Sunday, June 27, 2010
Allan Peachey: What About The Universities?
Oh, except one thing. Listening to some of the submissions gives the impression that New Zealand students come out of school and into tertiary education as a bunch of intellectual and emotional cripples, who need massive support put behind them. And these are some of our brightest young people? I am bound to say that I find myself asking a simple question; how do we drive out the “woe is me” welfare dependency that left wing interests foster on tertiary campuses. I would have thought that these would be the last place for a “woe is me” defeatist mentality.
I have had some good meetings with student leaders around the country, many of them smart, bright non-political people. One, the President of the Otago University Students’ Association, is studying for a conjoint degree in law and commerce. She was quoted in the local student magazine as saying:
“I personally think University Entrance is a joke – 42 credits? Really? That’s below a level 3 pass. In my opinion, if UE was a decent challenge it would ensure that everyone at University was prepared enough to succeed, would act to incentivise students to work hard at high school and really want to be at University, and would naturally limit enrolments.”
What commonsense. Congratulations to that student leader.
Is our university system serving us well? I think that the ability of universities to do this has been compromised for too many years now by a couple of things. One is the amount of attention that has been paid to things like increasing the number of students at an institution rather than raising the standards for entry. I have met academics who have argued that rising enrolments and lower entry standards have led to a fall in standards. I have no reason to doubt this view. Another has been the social engineering imperatives that drive enrolments into certain degrees and into most institutions. I just don’t see how universities can reconcile current enrolment practices with traditional academic standards. If there is one thing the New Zealand economy needs at present it is much more competitive entry (based solely on proven academic ability) into university and a re-assertion of academic standards.
Universities thrive on highly talented students. Highly talented students thrive on highly qualified academic staff offering high quality teaching and equally high quality research. They thrive also in an atmosphere of academic freedom balanced with respect for truth and accuracy as derived from disinterested academic research.
So what this resolves itself into is a discussion about who should go to university. Should entry be open, or should it be competitive based on nothing more or less than proven academic performance? Do we want universities where the sole imperative is traditional academic standards or universities that have to compromise these standards by meeting social engineering agendas of governments or interest groups? The way a country answers those questions will tell us a lot about the priorities and aspirations of that country.
My view? Competitive entry and traditional academic standards any day. Why? Because this is the easiest way, no the only way, for us to quickly develop a more effective university system. This is the only way that we will ever have a chance of competing with the best in the world. Fail to compete with the rest of the world and lose the race to prosperity and growth. Lose that race and give up forever the possibility of ever developing and retaining the best and brightest of our young people.
New Zealand needs its best universities to be operating to a world quality standard in their teaching and research. They cannot do that if they are either required to or feel moved to compromise traditional economic standards.
at 11:57 PM