I leave New Zealand controversy breaks out.

This time the issue clusters around the announcement that teacher/pupil ratios are to rise a little. This is no surprise when just several weeks ago the Treasury put forward the argument that if we wished to really address teacher quality, one way of doing this would be to squeeze the ratios up a little, create uncommitted education funds and spend it on giving teachers the opportunity to develop new skills, to hone up the skills that they had and to generally contribute to that one thing we know really makes a difference to student achievement – teacher quality.

The announcement yesterday by Minister Parata did make an effort to emphasise that the money saved is not lost to education in the way that, say, the MFAT cuts money seems simply to be vacuumed up into the consolidated fund. In this respect education (and health) is being treated more favourably.

And this puts teacher and educators into a rather delicate corner because there is only a tenuous link between teacher/student ratios and class size. Or put more starkly, the increase in the ratios will not automatically mean that all classes will be larger. Schools will continue to make professional decisions about the optimal size for classes of different kinds. Reducing class sizes is clearly not a mechanism for school improvement.

I was an English teacher so I always got to teach classes that were as large as the school could manage. On the other hand some teachers in some subjects had rather fewer students. In primary schools this sort of manipulation is more difficult but perhaps high decile schools can justifiably have larger classes than low decile schools simply because the needs of the students are so dramatically different. This would be thwarted because of the way resources are allocated and there is little capability to transfer between schools. Imagine the fuss if differential ratios based on deciles was to be proposed.

The real difficulty is that the business model that school function with is not very functional. Having so much of the teacher resource tied up, and I mean tied up, in an inflexible staffing structure and delivered as FTEs leaves schools with little room to move. That is why the standardisation of the ratios between Years 2 to 8 and Years 11 to 13 seems to me to be an excellent move. The first signs of flexibility are creeping in.

Those who write the press releases for the Minister may have been a little careless in describing the money saved as “extra” – some of it seems to be new but some is really a reallocation. And how long now have we known that if we wish to achieve different results we will need to behave differently, we will have to use resources differently.

I think that the biggest risk in all this is that achievement might not go up. This would then create a rather traditional response from teacher organisations of “we told you so” when it might actually mean that the indicators are still heading south but more slowly. It is imperative now that we get into reporting progress in meaningful and honest ways and that means cohort reporting. What is happening to each group of students. That is the test.

So the unique student identifier has now become urgent and critical. I sometimes joke that an IRD Number should be tattooed, discretely of course but in a place able to be accessed without embarrassment, to help us achieve this but this idea has not gained ground. I believe that the privacy lobby is still arguing about the invasive nature of such identifiers. Meanwhile we pay a heavy price in education through simply not being able to produce robust statics on how we are going.

Then there is the impact of truancy on class size. If 29,000 students are on average away from school each day (these are official figures) then the impact on class size must have been significant. We will have to be vigilant that class sizes do not balloon as we get on top of truancy.

Also, if we tackle the NEETs issue with vigour and succeed there could be a further 20,000 students at school. Solving the issues of disengagement and educational failure is a sure way to increase the number of teachers in schools!

This is a vexed issue. Oh, I forgot there are also the teen parents (25,000 I was told). Of course there is some double counting in all these figures. A side issue is that a teen Mum only has an entitlement until age 18 years. This is something that is an abrogation of human rights and applies only to them and, seemingly, to First XV aspirants in Auckland schools!

The thing that will silence the argument about class size will be a clear improvement in achievement. That is the challenge and that is why we go teaching in the first place.



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Talk-ED: A chance for education to score – or kick an own goal!

Stuart Middleton
14 May 2012


Education has surely moved into centre stage in a way that is spectacularly ahead of any time that I can remember.

In setting the Better Public Service Goals for the performance of government and the public service generally, the Government settled on a set of goals that are making a clear statement – Education has to perform! And it has to deliver by 2016.

 Clustered under a set of five headings those goals are:

 Reducing long-term welfare dependency

1.     Reduce the number of people who have been on a working age benefit for more than 12 months

Supporting vulnerable children

2.     Increase participation in early childhood education.

3.     Increase infant immunisation rates and reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever

4.     Reduce the number of assaults on children.

Boosting skills and employment

5.     Increase the proportion of 18 year olds with NCEA level 2 or equivalent qualification.

6.     Increase the proportion of 25-34 year olds with advanced trade qualifications, diplomas and degrees (at level 4 or above).

Reducing crime

7. Reduce the rates of total crime, violent crime and youth crime.

8. Reduce reoffending.

Improving interaction with government

9. New Zealand businesses have a one-stop online shop for all government advice and support they need to run and grow their business.

10. New Zealanders can complete their transactions with the Government easily in a digital environment.

On first glance it might appear that No.5 and No.6 are the key education goals. NCEA Level 2 for 85% of all 18 year olds seems certainlynow to have been accepted as the goal in terms of school leaving qualifications. The target for trades qualifications is appropriate even if expressed in rather softer terms. Both are tough goals and I will come back to these at some later date!

But it is the other eight goals that excite me today.

Getting people off benefits can only be achieved by training, retraining and education. There are jobs out there but there is a dearth of people especially among the benefit dependent with the skills to get them. Education and especially trades education and training will be central to Goal No.1. Education that succeeds will create more jobs as the increased supply of a skilled labour force will drive and increase demand.

Early childhood education is the very foundation for success in education generally and subsequently in life. This is recognised in Goal No.2 while Goals No.3 and 4 would be more likely to be attained in a well-educated and knowledgeable community. Perhaps the role of education is more peripheral here but it is among the poorly educated and ill-trained and those without skills that these issues are at their greatest.

We know the statistics for crime, youth justice, incarceration and general evil doing track closely the statistics of educational failure and disengagement. Goals 7 and 8, while not a direct consequence of what we do in education are certainly able to be impacted on them positively by what we could do in education. It is the best investment if we are serious about crime and offending.

That leaves No.9 and No.10 which at first glance seem to be the least connected. But business performance is greatly helped by a well-educated workforce and management skills are enhanced by education. Capability to deal with the mechanics of business development and growth from a government point of view is susceptible to an improvement through education.

So overall the 10 goals are a very strong statement about education. They are also a very tough ask.

But if we improve levels of educational success and engagement, if we make inroads into the NEETs in New Zealand, if we can knock truancy on the head, if we can get all students to a secure point for moving on from school and then get them successfully through the next qualifications – then and only then will the Better Public Service goals be met.

Education has moved to centre stage, the lights have gone up and the show has begun!

Are we up to it?



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Pathways-ED: Two approaches to First-in-Family


Stuart Middleton
10 May 2012


Our government is to introduce a programme whereby young mothers, teen mums, can get long lasting but reversible contraception at no cost.

This prophylactic response is provoking some discussion – is it one state intervention too far? One commentator has termed it a “eugenic meddling”, others have been shocked, horrified and indignant while the moderate response has been to cast doubt on its value and effectiveness in bringing about the social and economic benefits that the policy claims.

I suspect that the red-neck response is out there but is remarkably quiet on this one.

Anything that removes complication from the lives of young parents could be a good thing if this is backed up with real opportunity to use the space created in a less complicated life positively. And that means some connection between such an initiative and education and training.

Teen parents number about 25,000 in New Zealand and I would guess that most of them are struggling young women. Moving on and up is critical if they are to face a future that enables them to actually give their young children any sort of chance. Many of these parents are both on their own and, I guess, alone.

If they can be helped with free contraception why cannot they be helped with free education and training that would be of great benefit to both the parent and the child?  Spending money on getting people up to speed with a qualification that results in a job is the soundest expenditure because it results in a return on investment through taxes and the savings from money not spent on welfare interventions,  in court and penal systems, increased healthcare costs and housing issues.

Education and training is to ignorance and helplessness what contraception is to unplanned pregnancies.

Reluctance among governments to accept that the cost of provision for education is the cheap option compared to doing nothing and seeing the cycles of educational failure repeat themselves in families defies understanding. Breaking the cycle is the only way that long term economic benefits accrue. Governments accept all kinds of spurious economic impacts related to major sporting events, new sports stadiums and other glamorous activities. What about accepting that the economic impact of expenditure on the education of those who are likely to be unemployable brings the greatest returns of any expenditure? And the gains from such expenditure are not just to the individual, we all benefit.

That is why a programme to get “First Generation Students”, “First in Family” (call them what you like) into through and out of education and training deserves both closer attention and action. We know that when that “First Generation Student” gets through a family is transformed and new educational aspirations infuse families both vertically and horizontally. It is like a cluster bomb of opportunity exploding in the lives of a family and they are changed as a group forever.

I wonder how many of these young mothers who they want to stop having babies are “first in family” when it comes to education and training.

In addition to a focus on the young and the fertile, we could well add a focus on those young people who can act as family circuit breakers with regard to education and training. I already hear rumblings about how difficult it would be to decide what a family is, who is really the first-in-family to take the pathway to qualifications and so on. It might be but sensible people can make sensible decisions about this.

Devising a set of selection criteria for this First in Family Guarantee, a name that would reflects a connection to the Youth Guarantee policy, would be relatively simple. “Has anyone in your immediate family got a post secondary qualification? No? Well you are the “first-in family” so here is a hand up.” That doesn’t seem too hard.

You see spending money in ways that get a return is simpler than continuing to throw money at students through loans and allowances and wondering not only if you are getting a return but also whether you will get the money back. The simple schemes such as that proposed here for first-in-family look elegant by contrast.

A year ago it was reported that 50 student borrowers in New Zealand were responsible for debt of $11 million – the economic impact report on that would be interesting! Student loans in New Zealand now make up a total debt in excess of $11 billion ($NZ)! Don’t tell me that we do not have the money for sound interventions.

If the government can spend $1million on the contraceptive scheme, I challenge them to spend $1 million on a First-in-Family scheme. Both sums of money would work on fertile land; I know which one I would back for a return.


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Talk-ED: A world class University in New Zealand

Stuart Middleton
7 May 2012

Something of a discussion almost started last week when University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon published an opinion piece in the NZ Herald arguing that if New Zealand wished to have world class universities it had better spend more on them.

He pointed out that the ranking of New Zealand universities in “Top World Class University” lists was steadily falling. Of course there are a number of these lists so no doubt we like to refer to lists on which NZ does well but currently they all make for challenging reading. In the highly regarded Shanghai Jiao Tong 2011 Academic ranking of World Universities, New Zealand had no universities in the top 100, indeed the top 200. Australia had four in the top 100.

The top ten universities in the world were: Harvard (No.1 for many years), MIT (Massachusetts not Otara!), UC Berkeley, University of Cambridge, Caltech, Princeton, Columbia (NY), Chicago and Oxford.

In wondering about solutions, VC McCutcheon noted that having fewer students at university would be one way provided the same amount of money was available. But I have another solution.

In the late 1990s Lord Dearing posited that there was a quantum of population required to generate a world class university – I think it was about 4 million people. On that basis New Zealand could perhaps have reasonable aspirations to have one world class university, Australia five, the UK fifteen and so on. That seems about right.

So if New Zealand is to have one world class university it can only be the University of Auckland on current ratings. So a decision should be made that the funding models and emphases of that university will be driven towards achieving Top 100 status.

Wait a minute, there is another factor to be taken into account here – the size of the university. If you look at a selection of the world’s best universities the size is surprisingly small: Stanford University – 15,500; Harvard University – 21,000; MIT (US) – 10,894; Oxford University – 21,000 and University of Cambridge – 18,000.

University of Auckland has 40,000 students. Can it hope to compete?

Another factor. If you look at the small set of top world-class universities,  the ratio of undergraduate students to postgraduate students is as follows:

Stanford University – undergraduate students 44%: postgraduate students 56%; Harvard University – 31%:69%; MIT (US) – 40%:60%; Oxford University – 55%:44%; University of Cambridge- 66%:33%. So the USA universities are markedly weighted towards postgraduate students.

The University of Auckland has 75% undergraduate and 25% postgraduate students. Can it hope to compete?

Interestingly, the other New Zealand ratios in this regard are: Massey 76%:24%; Canterbury 86%:14%; Waikato 84%:16%; Victoria 76%:24% and Otago 78%:22%. So three New Zealand universities have very similar ratios. [1]

Here is my plan for New Zealand to get into the Top 100 university list and stay there.

  1.  The University of Auckland should be designated our university for which this is a goal – New Zealand’s World Class University

The justification for this is its current superior world ranking when compared to the rest and its situation. It is in New Zealand’s largest city which has a wide range of tertiary provision therefore freeing up the University of Auckland to have a special goal – Massey, AUT, the two Polytechnics (Unitec and MIT(NZ)) and Te Wananga o Aotearoa can provide excellent tertiary education for Auckland to complement the narrower and targeted approach the University of Auckland would be taking.

In light of the above information about Top 100 universities, the University of Auckland must also consider two further actions:

  1. reducing its size by 50%:
  1. shifting the balance of undergraduate to postgraduate students to something closer to that of the top USA universities.

Were this solution accepted, there would be no need for reduced student numbers in tertiary programmes, simply a redistribution of numbers across Auckland providers. A smaller University of Auckland focussed on research and predominantly concerned with postgraduate university education would quickly return to the Top 100 list at no additional cost to the government. To achieve this the University of Auckland might have to be funded on a different basis to the rest, so be it.

Yes, this is elitist, so is Valerie Adams winning the shot putt and our rowers winning races and the high regard in which so many aspects of New Zealanders achievements are held. Well, I think we just have to accept that, get over it and move on. To think that we can have more than one world class university is sheer stupidity and it is even quite insane to hold back our best chance on some spurious egalitarian argument. 

[1]Figures for the undergraduate / postgraduate split at AUT were presented a little differently with 84% of students working at Bachelor level or above.


Pathways-Ed: How can you succeed when you eat doughnuts?

Stuart Middleton
3 May 2012


I have long wondered whether legal action over educational failure is navigable. But I had always thought that it was likely be played out at the tertiary level – something along the lines of a student questioning the legality of the institution failing to deliver a “product” purchased by the students and perhaps under the Consumer Guarantee Act.

Melbourne student, Beau Abela, has sued the Department of Education in Victoria, Australia, because he is unable to read or write or count. He is reported as saying that he was “silenced with medications and teachers blamed his inability to learn on eating doughnuts.”

His case was that his early education showed a well-adjusted, happy and responsible lad and now he is being described as aggressive and disengaged. He cannot demonstrate the literacy or numeracy skills that are required for employment.

Most interest in the case is in the way it has proceeded.

The Abela’s claim that schools simply dished out medication rather than actually help the boy who had ADHD, they promoted him year after year despite his not achieving at each level and that the father’s attempts to intervene were ignored.

On the other side, the claim is made that the Discrimination Act does not require them to act in response to the boy’s needs. Furthermore, the boy “had an IQ of only 62!” And that the real reason the boy failed was “that he had not received enough help with his homework.”

“We are not blaming the father, we are not blaming the family,” says learned QC for the Department.”but the child had come from a broken home and was clearly emotionally disturbed.” This was after noting that the boy was “destabilised” (sic) by his mother when he was young because of perceived threats to him and his sister, “…the teachers did a fantastic job.

There is an element of farce in the Department’s case with the QC’s emailing that Beau often ate sugary, fatty foods, such as doughnuts, and this is only one example of a lack of home support. “teachers we’re really worried that Beau Abela was going to school without a wholesome meal.” But this is no French farce, it is more like a minor tragedy played out by many families in many countries.

This case (which is still proceeding), pits two sides against each other who have in all likelihood done their best. Families cope as best they can and the schools can only do their best by coping. Individual students including many with special needs, fall through the cracks of schools under pressure in a system that is itself under severe pressure.

There won’t be a winner in this instance. The Department will simply answer the charge while the family will have great difficult in seeing the complaint succeed. This is because no-one is responsible for educational achievement and lame attempts to simply blame the family underlines the failure of a community and a plethora of government agencies to maintain the ability of a community both to manage generally but also to interface effectively with educational providers. Thrashing it out in the courts is a pointless exercise.

I wonder if an adequate programme of support for Beau Abela might have been provided by Department for much the same cost as that of defending the allegations?






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