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Liberty Belle 25 June 2004

Liberty Belle 25 June 2004

On Wednesday Howard Fancy wore, appropriately, an ink-splattered tie.

Howard Fancy is the Secretary for Education. He was appearing before the Education Select Committee to answer questions about the 2004/2005 Estimates. Bill English was grilling him about Christchurch Polytech and the audit office probe into a $15 million business deal involving that institution and a business in which a staff member had an interest.

We should all be flicking our fountain pens at the Minister and his Ministry of Education because education in this country is a disgrace. This Government is obsessed with herding school leavers into tertiary education and, as a result, the NZQA accredits any dopey course that is waved under its nose.

Especially, it seems, a computer course. We must, if enrolments are anything to go by, be the most computer literate nation on the planet. Never mind the fact that one fifth of this nation can't read, write or add up. Just stick a computer course in front of the illiterate and bob's your nana.

That's what Christchurch Polytech did - signed up 18,493 people at $795 each for a 'CoolIT' course and raked in $14.7 million of taxpayers' money in the process.

Further north, aviation courses sign up, at the rate of knots, students who want to be helicopter pilots. At any one time there are, according to a constituent who wrote to me this week, about 200 students training to fly helicopters. Annually the industry needs about 20. So what? You ask.

It costs about $100,000 to train a helicopter pilot. Multiply that by 200 and we're paying up to $20 million a year to train helicopter pilots. Should the NZQA, the guardian of taxpayers' money, be accrediting this anomaly? And student debt soars.

Then there's the result of the Tertiary Education Commission's assessment of the quality of staff research at seven universities. A dismal picture was painted. Of the 8,013 staff eligible to have their research assessed for the Performance Based Research Fund, only 5.7 per cent were given an "A" - ie, of world-class quality.

The average score out of a possible 10 was 2.89. Let me repeat that and spell it out for emphasis - two point eight nine! What a disgrace. Averaged out, this means at each of our seven universities there are only 70 full time equivalent staff who measure up to international standards. Accepting there's a strong link between research quality and the imparting of knowledge, what sort of university education are our students receiving?

I believe this result stems from the obsession for vocation oriented degrees and courses. Gone is the celebration of knowledge for knowledge's sake. It's all "B Coms" and "double degrees in business management". Today a BA (Bachelor of Arts) is derisively referred to as a "Bugger All" ('scuse the language) and, as I'm often fond of saying, lawyers think they're intelligent if they pass a law degree but really, they're just well trained. Once, so they learned to think in the shower, they did a liberal arts degree as well.

If you want to learn about business management, read Thomas Hardy. If you want to learn about human behaviour, read Waugh. If you want to learn about human frailties and justice, read Nabokov.

And if you still don't believe me, read Bob Jones' book "Degrees for All".

Yours in Liberty, Deborah Coddington


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