EY Suggests More University Completions for Productivity Increase
The Productivity Uplift from Better Outcomes for Our University Students was commissioned by the Australian Government from EY. The report suggests more university completions would increase economic productivity. However, I suggest the report's authors made some unjustified assumptions, and if implemented the report's recommendations would reduce, rather than increase productivity.
The 27 page report emphasizes "job-ready" graduates, suggesting a productivity uplift from improved graduate outcomes. I teach work skills to undergraduate and postgraduate students, so would welcome any way to improve these, but EY's approach makes a few questionable assumptions.
EY's report suggests that aligning graduate skills with workforce needs would boost economic growth. However this leaves out the Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. VET is specifically intended to provide intimidate skills for jobs. In contrast vocational education is only a part of what universities do. Abandoning research and the fostering of advanced skills by universities, and instead focusing on short term job skills will harm the Australian economy in the long term. This focus will turn out graduates who can meet intimidate needs, but not create new industries, or have the skills to work in them.
The EY report points out that the proportion of students completing their degree after nine years has fallen from 75% in 2009 to 66% in 2017. The claim is that improving completion rates, could save money. However, this assumes that these students learned nothing useful in their non-completed studies, and that the three year degree is the best way to learn vocationally relevant skills.
There are some easy and inexpensive ways to increase the completion rates of students. I suggested some in my submission to the Senate last year.
The simplest way to increase completion is to have students undertake shorter, nested university programs, combining VET and university. Students can be encouraged to undertake shorter certificate and diploma programs at TAFE, before university. Government can also encourage universities to offer nested programs, where the students get vocationally useful qualifications, on their way to a degree.
Other ways to increase completion rates are to provide quality online part-time programs, and improve the teaching skills of university academics. At present, online education is seen as a poor substitute for on-campus face-to-face education. However, research shows there is no significant difference between the two.
In reality most Australian university students who are officially enrolled on campus are not attending most of their classes. These are really blended mode students. Unfortunately university academics have not been trained to teach in this mode and are instead giving lectures to mostly empty classrooms, with the recordings of the lectures being watched by students. This is a poor quality form of online education, but most academics have not been given the training to do any better.