University entry must be based on merit
Below is an opinion piece posted on the National Time website in which I argue why positively discriminating in favour of so-called disadvantaged students is wrong.
Given her roles as minister for education and social inclusion, it should not surprise that Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard is re-engineering the way universities select students according to her Fabian desire for equality of outcomes.
Instead of merit and ability, in the brave new world of the ALP's education revolution, those students considered disadvantaged will be placed at the head of the queue for tertiary entry.
Currently, about 16 per cent of tertiary students are from disadvantaged backgrounds. To increase the figure to 20 per cent by 2020, the Federal Government is offering universities additional funding for every disadvantaged student they enrol ($540 in 2010, rising to $1400 in 2013) and pressuring universities to radically change how they select students.
In addition to funding, Gillard has established the National Centre of Student Equity in Higher Education at the University of South Australia and committed millions in school based national partnership agreements in areas such as literacy and numeracy centred on low socio-economic status communities.
Given that university vice-chancellors have long since stopped valuing academic excellence and meritocracy and are more concerned with budget bottom lines and enrolments at any cost, it should also not surprise that the Group of Eight has endorsed Gillard's utopian dream.
The Group of Eight's chairman, Professor Alan Robson, argues the process currently used to select students (in the majority of states based on academic examinations) should be expanded to allow more disadvantaged students to succeed.
The University of Sydney's Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Ann Brewer, suggests the government should fund an ''equity trading scheme'' where those universities that enrol increased numbers of disadvantaged students will receive ''credits''.
In its paper, titled Advancing Equity in Australian Higher Education, Universities Australia strikes a similar note, arguing there should be ''equity targets and financial incentives'' to enable universities to ''proactively focus on the recruitment and retention of low SES students, particularly from under-represented schools''.
Minister Gillard's love of social engineering is easy to explain. In addition to being a member of Victoria's socialist-left and a past member of the Socialist Forum, it's no secret that one of Gillards's mentors is Victoria's former Labor premier Joan Kirner.
When education minister, Joan Kirner also argued that tertiary selection discriminated against disadvantaged students. Not only did the solution, the Victorian Certificate of Education, lead to lower standards, it also made it harder for low socio-economic status students to achieve good results.
Gillard's maiden speech also reveals her commitment to Fabian doctrine. After bemoaning the fact that students in Melbourne's affluent eastern suburbs achieve stronger academic success when compared to those in the west, Gillard promised that her key priority would be to overcome educational disadvantage based on postcode.
Discriminating against academically successful students because of where they live or where they went to school is not only unfair; the policy also sends the message that merit, hard work and ability are secondary to membership of a so-called victim group.
Based on the OECD report, Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD countries, it is also the case that in Australia, there is high social mobility.
The report states, ''Australia is one of the most socially mobile countries . . . What your parents earn when you were a child has very little effect on your earnings. Similarly, the educational attainment of parents affects the educational achievements of the child less than in most other countries''.
Instead of Australia's education system failing the equity test, the OECD report goes on to say, ''In Australia, publicly provided services in the health, education and social housing sectors reduce overall income inequality by more than most other countries''.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is Director of the Education Standards Institute and author of Australia's Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars. http://www.edstandards.com.au/
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19th January 2010
Below is an opinion piece posted on the National Time website in which I argue why positively discriminating in favour of so-called disadvantaged students is wrong. Universities should not pand...