The lack of critical thinking in higher ed policy

They say that university education encourages ‘critical thinking’, but so rarely is that skill applied to university policy itself. At the weekend, Kevin Rudd returned to his anecdotes about higher education:

“We’ve got to look long and hard at how we make higher education affordable for kids from working families right across this country. I’m concerned we’re heading backwards on this, and it’s not good in terms of equity.

“We have young people and their families coming in to our electorate offices saying they don’t know if they can afford to have their kids go to university any more. This is a crying shame. The rest of the world’s investing more in education, skills and training, but public investment by the Howard Government is going backwards.”

Though demand for university places declined over the 2003-2006 period, at current prices it still exceeded aggregate supply (though some universities could not fill places, this was because the quota system of allocating places to universities does not take demand into account).

For 2007, preliminary applications centre data indicates that demand from school leavers is up by 3.8%. What is the point in trying to generate extra demand if there are too few places already? Especially if there are unlikely to be sufficient high-quality jobs at the other end.

In any case, there is no evidence – despite what people coming into Rudd’s electorate office might say – that low SES people are ‘under-represented’ at university once their ENTER scores are taken into account. The Cardak and Ryan research released this year showed that at the Year 12 to university transition point there is no evidence that anything other than ENTER score makes a difference. The problem is that low SES students get relatively weak ENTER scores.
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