Tag Archive for targets

Pathways-ED: Degrees of difference: Money or the BAg!

 

Oh dear, what a little fluster we got ourselves into when the newspapers came out with the news that our degrees don’t lead to much financial advantage for the students who slave to get them. And let’s not take anything away from that achievement.

 

First, degrees are worth a lot. As pointed out by AUT’s Derek McCormack, degrees provide advantage in the employment stakes and those with jobs tend to have financial advantage over those who don’t!  Some degrees are in high demand and do provide not only better starting remuneration but also greater rapidity in a rising career trajectory – Auckland University VC Stuart McCutcheon pointed this out.

 

Bob Jones of course had his contribution to make with his well-known view that degrees weren’t important unless they were in the thinking subjects such as history. He requires prospective employees to be readers, the mark of the thinking person. He has a strong point here. The parchment is not the endpoint of a degree but a lifetime of access to ideas is.

 

It is sad when a discussion about higher education settles down to the level of a whinge about pay but the newspaper in an indignant editorial did raise that old argument about whether education, especially Higher education was a private gain or a public good. It is a silly argument because it is and always has been both.

 

Of course it is a private good, a student who gets a degree (the mark of what is taken to be an education at that point) is privileged through a likelihood that they will be employed, be less likely to be in jail, more likely to have better health and housing. Importantly, their families are more likely to follow in their educational footsteps and even exceed the success they have had. Money? Well there is also advantage there but not as much as in some other countries. Relative to remuneration levels those differences might not be as great as they are portrayed.

 

Public good?  Of course there is a level of public good. While some of the rising credentialism that has occurred over the past fifty years has had an irrational element to it, degrees are an important entry qualification into many professions. The legal profession and the medical profession have always required bachelor degree level qualification for entry into those professions. Now a host of others also require degrees – teaching, nursing, accountancy and town-planning. This is more the result of the push to increase the numbers of degrees offered and the clear increased focus on being vocational that came out of the feral 1990s when the tertiary institutions battled it out for market share.

The private gain / public good argument received its big push in the Treasury briefing papers of 1987 which was responsible for the education system taking a swing to the right in what did become something of a fees rocky horror show for many students. The private good argument won back then and ever since every taxpayer funds degree programmes to all starters. It will be looked at again one day when questions are raised about the sense of this wholesale money laundering scheme that leaves too many young people in debt.

 

But what was not highlighted in the discussion was that while degrees are important they are not the only qualifications that are both needed and highly valued. New Zealand probably does not need increased numbers of graduates with degrees. What we do need are those with quality intermediate qualifications – the technicians, the supervisors working at the applied practical end of successful business, industry and commerce – the ones that keep the wheels oiled and turning. That is the “skill shortage” and, now it seems, that is the group that we are losing to overseas opportunities.  This is not an argument that dimishes the value of a degree but one which simply draws attention to a fact.

 

Of course we need degrees but even the Tertiary Education Commission joined the feverish chorus in a recent youth transitions paper by emphasising the importance of “higher qualifications (particularly degree level)”. Australia, the US and the UK have all set targets for the proportion of people who should have a degree that they have not a chance of meeting. It is much more intelligent to have targets such as those set by the Better Public Service Goals (85% of 18 year olds with NCEA Level 2 by 2017 and 55% of 25-34 year olds with a Level 4+ qualifications by 2017) – they are achievable and are key markers of both the school system and the tertiary system getting our young people onto a success trajectory.

 

Nor are university degrees the only degrees that are valued. The MOE published a useful little report in 2009, Does it really matter where you study, which compared the relative benefits of a bachelors degree gained from a university with those gained from a polytechnic. Its findings are not complex and are that:

 

  •           the labour market in New Zealand “appears not to discriminate” against polytechnic degrees;
  •           the starting pay is “roughly the same” regardless of the provider;
  •           after five years those with a university degree do edge ahead with a “relatively small advantage at the upper end”;
  •           in fields of speciality for the polytechnics  such as IT, commerce, engineering and architecture there is “little difference” and in some cases in these areas, the polytechnic graduates are earning more.
  •           the study was unable to find evidence that provider quality leads to a gap in earnings over time.

As with all qualifications a degree is merely a stepping stone to further education, to employment, to enhanced life choices and chances and to the likelihood of increased opportunity for your children.

 

If you can’t take pleasure from all that and want to have a grumble about money, seek solace in the fact that you are doing for your child rather than yourself.

 

 

Pathways-ED: Get out the compass, we know where we are going!

Stuart Middleton
EDTalkNZ
28 June 2012

 

Is peace is breaking out in education?

The Minister of Education has announced the formation of a “Minister’s Forum” that will address the key goal confirmed last Monday in the Better Public Services goals: that by 2017, 85% of all 18 year olds in New Zealand will have NCEA Level 2 or its equivalent.

The Forum contains possibly the widest representation of education ever put together in one room. All major groups associated with pre-school, primary and secondary schools are there. So too are various governance groups such as trustees. There are some tertiary people also.

Chaired by the Minister, this group might be the best chance yet to effect the step change that will take achievement for all students up to levels that are competitive internationally and which will see increased contribution into the wealth of New Zealand.

The goal is that all 18 year olds will get there, not just a cosy percentage but a challenging one, And not only the Asian and European students but also Maori, Pasifika and other priority groups – it is 85% of each of these groups. No longer can our disparate performance be hidden in global percentages.

This is all good news. Yes the timeframe seems tight but the goal is beyond dispute. It represents something of true north for us to stroke some direction into the system. And what a great time of the year to set our eyes on a new star.

I say our eyes because a step change of this kind requires effort from everybody.

The foundations of education are constructed in family and early childhood education, well quality early childhood education. (A further Better Public Service goal calls for 98% participation in quality ECE). This then must lead to a primary schooling that focuses clearly and effectively on the foundational skills of education. We can no longer afford the luxury of having young people present themselves to the secondary school after 8 years of primary education still carrying weaknesses in basic skill areas, especially literacy and numeracy.

In an education system that is keen to boast that we are a “world class system” it makes no sense that students can slip through untouched by the teaching of these skills.

Then the secondary school takes over and faces several issues – keeping students in education and keeping them moving forward. Actually keeping students in education is also becoming a concern for senior primary levels. Progressions from secondary on to further education and training are also a challenge. Why are the transitions such an issue in our system?

The challenge for the secondary schools is on a number of educational fronts and seems to me to be clustered around the following:

 

  •           the development of pathways that clearly relate to further education, training or employment;
  •           a return to increased opportunities for some learners to respond to the challenges of learning in applied settings;
  •           closer co-operation between schools and tertiary providers both in the interests of increasing pathway options but also to re-introduce the rich opportunities for technical, career, and vocational education that once available to young people.

 

It seems to me that the 85% challenge will require us to bring new success into the educational lives of about 10,000 students, But the bigger challenge is that if the 85% target is to apply equitably to groups of priority learners, over 3,500 of this group must be Maori and over 1,000 Pasifika.

People from overseas, when I talk about such matters, are amused not by the gravity of the challenge but rather by its scale. With numbers such as those above, surely, they argue, you can get in there and “knock it off”. They come from systems in which the same issues have almost reach a scale of despairing numbers. In the US, a student drops out of High School every 9 minutes and 1.4 million a year are excluded.

World class? Of course we can be. Not just in measures of overall achievement (that after all is simply a league table!) but in our capacity to show that we recognise inequality of outcome and were prepared to do something about. To not achieve or get close to this target would be shameful.