At universities, you will frequently hear students saying, “Cs make degrees.”
As one of those nerdy swots and an A student, I struggled to understand that mantra when I was studying.
But later in life, it is a mantra I want to reclaim but not with regard to grades.
I want to reclaim the Cs that make for a good teaching, learning, and research environments – creativity, chaos, and collaboration.
These Cs are crucial for creating a vibrant and dynamic tertiary education system but all are under attack by government policies and management systems that stifle the colourful and creative nature of our institutions and the people who work within them.
Over the last four years, we have seen an increasingly heavy-handed steering by the current National-led government and in particular Tertiary Education Minister Stephen Joyce.
This heavy-handed steering is based on the belief that our tertiary education system exists solely to contribute to ‘economic growth’ and ‘labour market productivity’.
The instrumental focus of tertiary education impacts upon what is taught, to whom, and how. The government wants courses that teach definable skills and lead to specific fields of work. To back up these directives, threats have been levelled against institutions that won’t follow exactly the minister’s prescription for what should and should not be taught.
A few years ago, this approach saw a focus on training teachers.
The attention later shifted to filling the trades-skill gap to ensure that the rebuild of Christchurch could progress in a timely fashion.
Recently, it is getting more engineering degree students trained.
The trouble is that often this type of directive to meet an immediate labour force shortage comes too late; we trained many teachers and now many teacher-trainees have found there are no jobs available.
Heavy-handed management by the Tertiary Education Minister has also resulted in direction with regard to investment in research, with significant public expenditure being directed to a ‘company’, which can broker from our public universities the development of ‘research outputs’ which have ‘commercial potential.’
The problem with such a narrow applied-research focus is that blue-skies research often gets set to one side as the energy (and money) shifts onto creating small advancements in existing pharmaceuticals, commercial and marketable products, and so on.
This trend to change the focus of research in universities has been condemned by academics around the world (For example, there have been protests in the UK).
While government rhetoric espouses the need for creating a tertiary education sector which is innovative and entrepreneurial the heavy-handed steering over who gets taught; where and when courses will be provided; and, what type of research should be conducted constrains tertiary education staff.
A highly regulated, highly constrained, atomised, and competitive model is not good for education or research.
We now need to convince political leaders, senior managers, students, and all staff to defend a broad vision and provision in the tertiary education sector.
We need to invoke the Education Act, which says for social, economic, and environmental progress. And we need our political leaders and university managers to move away from focusing education outcomes solely on ‘economic growth’.
Sandra Grey is President of the New Zealand Tertiary Education Union in 2012. The above is a short extract of a speech that she delivered in Dunedin recently. The views expressed above are her own and do not reflect the opinions of Indian Newslink.