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July 14, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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President’s Column

What is the direction forward for Victoria University?

Questions like this get asked regularly and to most extent we as students have little control over the university and our wider existance in general. That the university is asking students for their opinions on the strategic plan is new and interesting, it hasn’t been done before. The question i’d be asking is “what does it matter?”, “show us how we actually have a say on the university itself”.

The university is going through a series of interconnected changes. These are the times of education reforms. Auckland is severly restricting entry, using ‘quality’ and ‘excellence’ as ways in which to take the institution back to a more elitist approach (not that it hasn’t been very elitist to date).

Yes not everyone needs to go to university. Polytech and apprenticeships are important parts of societal education. The privitisation of these areas is staggering. What was exected of the bosses in the past i.e. on the job training, now is provided at the easily applied for $6000 two year course. Not everyone needs a university education.Employers do not look first for your degree. Your volunteering/work exerience is key. Yet I defend everyones’ ability to enter university. We have no clear methodology for accepting or denying people into tertiary education. secondary schooling is a joke in that respect, it is the unreality if nothing else.

Yet that is the situation facing the university. Unreality. The funding model is changing, but no major changes are being made to actual funding levels, which proportionally have been on the wane since the seventies and the end of the post war boom.

We’re changing from a fully EFTS (bums’ on seats (or inputs)) scheme to a mix of partial EFTS and partial PBRF (commodified research (or outputs)). Yet the money supply is not increasing to cover this. We’ve just moving the same money around, robbing Peter to pay Paul. All this leads to is deciding who gains more and who loses. Which while not trying to sound conspiracy theorist, makes for an interesting time for the university wanting our say in how things are run. Because right now. Who ever is involved in making any calls at Victoria University is making calls on who gets fired and what subjects get culled.

I don’t like to sound mean or harsh. But Education has little future at Victoria University. Bar it continuing as a niche subject. PBRF does not favour it. The government has gradually cut funding since the early 90’s by about 30% in real terms. Education will at current rates cost VUW money in the next PBRF round, students (including education) will suffer. This university has decided that it is not a core ‘strength’ and that Education, like Film as well as Gender and Women’s Studies needs rationalising. The university asks “Will it steer decision making on resource allocation, expansion, and retraction?”, resource allocation and retractions. Those are the decisions facing the university. Issues like the commercialisation of intellectual property rights. We measure this through blunt and narrow benchmarks. PBRF does not inform the quality of research or the researcher per se, it gives an indication, one indication. The same as secondary school grades. They provide an indication, but nothing approaching a general indication. I’m not taking part in the ritual cull of the humanities.

What is the value of a course or a lecturer? How do we measure it? We measure it at the outcry from the public at the threats to G&WS and Film School. We measure it in the inspiration of students and society from the role of academics in public life. These are intangible and can’t be measured. VUW is only heading for public shame if it continues on the path trodden so far this year. Student/public outcry is one of the biggest selfidentified by VUW currently.

It is the working class who we owe our allegiance to. It is they who continue to work and allow us to exist in our tertiary unreality. That it is the public keeping the university honest is a bizarre turn, but one in line with the university’s role as business and the trainer of white collar workers.

We can do something about this. It isn’t easy. We succeeded with film school and we can win with G&WS, but compromise is all we face unless we alter the path and change direction. This then is not about VUW at all. It comes back to the system. To capitalism itself. Until then we manage an unmanageable system. We can fight it. We must fight it. What say should we have in university management? THE say. But there’s an old union maxim “When the boss starts asking you for advice, you know you’re being lined up to take the fall.”.

The intention from VUW is honourable. Students should have and demand a say in the operations of the University. It is your responsibility as a student to stand tall and say that. But I will not be made responsible for making the sorts of cuts that this change in funding structure brings about, neither should students. The rational for these are all too short sighted and narrow.

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Comments (13)

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  1. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    “Employers do not look first for your degree. Your volunteering/work exerience is key.”

    I disagree. Depending upon the discipline or industry, that’s often the very first thing they look for.

    Using I.T. or Engineering as an example, some form of tertiary qualification is usually a prerequisite for applying for an entry level position as a graduate. This is because having a degree guarantees a basic level of competency that the employer can then build on with on-the-job training.

    Regarding fields such as Education, perhaps the solution there is to launch more active campaigns to get people into those fields – therefore providing more ‘bums on seats’, as you say. The TEACH NZ campaigns are good, but the real solution is to raise wages for secondary school teachers so as to make it a more financially viable option for potential educators. I once wanted to be a high school teacher – until I realised it would mean taking about a 25, 000 p.a. paycut on what I currently earn.

    “It comes back to the system. To capitalism itself. Until then we manage an unmanageable system.”

    I disagree with the totality of this statement – by this you’re saying that, because certain fields of education are suffering, capitalism must therefore be a broken or failed system. You’re drawing vast conclusions from miniscule data. A centralised, command economy isn’t the only way to ensure adequate resources for education – it just requires a little state level direction to ensure the redistribution of funds in an appropriate manner.

    This seems to be one of the flaws of the socialist argument. I’ve often heard it said that “the state would pay for this/that/the other if this were a communist country” – as if socialism automatically provides an infinite supply of resources to the benevolent state. Socialist countries suffer from limited resources much the same way as capitalism ones do, which means that in the end they too have to “rob Peter to pay Paul”. There simply is no system where everybody wins.

    The only major difference is, the competitiveness of capitalism ensures that it generates more wealth than a communist system – meaning that there is more money to go around in the end. That’s the beauty of capitalism – it isn’t meant to be managed, or controlled. It provides a free flow of wealth that ensures personal freedom to earn and to act.

    Matt.

  2. Jackson Wood says:

    “show us how we actually have a say on the university itself”.
    Shouldn’t the president be advocating for students so that we can have a say?

    “Auckland is severly restricting entry, using ‘quality’ and ‘excellence’ as ways in which to take the institution back to a more elitist approach”
    And then twice in one paragraph:
    “Not everyone needs a university education.”
    So why should it matter if they are restricting entry? Moves like this by AUT make people seriously consider their futures, which is what people should be doing, rather than just hanging around uni and getting involved with student politics, not completing their degree and getting into the workspace and earning tax dollars to support the next round of students. Just because someone went to uni does not mean they are elite or any more intelligent than someone who went to a polytech, I also support the right to education, but I do not think that university should be turned into the herding ground of disaffected youth who don’t know what to do with themselves. Also did you ever consider that this is not some insidious plan by the AUT, and that they simply cannot cope with the numbers of students enrolling, and that it is putting pressure on the staff, and degrading the quality of the education the students are getting.

    “Employers do not look first for your degree. Your volunteering/work exerience is key.”
    Total nonsense. As Matt said above, they probably look to see if you are qualified, EG I do some volunteer work at the homeless shelter, I walk along the Hutt Road and pick up trash… blah blah blah, I’ve also always wanted to be an astronaut. So I send my CV to NASA, laden with volunteer work and I get a call: “Son, you don’t have any relevant qualifications, sure you’re a nice guy and you help people out, maybe you should try for a job doing stuff like that.” Point of the story is: EXPERIENCE is the key, university, polytech can give you practical and theoretical experience. Remember how Joel protested so adamantly against the closure of the film school. It was to ensure that people could get experience as part of their degree. Employers look at you holistically, if you have a degree, diploma or certificate in the area you are applying for, that is going to count towards your selection as a person qualified for that. The sad fact is that you need a piece of paper to get most jobs these days.

    “It is the working class who we owe our allegiance to. It is they who continue to work and allow us to exist in our tertiary unreality.”
    Yes they continue to work, but when (if) you ever finish university, some of your tax payers dollars will go towards students too Joel, and no doubt if you have a degree you will be getting paid more because of that and therefore you will be putting more towards education indirectly than you are now directly. We don’t owe out allegiance to the working class, we owe it to all tax paying New Zealanders, we owe it to the companies, we owe it to the people who smoke and drink and we owe it to ourselves because in the end we will be earning our keep once we’ve finished our degrees and moved on.

    “But I will not be made responsible for making the sorts of cuts that this change in funding structure brings about,”
    Of course you won’t and you can’t! No one is pointing the finger at you (yet). What you could be doing, is giving us tangible evidence about how you are advocating for us students to ensure that subjects are not cut, rather than going on the record pre-emptively eschewing yourself of any blame.

  3. Mr Magoo says:

    The working class! They don’t do shit for us except force us to survive on $150 a week. Joel Cosgrove is a muppet who doesn’t give a shit about students because he’s too busy pushing his own politics. Fuck off Cosgrove, no one likes you.

  4. Pistol Pete says:

    But you are responsible for getting free internet and printing Joel. Its what you were elected to do. ‘Your’ Students are still waiting…

  5. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    “Joel Cosgrove is a muppet who doesn’t give a shit about students because he’s too busy pushing his own politics”

    Now hang on a minute. Whilst I personally don’t agree with Joel’s political views and will argue against them, isn’t it the responsibility of any elected official to present their own views?

    I understand there’s a difference between presenting and pushing, but from what i’ve heard and seen I don’t consider Joel to be pushing socialism on anyone. It’s his right to represent issues from his viewpoints if he so wishes, as it is ours to disagree with him if we choose.

    Having said that, I agree with Jackson that the ‘working class’ is merely a limited subset of all taxpayers. Furthermore, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we owe them our ‘allegiance’ – that’s like saying every time I make a claim on ACC, or have my life saved by a doctor, or have my house saved by firemen, I should thank the taxpayers rather than the people who actually did the work. Sure the money comes from the taxpayers, but it is the state that chooses how to disseminate it and its recipients who decide how best to utilise it.

    Matt.

  6. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    Oh and re: Pistol Pete: I am waiting on this one too. Joel, any word on what is being done on the free printing front? Where is this at?

  7. Gibbon says:

    “isn’t it the responsibility of any elected official to present their own views?”

    It is? I didn’t know that.
    (not being facetious by the way)

  8. James Malthus says:

    Matthew, I think Gibbon does have a bit of a point in saying that he isn’t doing enough for students, and it is possible Joel is spending too much time on his personal politics than serving the students.

    Same could be said about our MP’s too with regards to the whole of society.

  9. Tea Bag says:

    Seems like there is a hell of a lot of talk and sweet FA actually being done… meanwhile check out http://www.academicscore.com , not sure who is behind it but appears someone is activly trying to take the power back…

    talk is cheap motherfuckers!

    Tea Bag

  10. Trent Burgess says:

    Taking the power back? Seems to me all that site does is reinforce the idea that a university education has a ‘market value’ that needs to be recognised. This is where I believe the problem starts, user pays means the user wants something of monetary value back for their ‘investment’ in education ie accounting jobs from too many commerce degrees. The issue here is returning university education to what it is supposed to be about intellectual and academic excellence rather than pieces of paper to get jobs.

  11. Brad H says:

    Instead of an academic score what is wrong with the good ole GPA?

    A+ = 9
    A = 8
    A- = 7
    B+ = 6
    B = 5
    B- = 4
    C+ = 3
    C = 2
    C- = 1

    All you do is average your total. Simple.

  12. Trent Burgess says:

    The site says the difference is:
    “is different from the traditional Grade Point Average or GPA as it is calculated over any number of papers and not confined to completing specific degree requirements. Academic Grade Score is not a finite scale as GPA is, you can always improve it. It also takes account of the increased difficulty in achieving high grades at higher levels”

    who knows? My Academic Score seems to increase the value of my BA (History)… the question is whether the true value can be measured at all…

  13. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    Trent:

    “The issue here is returning university education to what it is supposed to be about intellectual and academic excellence rather than pieces of paper to get jobs”

    Well, the former is an ideal, and the latter is a reality; I personally think that the university experience is a combination of both. If the entire tertiary insitution were about academic excellence and not about pieces of paper, the uni would be losing drastic amounts of money due to lack of enrollment, and the students who did choose to attend would have to pay higher fees to compensate.

    Fact of the matter is, tertiary education IS a money-making business – an industry like any other. One can argue all they want about free education for all, but in reality university is about distinguishing ones’ self from the crowd through, as you call it, ‘academic excellence’. It is by nature selective – not everybody can be ‘excellent’, and those that choose to be usually have some sort of reason behind it – financial reward chief amongst them. That is why state-guaranteed education only goes as high as secondary school.

    By the way, that’s not an endorsment of cancelling certain degrees or of high university fees – I do think that unviersity should be AVAILABLE and ACCESSIBLE to all (rather than FREE), but I do also still think that it should be SELECTIVE based on merit.

    Anyway, i’m starting to get a bit sidetracked from the original article by Joel.

    James Malthus:

    “I think Gibbon does have a bit of a point in saying that he isn’t doing enough for students, and it is possible Joel is spending too much time on his personal politics than serving the students”

    You are probably right judging how little has been done on the free printing front and how up in arms everyone is about it. Anyone keen to join me in writing and signing a letter of concern to Joel asking what the status is on this issue? That should keep Tea Bag happy. :)

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