UNIVERSITIES are no longer seen primarily as centres of learning but as corporations most concerned about the bottom line.
And indeed 48% of respondents agreed with universities ‘mainly care about the bottom line’ compared to 39% who agreed that ‘universities mainly care about education’.
Yet 71% say universities are doing an excellent or good job (compared to 46% saying the same of public schools). Perhaps the bottom line/education question was a dumb one, since the two are interdependent – no education, no money; no money, no education. Yet it appeals to the narrative of the public education lobby, a narrative faithfully reinforced by the SMH over many years.
The public education narrative was also reflected in other answers. 70% of respondents thought that it had become more difficult for students from poorer families to get into university over the last ten years.
There is no perfect data source on this issue, but none of what exists is consistent with the public perceptions. Using census parental occupation data as a proxy, low SES attendance rates increased between 1996 and 2001, and were stable between 2001 and 2006. And as I noted last month, low SES students in 2007 had their second-highest share of commencing places since statistics started being collected in 1991.
The most interesting question in the survey asked about credentialism. 61% agreed that employers hire university graduates for jobs that could be done as well or better by people without university degrees.
Certainly large numbers of graduates are employed in jobs that don’t require degrees. What we don’t know a lot about is how actively employers prefer graduates for non-graduate jobs.
But if people believe that employers are preferring graduates, this will affect behaviour, with people seeking university education they do not need, except to get themselves an interview.