Will increasing university enrolments lower standards?

Of course it will!

Assuming that  universities currently take the top students, then increasing enrolments mean you reach deeper down into the barrel.

But that’s not the point.  Although it seems to be the argument currently mounted by the Group of Eight universities: Standards will fall, shock horror!


Not everyone gets into Melbourne

 However, this is not necessarily the case. School performance, upon which most university entrances based, has been shown to be a poor predictor of university success.  And this is recognised by many universities.

The important question when deciding about entry requirements for universities is “What score does a student need to succeed in an undergraduate degree?”

Currently, you need to be somewhere at the 99th percentile, that is in the top 1% of year 12 students, to get into law or medicine at a prestigious university.  If  government were to  lower that standard to the 95th percentile, there would be cries of outrage from the professions and universities.

What such a move would mean is that the top 5% of pupils finishing year 12 would get into these programs. The top 5% is still a pretty smart group of people, all of whom one would assume, have the intellectual capability to complete undergraduate degrees.

The question of access to university and cost of university degrees goes to the heart of very important issue in our society: the divide between rich and poor. It is normally couched in terms of the divide between the superrich and everybody else. But there is another divide and it is one that is possible to close as result of public policy.

It’s the gap between the educated and the uneducated, between those who understand mathematics and science in particular but who also have the ability to think and reason.

While it is difficult  for governments to help their citizens to acquire really great wealth, it is rather less difficult  to help them to acquire a good education. Currently there are significant barriers for people in lower socio-economic groups whose schooling and whose family’s ability to fund them denies them access to higher education.

I was one of the last people to come through a tertiary education system that was free to all comers, both in New Zealand and Australia. I also had the advantage of postgraduate degrees without paying fees. This allowed me to change my career direction a number of times during my working life.

The Prime Minister argues that we need an economy that is agile. Economic agility is closely linked to educational agility. We need to understand that people may need retraining, quite often at postgraduate level, to maintain individual and national economic agility.


 Malcolm Turnbull understands the need for agility but not the means.

Postgraduate degrees that cost $60,000 maybe out of the reach of many.  But we need to give serious thought to the way our society handles the economic and educational aspirations of a group of people for whom the relevance of the undergraduate degrees has passed its use-by-date relatively early in their career.

Free tertiary education is now probably politically impossible but we need to understand clearly that the decision not to provide free education limits the economic potential of a significant proportion of the population. University fees and university loans also burden a generation with an impossible level of debt early in their lives.

Unfortunately, these issues do not seem to be on the agenda of the major parties seeking power in Australia 2016.




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