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Thinking of going to uni or TAFE? Ask the hard questions now

By Malcolm King - posted Friday, 2 November 2007


Do you want to study at a university or TAFE next year?

To paraphrase former American President John F. Kennedy, then ask not what you can do for your university, but what your university can do for you.

In this article I have listed 10 'must ask' questions, which will help prospective tertiary students decide which university, or TAFE is right for them.

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Universities are big businesses these days, but it's a miracle that any of them have survived. One would think that after 20 years of the Hawke, Keating and Howard Government's foot on their necks imploring them to diversify, diversify, and diversify, that they would have received the message by now. Apart from Melbourne University, they haven't.

Whether you were for or against the Dawkins reforms and the amalgamation of many CAE’s and TAFE’s into the university sector in the 1980s, one has to admit that they could no longer all keep teaching the same stuff. They had to stop coming to Canberra pleading poverty and start generating their own income streams.

Unfortunately Canberra didn't take into account that the sandstone universities would so completely dominate the top end of the market. This left the second tier universities (that is, all those who were not prestige universities such as Melbourne, Sydney or Adelaide) desperately scrambling for both international and local students.

While there are some major problems with the corporatisation of universities (such as threats to academic independence and collegiality), neither the ALP or the Coalition will change their funding policies. So for the foreseeable future, the second tier universities will continue to battle it out in the market place for the student dollar and for survival.

Unfortunately the universities hyper-marketing drive has led to allegations of criminal malfeasance. I know of two major educational providers who are being taken to court by students because they allege the universities failed to deliver the appropriate content and level of service as advertised on their websites and brochures.

There will not be 36 Australian universities in ten years time. There will be 26 Australian universities and four or five foreign universities with global reputations and high research rankings, such as Carnegie Mellon in South Australia. They will offer specialist programs in engineering, business or digital media and they will cut, like an axe head into soft wood, into our local student markets.

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Is this a good thing? I will leave that up to you to decide. The continued failure of universities (and TAFE’s) to diversify their program offerings will be a major contributing factor to their demise. Some have established specialist research centres and this initiative is to be applauded. Yet their physics or maths schools are being carried by enrolments in business.

Not only have universities failed to diversify but their marketing departments keep producing glossy brochures and whiz-bang websites which, from institution to institution, all look the same. This reinforces the problem.

Their copywriting is appalling with words such as "facilitate", "articulate", "learning outcomes", peppered throughout the brochures or websites. It's ironic that institutions that are dedicated to creating knowledge use language that destroys it.

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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