Tuesday, June 28, 2005

the degree factories.

Last night on Four Corners, the ideologically blind Brendon Nelson was asked if there was any incentive for lecturers to “dumb down” courses in Australian universities.

A couple of lecturers had asserted that they had felt the various “pressures” and “temptations” to lower the standards for their courses. It has been well known for a long time that universities fall to these temptations and place their lecturers under pressure to accede to their demands. It is patent that they do, given that:
1. Australian universities are completely dependent upon full–fee paying international students (something in the order of 30-40% of their revenue -- I am unsure of that number). Easier entry requirements mean more students (in the short term), and more revenue. At the same time they require easier courses if they are going to pass. (Really, how can you have a business degree with no economics component?)
2. The increasing importance accorded to student review mechanisms mean that declining popularity of a course may lead to its demise.

I have seen both of these things happen.

The only incentive remaining for academics to maintain standards is that of academic integrity, which is certainly not unimportant. But I am sure it would be difficult to maintain standards, especially if you are teaching in a small university course that is pitched primarily at international students to garner revenue for the university. (And in this case the university overrides your marking anyway, so it is impossible to maintain standards).

Brendon Nelson’s *considered* response to the suggestion that there may be some perverse incentive to lower academic standards in Australian standards:
“Absolutely ridiculous. You show me these lecturers — that’s absolutely ridiculous”.
I agree. This is fucking ridiculous. You wonder if our Minister for Education got his degree off ebay from an Australian university starved of funds and willing to prostitute itself for whatever money it can find*.

*Actually no. He got his for free from a university that had sufficient funding at the time.


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