Thursday, 12 February 2015

The maintenance of university entrance as fetish

Today I’m bringing up university entrance (UE) because the latest entrance figures read like a bleak end-of-year financial report. You have to decide whether that’s a bad thing.

When I read the report I noticed how the universities want me to think it cares about school leavers, but it’s only concerned about income because it’s a business. The report sounds like the product for sale is university entrance, not university success. No one else finds this suspicious?

The public furor arises from an unconscious realisation that the average job never required a degree in the first place.

Managers don’t see your A+ on French Auteur theory, all they care about is whether you can push the buttons in the right order without spilling coffee on the keyboard. They only care if you can make them money, a detached sense of irony isn't a prerequisite for button-pushing.

The principals of private schools were a little shocked at the public’s response to the UE figures. The statistics didn't really bother me. An entrance rate of 70.6% was probably far too high anyway, and I’m not convinced a drop to 58% this year is low enough. Commiserations to all the angry parents, but your rage is making me curious: why did you set your measure of success on children going to university?

Try as I might, I can’t expiate the figure proudly quoted to me of a 99% university entrance rate from private schools. That figure is phenomenally high. I've actually got a recording where I ask if that statistic is legitimate, because it sounds like a joke number people invent for the proportion of people who enjoy breathing.

The principals were fully aware of the unpredictability of post-university employment. They claim (correctly) that it always has been difficult to land jobs, regardless of educational level. And yet they were happy to throw statistics at me of a 50-100% higher earning rate for graduates and how the “knowledge economy” still needs people with certifiable skills.

If every unemployed graduate had their way, they’d blame their days spent languishing at home trawling through terribly crafted job sites squarely on the poorly-performing economy.

Between clicking on part-time marketing assistant job ads and alt-tabbing to Facebook every few minutes, unemployed people like to brush up on the latest Illuminati and Goldman Sachs conspiracies.

So of course they know what a broken economy looks like. It’s all over the “alternative media”. The economy has to be the problem, it can’t be them.

But the economy didn't tell them to go to university, their teachers and parents did. Just because you have a degree, doesn't mean you’re smart because of it. You were tricked, your parents were tricked, your peers were tricked, but your employers weren't tricked at all. Which is why they spend an average of two to five years following university finding employment on the desired career path (don’t yell at me, those are the figures I was given by universities).

I’m all for a proper education, I went to university. I just think there’s zero chance of getting one at university. At 17-years-old, kids are expected to decide on a lifelong career path and sign away $30,000 of post-tax, pre-interest credit for the opportunity. A 17-year-old can kill three people and avoid jail, yet no one tells them how to separate vocation from avocation.

Every student from day one has been filled with advice imploring them to attend university if they want a job. Not for some jobs, any job. Earn a degree so you can start contributing to society.

But the system wasn't designed to raise producers, it was designed to raise consumers. In fact, the entire structure convinced young people that the whole point of primary and secondary school was not the education, but as certification fetish for an inevitable tertiary degree.

Blaming the twenty-something for holding a useless degree in community dance (yes, that’s a course), kind of misses the problem. The economy didn't ask for degrees like that. The better question is why people feel compelled to choose between university courses in the first place. As if the option of not choosing one doesn't occur.

Most teenagers suspect attending university for something they know in advance will make them largely unemployable sounds like a scam. The part that feels great was being told by teachers and coddling parents that “following dreams” should set the framework of their educational decision.

Some even notice their unemployable educational choice costs them exactly the same as the employable choices, i.e. too much. But this suspicion is beaten out of them early. The entire system is geared towards kids attending university as default.

University degrees are part of the larger middle-class dream we've been sold about entering the corporate ladder, earning annual promotions like clockwork, owning a house and finally a retirement fund.

The student’s consumer freedom to learn community dance was predicated on the idea that every generation does better than the last. Safety nets, bailouts and inevitable future happiness are waiting if you only follow your dreams. But the keyword in student loan is: “loan”. All those university courses orthogonal to economic reality can exist only because credit allows them to.

Let me make this a little clearer. The mere fact that an economy allows a course in community dance as a Masters-level qualification is because of Visa. The message of the credit collapse in 2008 was that something is fundamentally wrong with making a $10,000 per year university cost feel the same as free.

But no one listened because the alternative was paying up front or not at all. Neither of which the system wants. If people were forced to watch their hard-earned $30,000 evaporate at the swish of a touchscreen they’d immediately choose engineering over community dance no matter how much they hated maths. Or, even better, they’d walk out of the university reception $30,000 richer.

We know every dollar spent on those useless degrees doesn't actually exist, which is why universities and private schools are so frightened of the low pass figures this year. Even worse for them, now lesser amounts of that “money” will be flowing into academic pockets.

Standards be damned, lift them all you want. But the system needs dance courses or English as a major because once students leave, they’re no longer the university’s responsibility.

At the conclusion of the course, the student will show proficiency in…” Yeah, of course this is in the fine print. Try requesting a refund for a defective product that only exists in your mind.

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