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When statists use satire

Australia is not famous for higher education. Indeed, “Australia” and “Higher education” would strike most people as an oxymoron in the “French Military Victory” class.

Needless to say, the Australian Government has long tried to nudge Australia’s university system towards some sort of quality, and has permitted private Universities to be established. In addition, the government has encouraged students from overseas to pay their way through Australian universities, as a way for universities here to raise money.

Recently, the government has also allowed Australians to enter universities by paying their own way.

This move towards a more financially sustainable education system has not been well received by many members of the Australian academic ecosystem. One of whom has put together a rather amusing parody website which takes a humorous potshot at trends in Australian university education.

Underling the parody is the normal assumtion that anything in the private sector must be inferior, and that any private qualification must obviously be worthless as it can be bought.

But the site has caused a bit of a flurry of attention in various educational quarters in Australia, and one consultant has been tracking the progress of this satirical site.

This recalls to me the time, long ago now, when I was studying like a demon in order to obtain the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) qualification, back in the dark days when networking involved lots of wires. As it was, I was dating a university student at the time and she was appalled that I had to acheive an 85% score to pass and obtain the qualification. She was doing sociology or something of that ilk in a Melbourne university and told me smugly that she only needed to score 55% to pass. Easy for her, but who do you think knew their subject better? After all, Cisco had a real stake in me being proficient in knowing how to use their product.

Thanks to Professor John Kersey for alerting us to these sites.

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14 comments to When statists use satire

  • pommygranate

    as they say,

    The science graduate asks, “Why does it work?”
    The engineering graduate asks, “How does it work?”
    The accounting graduate asks, “How much does it cost?”
    The liberal arts graduate asks, “Would you like fries with that?”

  • pommygranate

    sorry – above courtesy of the (Adam Smith Institute)

  • Chris Harper

    “the Australian Government has long tried to nudge Australia’s university system towards some sort of quality”

    Huh, you wish.

    Bloody whinging poms.

  • I’d pick an average Australian uni over an average uni in Europe in a heartbeat. However in Oz, there isn’t *that* much difference between the mediocre and the best – with the possible exception of the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. There are still some world class unis in Europe, however they’re being eclipsed by American institutions. Just look at how Oxbridge is slipping down the THES quality uni rankings. In 2004, number one was (private) Harvard University. The top 4 unis are American, and 7 out of the top 10 are American.

    Maybe someone should point the above out to the publishers of the website Scott mentions. Hark at misguided, foolish America and their unfair, race-to-the-bottom user pays ethos! Look what it’s doing to the American higher education system! Even the public unis require most students to shoulder a far greater proportion of their tuition fees than in Australia and most countries in Europe.

  • Chris Harper

    “possible exception of the Australian National University (ANU)”

    Yep, best uni in Oz.

    That’s where I failed my degree.

  • Australia is not famous for higher education.

    Ehh? Australia is extremely popular for higher education in Asia – specifically Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Quite in fact, Monash even opened a campus right outside KL here in Malaysia to cope with the demand and make a pretty penny.

    Though that’s probably only so because Australian education is significantly cheaper than UK’s, Ireland’s or America’s (ahh, the nice Australian Dollar). In fact, there’s two Australian universities in the Top-100 list (which, incidentally, is amongst the most autonomous from the state). Not bad for a country of 20 million with a statist education system, ehh?

  • I don’t tend to see it the way Scott does. I tend to think Australia had quite a good university system in 1980, and federal governments since have done their very best to wreck it.

    Australia’s universities operate on something like a hybrid Anglosphere system: there are elements of the English, Scottish, and American systems in the way they work. And in truth (speaking as a graduate of science faculties of two of them) I would have to say that historically they are actually not bad at all. There were and are plenty of very good faculty working in them, at least in scientific faculties. It is true that there probably wasn’t traditionally much between them in standards prior to about 1980, as all universities were state funded and the word “university” was reserved for a relatively small number of institutions – less than 20 I think.

    Where the Australian university system has been in decline it has been so for much the same reason as in the UK: governments have set targets to do with the number of students gaining “university” degrees, and this has led to bigger classes, less funding per student, an expansion in fad courses, and a round of renaming and mergers that allowed all kinds of other institutions to call themselves “universities”. Plus a massively expanded government bureaucracy to regulate and control everything, and force academics to deal with a mountain of paperwork. Prior to 1980 the universitites were government funded but largely ran themselves, but this is no longer the case. Now they do (as Scott says) generate more of their own income by charging fees, but simultaneously have far less independence and freedom than they once did. (This is also part of a longer standing trend in Australia for the federal government to increase its powers at the expense of states – traditionally universities were controlled by the states who were more hands off than the federal government is today. Education and health are probably the two areas where this power grab has been worst. There is little constitutional justification for the federal government to have any role in either, but it now essentially completely controls both.

    Of course the best way of avoiding this federal government higher education bureaucracy would have been to have never sucked the teat of the state in the first place, but this is not the way Australia worked or works. Australia’s first universities were created by highminded individuals in the 1850s, but government was intimately involved even then.

    Just digressing away from education again, the key moment in the federal government’s takeover of Australia occurred in 1942, when the federal government used emergency wartime powers to take over the collection of income tax. Prior to that income taxes had been collected by the states, but the entire income tax process was federalised, to the extent that people working in tax collection for state governments suddenly found themselves working for the federal government. Of course, this was not reversed after the war, and although states could (and can) theoretically raise income taxes in a legal sense, they had no infrastructure for doing so, as this had all been federalised. State sales taxes have been ruled to be unconstitutional in Australia, so state governments have very little ability to raise their own revenues and have to make do with what the federal government chooses to give them. And this of course means that the federal government has all the power, even in areas that the Australian constitution explicitely reserves for the states.

  • dearieme

    When St Andrews was close to bankruptcy a few centuries ago, it sold medical degrees. Now there are lots of Unis selling degrees in many subjects, which I suppose is progress of a kind.

  • Chris Harper

    Ok, facetious comments aside. Australian education is not well known in Europe and the US, because, until recently, it was a long way away both in time and cost of getting there. However, for at least since the early sixties if not before, Australia has been a supplier of secondary and tertiary educational services through out the Asia/Pacific region.

    At my private school we had Malaysians, Singaporeans, Naurans, Tongans, Hong Kong Chinese and even a couple of Indians. And at University, in my residential hall, in the late seventies (post Vietnam) there were all those plus Vietnamese, Laotians, Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese.

    I suppose a Western education had both value and a cachet, and Australia was nearer and cheaper than the UK and America. Many Australian institutions are now actively trying to market English based education as an export money earner, with student recruitment offices in major cities and, now, as Rajan R mentions, some even opening campuses in Malaysia and Hong Kong.

    If the brits want to keep demonstrating their ignorant prejudices about Australia, feel free, but expect Australians (intelligent, sophisticated and educated lot that they are) to bite back.

  • rosignol

    In fact, there’s two Australian universities in the Top-100 list

    I’m slighly boggled by >50% of the list being US schools. Surely these can be the same universities I read about in the papers?

  • In fact, there’s two Australian universities in the Top-100 list

    Depends which list you’re referring to. The 2004 THES rankings (it’s a subscriber site, sorry) show 11 Australian universities in the top 100. The highest one (ANU) weighs in at number 16. Most are found in the lower half of the list.

  • Julian Taylor

    In fact, there’s two Australian universities in the Top-100 list

    Which one has the sheepdip and which one has the philosophers?

  • It’s such a fun site, isn’t it? Thanks John for bringing my page to attention. I am getting an amazing amount of hits on my site, and two more possible contracts. Sweeeet!!

    Cheers,

    George

  • I can attest to the fact that the CCNA exam is very stringent because I just failed the cunting thing.

    Contrast that with my GCSEs 3 years ago. In maths, I needed to only get about 25% for a C grade.