QED

Want Fries With That PhD?

chimp phdThat Australia’s current system of higher education is unsustainable is a fact most are willing to concede. The latest evidence, revealed by the ABC, is of a $13.5 billion debt accrued over four years. This news adds another nail to the coffin of Entitlement Era higher ed and must surely accelerate a large-scale overhaul of the present—pun intended—arrangement.

As a graduate of two-and-a-bit university degrees, I am aware of the doors my tertiary education has opened, and am grateful for the subsidies and deferred payment system through HECS/HELP. That being said, it seems ludicrous my higher education should be paid for by the government taxpayers, including many who did not receive higher education themselves. Despite what our society leads me and  fellow Gen Y-ers to believe, we do not have a right to go to university, nor are we entitled to see those studies heavily subsidised.

Speaking for myself, I would have attended university even if required to pay the full fees for my courses—albeit under a deferred-payment scheme— because my interests and professional ambitions lie in academia. On the other hand, I can safely assume that many of my co-students chose to go to university precisely because of the current arrangements. They chose uni because it was the easy option: no upfront fees, Youth Allowance, low-cost courses that might be repaid (or not paid at all, should they go overseas) in the distant future, and — or so they believe — because of better job prospects.

Encouraging this mindset was the uncapping of university places under Labor, as it carried us one step closer to socialist Nirvana: a bachelor’s certificate on every mantelpiece, a gown and mortar board in every wardrobe! All that achieved was to lower the bar. Many university degrees, and here one thinks especially of arts grads, might more appropriately be hung in the garden shed than occupy pride of place in the recent graduate’s hallway. (editor’s note: the declining gradient of Australian journalism matches to a T the rise of “journalism” as a tertiary subject. If you doubt that, note the work-experience children delivering their oracular preconceptions in the guise of “news coverage” via the Fairfax press. )

What I’m getting at is not inspired by elitism; a university graduate is as likely to make a fool of himself as any other person. No, my gripe is twofold and it’s not based on a white-male, CIS-privileged, capitalist conspiracy, despite what you may hear. Firstly, there’s the issue of entitlement, which is raging unchecked among us Gen Y-ers. And secondly, there’s the frustrating notion that suggests: ‘a truly just society must provide—for free if possible—a university degree to everyone.’

I have no workable policy solutions to Australia’s higher-ed problem in Australia, only some questions, which seem like a good talking points to pursue the conversation:

Why do we deserve a degree?

Why does everyone and anyone have a right to higher education?

Why does anyone think they deserve to have their higher education paid for by others?

Why measure equality based on the number of degrees per capita?

Once everyone has a bachelor’s degree, what next?

Next, how many PhDs will be be required as a condition of employment to ask, “Do you want fries with that?”

9 comments
  • pawelek@ozemail.com.au

    Anything new? A joke from Central Europe c. 1980:
    “I will trade post-war PhD for pre-war matriculation certificate”

  • lloveday

    My daughter is doing a University Degree in Fashion Design. When, how, did that become an academic discipline? Did Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior learn their craft at Uni?
    She clocked up a $2,500 debt doing a Communications unit with assessments done on critiquing a newspaper article on older car drivers, how fashion designers can help protect the environment, what considerations of indigenous peoples should be made when designing fashions….. you get the idea.
    “Yes Father, we all know it’s Mickey Mouse, but you need a University Degree these days” she said. Thankfully she’s had check-out/waitressing jobs since the Nanny-State deemed her old enough to be employed; how long before it will necessary to have a BA to do even those jobs?

  • Mr Johnson

    During Labor’s push to become the “Clever Country”, and ensure everyone COULD go to university. Did anyone stop and ask whether everyone SHOULD go to university? Added to that, will a degree ensure more employment, better employment or even a higher income. Today’s new elite are the young tradesmen, driving around in new cars before little Tarquin and Felicity have even graduated with their newly minted debt sheet. It’s only money I guess – we can always tax business more, or cut more funding from Defence. x

    • Lawrie Ayres

      Yes. It is the lowly tradesmen who has to pay upfront fees so elitist spoilt brats can go to uni and demonstrate on demand for the latest fad cause. They even campaign against all those things that pay the taxes that gives them their second rate education for free. And it is free because their degrees will never get them the well paid job that will allow their HECS to be repaid. When a TER of 50 gets you into teaching you know the game is corrupt.

  • en passant

    I recently sold a hospitality business I had for nearly 30 years.
    At its closure we had among the workers the following university qualified, highly educated staff: 3 x Accountants, 1 x B.Commerce, 1 x (university trained!) Graphic Designer and one graduate software developer. Between them they owe more than $100K in education debt. So where are they now? 1 x Shop Assistant, 1 x Supermarket stacking shelves, 1 x Template Cutter with a sign maker, 1 x waitress and two remain unemployed.
    I hope ‘Mr Johnson’ is joking about both raising taxes and cutting Defence as one emphasizes the economic death spiral that afflicts Oz and the other means death to our independence and sovereignty.

    • Mr Johnson

      Of course I am, and it’d be obviously ridiculous except these are exactly the things that government targets for quick savings (used to only be Labor, but now…?). Shoulda added my ‘wink’ emoji.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com

    There was never a shortage of idiots, only now a lot of them are university graduates, which means we have a lot of educated (sort of) idiots. Is that progressives of sorts?

  • pgang

    You can add engineering to the list of crap degrees these days. The standards are deplorable.

    • padraic

      Not everyone wants to go to Uni. A lot want to be tradesman or clerical staff, or hairdressers or dress makers, etc. Why have we become such snobs? In my days (here we go again) kids left at Intermediate to get a real job that paid or they went on to do the Leaving and either left and went into the workforce and got a real job that paid or went to Uni to study a traditional course so that when they finished they got a real job that paid. How they went to Uni depended on two main methods. One was that you had parents with a good income and they paid the fees, and you could pay them back later, if that was the family arrangement. The other was that if your parents’ income fell below the means rest and you had a terrific pass in the Leaving you could get a Commonwealth Scholarship. In both situations the students had to attain a really high result to get into University. Another method was that if your Leaving results were not up to scratch and your parents could pay, you could sit for the University Entrance Exam which was of an extremely high standard. This enabled late developers to access a university education.The result was that the nation benefited by having high standards in tertiary education. Having the best brains from across the whole spectrum of society was not elitist – it was common sense. If you failed you had to do it again or leave – none of this hugging teddy bear stuff. The subjects were limited, including the practical sciences as well as the traditional arts subjects that had served humanity for hundreds of years. There was good co-operation between the governments, the professional registration bodies and the universities, so that annual student intakes could be altered up or down, depending how many jobs were out there. Look at Law these days – the unis are pumping out law graduates like Saudi Oil and many can only find work with activist groups opposed to anything that creates jobs or which the mainstream considers normal. Nurses trained on the job, backed up by academic work at the hospitals, teachers went to Teacher’s Training Colleges and later if they specialised they went to Uni to do a degree suited to their teaching speciality. These days universities are no longer seats of excellence but a money making business. They have appropriated nursing and teaching as well as a stack of subjects from what used to be called Technical Colleges (including fashion design as per the perceptive reply by LB Loveday). Universities have become like banks – too big to fail (pardon the pun). Passing students just because they paid their fees makes a mockery of tertiary education standards. My point is – what was wrong with the old system that resulted in high academic standards as well as high professional standards and led to employment, with the resultant economic benefits to the individual as well as the nation? Pete Mulherin’s article is a timely and welcome contribution in the discussion on tertiary education.

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