Fears for philosophy degrees

BY NATHAN BEAUMONT
Last updated 05:00 16/07/2010
Dan Weijers
DIEGO OPATOWSKI/The Dominion Post
PROBLEM PREDICTED: Student Dan Weijers says the fund plan is a disaster and students will be forced away from philosophy degrees.

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The Government's plan to link tertiary education funding to students getting jobs has sparked fears that the move could spell the end for popular degrees such as philosophy.

And an organisation representing universities is concerned the institutions will become more like employment agencies.

Dan Weijers, who is doing a PhD in philosophy at Victoria University, says the plan is a disaster and it will force students away from philosophy degrees because universities would target courses that produce more jobs options to get more funding.

"I would hate to think that would happen because philosophy is so important. It's a very structured way of thinking. It teaches people to think logically and clearly, which are attributes many employers hold in high regard. If the Government goes ahead with the plan, it will be a real problem."

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce revealed the plan during a speech at Victoria on Wednesday. Linking funding to students getting jobs would send a strong signal about which qualifications and institutions offered the best career prospects, he said.

Last night he said the performance-based funding model would see 5 per cent of funding based on performance measures, including qualification completion, successful course completion and progression to further study.

Performance-linked funding would provide incentives for institutions to keep improving students' educational performance.

"We are not interested in telling people what to study or where to study it, but want to make sure they have relevant information about their future employment prospects before they make a big financial and time commitment to study."

But Mr Weijers urged the Government to reconsider its position, saying philosophy degrees alone were enough to get students good jobs. "I would be confident if I only had a philosophy degree, I would be able to get a job as a policy analyst. The skills from the degree are very important and worthwhile."

Vice-Chancellors' Committee chairman Derek McCormack was surprised by the Government's plan. Universities had a good record of graduates getting jobs, he said.

"To introduce something like this seems to be downgrading New Zealand's very good university system to one which becomes more and more like an employment agency. Obviously everybody wants graduates to have good employment prospects and New Zealand graduates do ... but we want universities to be more than that. We want knowledge to not be restrained to the utilitarian boundaries of just work and just making the financial side of the economy better."

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Labour tertiary education spokesman Grant Robertson said he opposed rigid criteria that would lead universities to focus more on vocational training than education. "Not everybody who takes a particular course at university is going to end up in a job directly related to that. If you were to put in very prescriptive measures around linking it to employment outcomes, that could be counter-productive."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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