Tag Archives: Tertiary Education

We Live In Messy Times

The Mess Age

Years ago, when I was in a band called… okay I’ll just call them ‘Mess Age’ for now. In Mess Age was the lead singer who was a long-suffering person with LSD – Lead Singer Disease of the Ego – and during the 196 election he quipped that if he ever won the election he’d nationalise everything and bunker up in Parliament, surrounded by the army. When I pressed him on why he thought nationalising everything would be a goo idea, he said he didn’t really know but it was the sort of thing Hitler might have done. When I asked him if he aspired to being like Hitler, he said, “not the killing Jews bit, but nationalising everything would make society equally unfair.”

Now, I’m not a communist nor a Stalinist, but I found it interesting that he thought true equality entailed being equally unfair on everybody. And the ramification was that people would hate him and so he would probably have to go to Martial Law and bunker up in Parliament House. It’s a peculiar vision from a peculiar person, but I’m sharing it with you now because it seems oddly relevant.

If you come to power and forcefully enact a raft of policies that are deeply unpopular, you can expect the peasants to revolt, so you may even have to mobilise the army for Martial Law. Tony Abbott isn’t exactly nationalising everything, but he’s ripping whole planks of our social contract to shreds. He can legitimately look forward to people coming together forming unlikely alliances to confront him. In the same sense, if it should go to a Dismissal, he may actually be the sort of person lacking in common sense that would mobilise the army against its own citizenry.

The Price Is Wrong

I know I write about education a lot but with each passing day I have yet another reason why the current budget is wronger than wrongness itself when it comes to education. The Coalition is trying to put in a $7 co-payment for every GP visit. This is a deliberate plan to put in a disincentive for people going to the doctor. If $7 is supposed to deter you form the doctor, then presumably $20,000 is supposed to deter you from your education. It strikes me that a government that could do with more knowledge workers want to put in even bigger disincentives for education than already exists. The world is only going to get even more technologically demanding, be more in need of scientific rigour, in need of wider understanding of our humanities; none of these demands upon people is going to be less in the future. Why in God’s name would you be erecting serious barriers for getting an education?

The downside of such policies beyond the evils of inequality and locking in privileges for the rich is that through the lack of mobility in such a society, our academies will genuinely wilt in quality and output. For all this talk of competition, it is in fact diminishing genuine competition for the best minds. I’m certainly no friend of the sandstone monstrosities we love to hold up as our glorious universities, but I have to say our lives and future would be much worse if their doors narrowed so that only the rich can get in. Unless we want to be like a third world nation, it’s really not an option that should be countenanced by a major party – even a seemingly brain dead conservative one.

But Who Can Take Over?
Yes, that is the question as Dear Leader Tony Abbott continues in his unsustainably unpopular ways; it’s almost like a bad parody of Julia Gillard’s time as  Prime Minister. At approval ratings of 30%, L’Abbottoir is hitting the same kind of nadir as Julia Gillard. Naturally we must ask ourselves whether this is Malcolm Turnbull’s Kev-Return moment. If one were a tea-leaves reading prognosticator, one might be persuaded that there was a game afoot, but seeing that these are conservatives, it is against their very nature to rock the boat in government. It was certainly the case with Peter Costello who mumbled complaints about not getting a go as PM, all the way to a quick retirement from Federal politics. These conservatives just don’t do spills with the exhibitionistic fancy-pizazz of the ALP or an award night for porn stars.

The other candidates that might or could replace Tony Abbott are actually not that inspiring. You can count Joe Hockey out for he too is tainted by this lousy budget. Julie Bishop inspires no hope (which makes her hope-less by definition). Morrison, Pyne and Hunt simply won’t do because they’re the faces fronting for divisive policies, while Kevin Andrews is too inane. So that leaves Malcolm Turnbull once again but you can sort of see the right wing hard cases squirming in their seats at the thought of the member for Wentworth lording it all over them again. In other words, they’re talentless as well as gormless.

Thus we may yet be stuck with Tony Abbott thanks to a spineless clueless Liberal Party room. They may therefore stick with this lousy excuse for a budget, much of which likely won’t pass this Senate or the next, thanks to its enduring intrinsic lousiness. They might find themselves backed into a double dissolution even without Governor General Peter Cosgrove having to sack Tony Abbott (although that remains a fat juicy fantasy shared by many bloody-minded observers). We can only hope and dream.



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There’s Even More Not To Like

Future Brain Drain

Last night I went out to dinner with Walk-off HBP and his family and eventually the conversation turned to the politics of this budget. His daughter’s finishing up high school this year, so tertiary education and its cost became a hot topic for conversation. Fortunately (and I use this word loosely), Mrs. HBP is from Denmark, so up for consideration was the possibility that the younger HBP might be better off claiming her heritage and citizenship, and heading to Denmark where tertiary education is free. It occurred to me that there might be a lot of this sort of thing going on.

The logical ramification is that Australia might be about to witness  great brain drain in the not too distant future, as well as an acceleration of the aging population issues. Consider for the moment the number of people who could devise a way back to the countries of their heritage to get a less expensive tertiary education. Places like Ireland and Scandinavian countries are not the only places that offer up these option. Then think of the likelihoods they meet their spouses and setup families elsewhere on the planet and not Australia. It’s like Australia is willing to give up its younger, smarter population when in fact they’re the people that are going to be needed to support the aging baby Boomers and eventually Gen-X.

In the mean time our universities will be filled with stupid rich kids who will be there only because they can afford to be there, so this notion of more competitive universities seems like a pipedream on the part of the Coalition. Walk-off HBP thinks it’s more of a smokescreen to entrench privilege in such a way that only the Liberal voting types get to go to University.

I’ve already covered the problems of carrying a 100k student debt into a professional career – you’re worse off than not going to university and getting a tradie’s job. We may actually be looking at a future where the ranks of varsity graduate professionals will be much lower in quality than today. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think these rich types are going to enjoy going to doctors and lawyers pulled from the third best minds of their generation.

Nepotism As A Way Of Life

One of Tony Abbott’s daughters got a 60k scholarship. The people who gave her the scholarship claimed it was purely on merit. Another one of Tony Abbott’s daughters has a plum job working fro DFAT in Geneva. A lot of people have pointed out how unqualified she is for the job, but no, her boss is an old Liberal Party member who has told us that Tony Abbott’s daughter got the jobon her own merits.

In each instance the insistence on the merits of Abbott’s brood seems to stretch the definition of the word ‘merit’. It’ a really bad look when your government is about to make tertiary education more expensive to then have a daughter get a freebie. It’s a really bad look to have your daughter get a plum job in DFAT over other genuine candidates of actual merit, when your government is about to cut off 16,000 public sector jobs. Both instances speak volumes to the absence of character in his daughters, which, by extension reflect badly on the parents, who in this instance happens to be the Prime Minister. These are big favours being handed to his family.

When you consider that there is a Royal Commission into Julia Gillard’s conduct as an IR lawyer and claims of $7000 for renovations of her house coming from a union slush fund; and how Abbott himself hounded Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper relentlessly through digging up dirt; not to mention the fact that all it took was for a $3000 bottle of Grange Hermitage to bring down Barry O’Farrell, it seems abundantly obvious that Tony Abbott should quit. $60,000 worth of scholarship dollars and a plum job at DFAT seems far in excess of what normal people would consider a favour for a mate.

Really, Tony Abbott should quit on this alone.

But he won’t quit. Which means he’s an unabashed crook. now he’s saying he wants family kept out of it. I think it’s a bit much that a man who would go after Julia Gillard with a Royal Commission, and hounded Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper in the manner that he did, to want his family kept out of it by the media.

No, no, no Mr. Abbott, it’s much too late for that. You lowered the bar forcefully – you can try doing your limbo dance under it.

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The End Of Enlightenment

The Dark Ages Beckon Once More

I’ve been thinking that maybe one of the things the Abbott government wants the Federal government to do is get out of education; And as with such ideas, it always is worth asking what one might mean by ‘out’ and ‘education’. The growing trend in Australian society since the reintroduction of fees in the early 1990s has been to measure the value of a course against the earning capacity of the graduates. Then, trying to figure out “if it is worth doing the course.” Unsurprisingly, a great many courses cease to commend themselves once you apply the Return-On-Investment line of thinking and if one is truly driven by money alone, it is easy to suggest arts courses are not worthwhile. Why would somebody do Fine Arts if it were about earning capacity? How many jobs can there be, in something like curating for a gallery?

There are any number of courses for which graduates would find an inordinate amount of difficulty in placing themselves in employment in that field. Like, graduates in music or archaeology or theatre or literature or philosophy. In fact there is a vast shortage of jobs that specifically require arts education and pay well enough. The dirty secret of the stat that approximately 90% of graduates do not work in the area of their tertiary study is that the jobs simply were not there to absorb those graduates.

The great irony is that in trying to put a value on education, we’ve managed to destroy the worth of education. It didn’t exactly start with Tony Abbott’s current horror budget. It started when we started conflating vocational training with getting an education – and for that we can lay the blame at John Dawkins and his reforms where they started to hand out bachelors  degrees for test-tube washing. With the Dawkins reforms came the vast delusion of mass professionalism in the workforce when really, the politicians just wanted to keep Gen-X off the unemployment statistics.

The legacy of it is the expansion of tertiary places accompanied by the devisement of fees to off-set the expense. While it might have been the smart move at the time it commodified the education into a grand vision for vocational training for everybody. It was ‘Educating Rita” on a grand scale as part of that bargain. And with it came the unfortunate other irony that you can put a price on the education through projected future earnings. It was a crock – but for some reason we all bought it. Maybe we didn’t choose to look too closely lest it reveal the fundamental asymmetry that the education you get has very little to do with the money you end up making.

The thing that really stands out with this notion of  deregulating the universities so they can charge whatever they like, is that it squarely places education out of reach from people. The only way in which you can successfully assess the worthiness of a course hinges on it vocational merits. And if our society were to commit to that vision of education, then we may as well kiss the enlightenment goodbye. Of course, this would suit the fear mongers and hate mongers of the Murdoch press; They keep baying for this kind of vision that locks in inequality.

IPA Stands For ‘Ideological Propaganda Agency’

If you watch ‘the Drum’ like I do occasionally, you’ll notice they always aim to get some commentator to explain just what is good about the so-called *thinking* of the Liberal Party. They usually get some right-wing toad from this ‘Think Tank’ (and you would have to use the term ‘think’ very loosely when it comes to these people) called the Institute for Public Affairs to parrot the official line. It’s often unapologetic Thatcherite pap that it makes you scream at the television set the way Sophie Mirabella used to make us scream whenever she was on TV.

The IPA is full of terrible suggestions and explanations it makes you wonder if they actually grew up on the same planet as the rest of humanity, let alone in this country. Just how crazy are these people? You should look at a sample. Walk-Off HBP was kind enough to send this link today and well… it’s pretty self explanatory.

Top of their list is abolishing the ‘Carbon Tax’, followed by abolishing the Department of Climate Change and the Clean Energy Fund. Clearly they’re climate change deniers. What other possible explanation could there be? And this is an important point. Climate Change deniers have no science to back them up except for those soul-less sell-outs in the employ of the oil lobby who cherry pick stats to make it look like the world is cooling. It’s not a scientific position. So it really makes me wonder why ‘The Drum’ has to invite such intellectually deficient cretins to argue this kind of insane oppositional view just to make it look balanced. Especially when the same said cretins are calling for funding cuts and breaking up the ABC. Why give this bunch of Morlocks any airtime at all? Would the ABC give a Holocaust denialist or KKK member ‘equal time’?


Then why this mob? The only thing that makes them respectable enough to talk to is the fact that they haven’t hurt anybody – yet. But if they had their way, they would hurt a whole bunch of people. If we were to follow their pan-Galactically stupid recipe, it would cause so much damage to our society we may never recover. I don’t know why the rest of Australia is being made to take this cretinous collective seriously.

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Everybody Hates This Budget

Everybody Except Ballerinas

Who decided that out of all the arts practitioners that ballerinas in particular were the most hard done by and could not be cut any more? Who’s daughter or niece is studying to be a ballerina? Didn’t they think we’d notice that everybody in the sciences, arts and manufacturing gets funding cuts but the ballerinas are going to get a special scholarship fund for their boarding needs? Has there been a bigger joke and probable cause for investigating a conflict of interest than this item in this year’s budget?

But no, there won’t be a federal equivalent of an ICAC, so we may never know. I sure hope the findings in the NSW ICAC about this North Sydney Forum brings down Joe Hockey. Screw him and the tutu and shoes he came dancing into town with.

How Do The Nats Cope?
It struck me that the budget would hurt the rural base of the national Party as much, if not more than people in urban areas. Consider youth unemployment is higher in rural areas, so these cuts to the dole and changes in arrangements would affect more rural families than city ones. Making tertiary education more expensive adds a burden on to families that have to send their university student children to cities to board and study. If at the same time the Federal government is pulling 80billion from healthcare and education from the states, then clearly they’re more likely to feel the pinch when the State governments cut health and education in far flung rural areas before they cut in urban areas.

Which ever way you dice this, this budget is not good for the bush at all, and even if they built all these roads, it’s the sort of spending that is one-and-done with nothing to follow up. There’s really nothing in it that helps the bush at all, and so you wonder what exactly keeps the Nationals in the fold with the Liberals except for an extreme kind of social conservatism. Even then you wonder how much the bush can take of this before they say, “bugger the principles, we’re not going along with this crap”; It may already be happening because the amount of support given to a rogue national party member like Bob Katter teaming up with mining magnate Clive Palmer suggests the rural vote is already looking away from the Coalition in search of a better choice

I spoke to Pleiades today who tells me people on the backbench on the government side are hopping mad at Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott is putting it on the MPs to go and sell this to their electorates, but the MPs weren’t consulted about any of these radical changes. If it’s not a fiasco, it sure is a looming disaster.

OMG, A Medical Research Fund?

It’s pretty clear the current Libs have attitudes that date back to when Galileo started moving the earth and Darwin conjured humanity from monkeys. The thing that has Pleaides incensed is that this mob have come to power and shut down the environmental agencies, cutback the CSIRO, and research areas an starved science of funding in the name of budget surplus. They say it’s about the budget surplus, but actually they just don’t like science for embarrassing the church. Pretty soon they’ll be ramming (un)’Intelligent Design’ into the classroom and wanting to support the church through public funds – in fact they’re already paying for chaplains to be in schools.

These people don’t really believe in science. Think about that for a moment. They don’t even have a minister for science. Their vision for the future revolves around building roads and presumably keeping driving fossil fuel vehicles as if the world does not change. Not only are they in denial about Climate Change, they’re in denial that anything changes at all. so how much credibility is there when the very same people who have taken an axe to science turn around and say they are going to have a medical research fund?

It immediately begs the question qui bono  – who benefits? It’s no conspiracy. It has got to be the pharmaceutical companies who have been lobbying the government to keep their entitlements under the current medical entitlements even if the Australian people lose theirs. Oh that, and maybe Joe Hockey doesn’t want to die of an obscure cancer.

It will be too late to reach for your torches and pitchforks when they start giving out textbooks with humans and dinosaurs cavorting together. You heard it from me right here.

Captive To Idiocy

I know name-calling doesn’t help but it’s worth calling things by their proper name: The Liberal Party in Australia has transformed itself into the Conservative party and are decidedly Tory in their bearings. Just as with their overseas conservative counterparts, there’s nothing terribly liberal about this Liberal Party at all. It’s no coincidence that Tony Abbott wanted to bring back Knights and Dames. However when it comes to economic policy the only textbook they had to go on was the austerity practiced by the UK Conservatives and the sort of belt tightening imposed on Greece.

Of course, austrity has not worked at all, and Greece saw its economy shrink to such an extent that it ended up owning more money as against their GDP. The experience in the UK has been such that they couldn’t run austerity program enough to sustain infrastructure so they only half implemented it and mostly talked about doing it. The very notion that austerity would lead the economy back to health is built on the simple assumption that if government debt is reduced to zero and goes to surplus, the economy would once again be free to make capital investments.

It’s a lie. It’s stupid. And quite frankly it’s so wrong and stupid, it’s evil and a danger to society. And yet that’s our federal government

The problem with our economy and what has hindered our recovery is that people have not been able to deleverage their private debt from their peak in 2007. That’s it. Even if the Australian government went back to zero debt, as long as Australian households are in debt up to their eyeballs and Australian industry is in debt up to their eyeballs, there won’t be any more big capital expenditures in the wake of the mining boom subsiding. That’s really it in a nutshell.

But the desire of industry is always to privatise profits and socialise losses so to this end they lobby  governments for special treatment. In the current government we have a bunch of idiots who want to do exactly as the lobbyists ask, believing this is the remedy to a problem that does not actually exist, when in fact it utterly fails to address the problems that do exist. And if that’s not captive to idiocy it’s hard to imagine a better example.

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Why Education Opportunities Will Fade

They’ve Faded In America, And We Want To Be Like Them!

I got asked why I was so pessimistic about the future of education in this country. People keep on saying that education makes for better people and better people make for a better society.  While I agree with that principle, I’ve been having difficulty telling 18year olds and 19year olds why this might be the case. The truth is, the value of education itself is going to be eclipsed by the value of the HELP debt. It’s increasingly hard to say it’s financially viable to go study arcane or obscure or interesting things.

Christopher Pyne’s thing is telling us that our tertiary sector should be allowed to charge what it likes, and the competition would make them better courses. His model for this line of thinking is the American Tertiary sector which to date has two trends; one is increasing fees and the other is the increased indebtedness of the students. When you analyse this rationally, you understand that the competition that Christopher Pyne talks about only exists in a way to burnish the reputations of the various schools, which they then turn around and turn into higher fees because that would be more profitable. So the universities can give scholarships to students who they think will make them proud but they pass that cost on to other students who want to be brand-consumers of the school’s prestige. The students who cannot get a scholarship in turn have to borrow from their futures to purchase the prestige value of the tertiary institution together with their education.

More closely, you only have to witness the skyrocketing private secondary schools’ fees in Australia to see how such a market would play out. And while Christopher Pyne insists that students should pay because 60% of their fees are funded by 60% of the population who do not get tertiary education, it seems rather obtuse to insist that the students transfer their future earnings to present day bottom lines of tertiary institutions. The problem is twofold – going to a prestigious tertiary institution is no guarantee you will get a better education than at a lesser school, and the workplaces the graduates will be applying for will more often than not be looking at the school’s prestige as much as the marks. The asymmetry is such that the tertiary institution is far more assured of receiving money than the student receiving a good education, and then a career based on that education.

This is made worse by a statistic that came out some time ago that pointed out that 90% of university graduates end up doing something unrelated to their courses in their careers. While I would not argue that this is a bad thing, it sort of shows that the eduction being offered actually has no correlation to the imagined earnings of the graduate. If it’s not ‘working’ now, how on earth does Christopher Pyne think the sector is going to do better than it has to date to justify the money it is charging?

Anyway, I want to point something else from the American experience that doesn’t seem to get discussed all too much. Two of the areas where costs have skyrocketed in the USA are health and education. This is not totaly unrelated to the fact that they are untransferable services. So while exporting jobs that can be transferred to places like Chindia has resulted in cheaper imports, the jobs that can’t be sent overseas have seen their costs rise. If you average it out, you can claim the inflation has been 3% (or whatever central banks want it to be) but taken individually, health and education have increased at a much higher rate.  The question is, is this unique to America?

Australia is fast losing its manufacturing sector (with great assistance from the Abbott government). We keep counting inflation lower to encourage investment, but this investment has ended up in housing as a bubble. Tertiary institutions will opt to charge more for courses that lead to lucrative careers. The private debt carried by the Australian public is putting a huge brake on future growth. Chances are you won’t be able to find a job in the area of your choice. You can just see the opportunities for education fading rather than widening. And if they fade, we won’t be doing much good with it before long. The outlook is pretty bleak – and I don’t even work in that sector.

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Dumbing Down The Future

What Good Is Tertiary Education If You Can’t Afford It?

After days of commentary regarding the Commission of Audit’s report, I’m a little stuck on the notion of education being possibly irrelevant in this country’s future. When you consider that this country used to have free education, it’s pretty alarming to see that the thinking behind the conservative, economic ‘dry’ people is to jack up the price of Tertiary education and saddle more people with HELP debt. The kinds of fees have gone up considerably since the days of HECS.

Just as an aside, I had an early HECS debt from my time at AFTRS worth $6,600 when I left. I had no obligation to pay any of it back until my annual income hit $30k. It was indexed to CPI, which was measured the old way and by the time i was making $30k, it had ballooned out to $12,700, which is roughly double. It took me about 5years to pay it off, but when you look at the total time it took from when I graduated, it took a decade.

The worst thing about paying it off was that it was money that got taken out after tax, but before you made any financial decisions. If you were earning just over 30k, the take home pay would be substantially less as a result. It became a sort of disincentive to earn the $30k, just to keep your finances going. It seemed unfair that the tax man got 2 bites of the tax out of you. The only reason you get an education is so you can get work, then it seems only fair that they take the HECS out first as if it were a business expense, and then figure out the income tax. I had this argument with the ATO a number of times to no avail, but at least I got it off my chest. It was a right pain in the rear and all it did was just start off at a measly $6,600.

Christopher Pyne – the minister for Poodles and limp Noodles – was on Q&A tonight making the claim that the average HELP debt of university graduates was in the order of $16k, so it’s not a big deal for graduates to pay back. His argument was that 60% ever get Tertiary but they pay for universities through their taxes so university students ought to be more grateful for the very low loan they are getting

When I look at some of the sums of debt people are being hit with for HELP, I am left staggered. A lot of specialist arts courses like animation or design are running at about $40-50k. You wouldn’t want to do a course like I did at AFTRS for $50,000 (not that it exists any more). Given the figure there, I would think it would take a good lifetime to pay off a specialist arts education. When you take into account how terrible your employment prospects would be, you’d have to wonder just what in the name of all that’s good you are doing, lumbering yourself with the pricetag of a family sedan before you even enter the rat race.

Then there are careers in things like social work where you would be hard-pressed to earn the $50k salary before you start paying off – but based on my experience it would mean that the social worker would only start paying it back when their pay reaches $50k through inflationary adjustments and bracket creep; and by then their HELP debt has ballooned out to several times the original sum. If vocational courses present such problems, then you sure as hell would be wary of doing a general arts degree.

The point of all this is to say what we’ve got going is financially disincentivising education. And the more we try and slug money out of students, we’re going to skewer higher education towards the wealthy. Contrary to Christopher Pyne’s rant about competition being good for the education sector, the competition would be for students willing to take on the debt – and if this population is diminishing in numbers through disincentivisation, then we can expect the “second tier teaching colleges” to hit a financial wall. In fact, that’s exactly what’s happening to many US teaching colleges.

Christopher Pyne’s argument that students can pay more is also misleading. By that argument, the rich can afford to pay more because they have the most capacity to make money through ownership of capital. But you sure don’t hear that coming out of Pyne’s mouth or the IPA spokespeople. What’s really clear is that the conservatives of this country strongly desire a future where Australia is less educated, with fewer opportunities for people as being the ideal. To that end, they’ll make education more expensive and less rewarding, except for those who come from wealthy families. While it is no surprise, it does seem to be one of the many things that are going to entrench inequality.



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Education As A Trap

Selling A Dud Product With Gowns

It’s got to be those black gowns, right?

Here’s an article that might dissuade people of the value of tertiary education as education.

A group of journalism students took my undergraduate university course on entrepreneurship and innovation. They were bright, creative, fun to teach and strong communicators. What a pity most will never work in a newsroom, such is the pressure on media companies to cut costs.

How many other university disciplines educate far more students than needed? How many marketing students are needed as technology drastically cuts marketing costs? How many graduate accountants, lawyers or technology students will be needed as firms outsource work offshore?

How many PhD students will find work as full-time academics as the Federal government cuts university funding and if massive open online courses reshape higher education?

Will there be a point where the supply of university graduates exceeds demand by so much that students no longer see sufficient value in spending three of four years at university, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and finding their degrees count for less upon graduation?

And what will happen to a potential glut of university graduates in certain industries?

You can just see this. A university somewhere teaching journalism or media or mass communication or something of that ilk. And all these students are in there paying huge amounts of money hoping for a career in their chosen field and of course the field is collapsing in the real world. The University is offering a course that bears very little resemblance or relationship to the real world situation of the industry. So most of these kids will graduate and become unemployed – or be forced to do something else.

The universities are now market driven, so they offer up courses depending on what’s in demand. But this might not reflect the real marketplace for jobs. I keep thinking about the stupidity of the film industry that had a premiere film school churning out directors and cinematographers and failed to grow in line with the people coming out. Walk-off HBP told me years ago about his experience as a graphic design student and how the vast majority of the graduates who graduated with him did not work a single day as a designer.

And once a upon a time this was okay. It was okay because the graduates weren’t burdened with dirty big debts to HECS and whatever other schemes are going at the moment. You sort of wonder how this is going to play out. Consider for a moment the Baby Boomers  in Australia got ‘free education’, some tuned in dropped out but inmost part, they benefited greatly from this. Generation Y is being saddled with dirty big amounts of debt and being told they can do whatever they like when in fact there is a major restructuring of all industries coming our way. Not only will they be Generation Jobless, they may well end up being Generation Bankrupt.

Of course they could inherit grandpa Baby Boomer’s money and pay off debts that way. They do say what goes around, comes around.

Hollowing Out Your Future

The scary prognostication made in the mid to late 1990s was that we were staring down at a 90-10 future where 90% of the work will be done by 10% of the people and everybody else was kind of redundant. Since then we’ve seen massive waves of what Schumpeter called creative destruction of value where new technologies and business models abruptly consign old business models to the dustbin of history.

Here’s an article that caught my eye today.

Jaron Lanier’s latest book, Who Owns the Future?, begins by noting an instructive coincidence: the bankruptcy of the photography giant Kodak occurred within months of Facebook’s billion-dollar acquisition of the photo-sharing site Instagram. This would be just one example of the destructive dynamism of American capitalism, a process through which old companies are overtaken by new technology and new firms more in tune with the needs of customers — and that perhaps benefits us all.

Except for one thing, that is: whereas Kodak employed 140,000 workers during its heyday, Instagram employed just 13 people when it was purchased in April 2012.

“Where did all those jobs disappear to?” Lanier asks. “And what happened to the wealth that those middle-class jobs created?” Lanier’s answer is that the new “information economy,” which is now superseding the manufacturing economy, is developing in such a way that the rewards are filtering to an elite few at the expense of everybody else.

That would be because any rationalisation would streamline the flow of capital back to the investor. That is what productivity and economic rationalism really mean. Lanier’s been saying this for a while, and in many ways this lines up with the 90-10 future.
Anyway, seeing that we’re talking about education, and journalism and educating journalists just before, I think you should read this bit too:

The first victims of this business model have been journalists, musicians and photographers. Lanier points out that the technological punditry has often cheered the demise of these careers as sources of secure middle-class jobs in their enthusiasm for a cheap, bountiful online experience. But as the “real” economy becomes more and more automated, what information-based work is safe from a similar fate? Education seems to be the next industry primed for the sort of disruption that the music industry faced 10 years ago, as the cost of education continues to rise at the same time the tools necessary for self-directed learning are increasingly at our fingertips.

Now, that’s depressing.

The problem is that we’re not really talking education. We’re talking vocational training. the real aim of education, the enlightenment project as such came to a shuddering halt in 1970. It came to an end because essentially universities were being asked to be relevant to a post-modern technological society when in fact they had their roots in medieval politics. And so education slowly got supplanted by vocational training – and most people who couldn’t distinguish between the two chose to take vocational training as something that has a superior outcome.

If you really want to know why our cultural life is so poor in Australia, the quick answer is that our universities turned hard towards the course of vocational training at the first sign the changes were in the air. I mean, really! Who needs education? Who needs to know about literature or philosophy or art or music? What good is this stuff when you can earn good money perfectly well, driving trucks out in the mines in Kalgoorlie or wherever!?

Philistinism is everywhere you look; and in saying that I don’t mean ‘punks’. I mean philistines that don’t even know the context of punk. But they’re raking it in.

I know people wax lyrical about Whitlam and Hawke Keating governments but really, they were as culpable as John Howard in ruining education and supplanting it with vocational training. We really shouldn’t be surprised when the end result is an intellectually dishonest Julia Gillard and intellectually blighted Tony Abbott currying for our votes. The damage has been done. The rest of it is watching the Titanic go down – feel free to shuffle the deck chairs.

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