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strong>New Tertiary League Tables: Employment Outcomes

New Tertiary League Tables: Employment Outcomes

Minister Steven Joyce has announced that from 2017, tertiary institutions will be required to publish "information about the employment status and earnings of their graduates broken down by specific degrees and diplomas."

This is a very deliberate move to tie tertiary education to "meeting employers’ needs." QPEC believes it is misguided and, like all league tables, will distort and undermine the purpose and function of tertiary institutions.

Actual employment and incomes depend on many complicated factors that lie outside the control of tertiary institutions. Economies around the world can fluctuate wildly, as the GFC showed. Professions and jobs can go through unpredictable cycles of highs and lows. Applicants who decide on a job that is high-paying in one year may find that it has evaporated by the time they graduate.

This volatility is evident in the very period that Minister Joyce made his announcement. Fonterra confirmed this month that it was shedding 750 employees, and AgResearch has fired 83 science staff, because Government is forcing it to raise money and has cut $5m from its revenue.

There are other pressing dangers from this ill-informed move. Governments and tertiary managers will be tempted to use the data to close down programmes of study and training that don't seem to provide immediate employment or high incomes. This danger is especially worrying since the National-led Government has restructured tertiary councils so they now hold a majority of government appointees, who will have no hesitation in pushing the institutions to carry out government cutbacks.

The function of tertiary institutions is to provide high-quality education for students and graduates who can then serve personal, national and international interests. It is not the task of tertiary institutions to be driven by business needs, though the graduates consistently contribute richly to economic and social purposes.

A highly-educated population can support a very wide range of activities within and beyond business, including public service, non-profit, social service and non-governmental. Numerous openings occur in occupations that may not initially pay highly, but are nevertheless fulfilling and necessary. We also need to remember that many graduates draw on their degrees to work first in their own fields, then to use their knowledge and skills for other occupations.

It is far better for intending students to enter fields of study for which they are actually committed. From that base, they can establish their own careers to engage with individual, public and/or private sectors, and in that way, contribute to the strength of the nation.


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