What’s wrong with Australia’s education system, according to a university teacher

I recently met Carmen, who teaches English courses for university entry to international students at a university in Australia. English preparatory classes may take from one year to six weeks depending on the level of the student. She also marked essays for local students at the uni. She tells me what’s wrong with higher education:

“Universities have become bureaucratic self-serving empires, with bloated administrations, and plummeting standards. They were once bastions of excellence, for only the best and brightest. They used to be more or less run by academics, who focused on academic excellence, creating graduates who were highly qualified for jobs. Increasingly over the past decades they have become corrupted by crony capitalism and cultural Marxism, the detrimental forms of both sides of politics.”

Perhaps unis reflect a kind of microcosm of today’s socio-political polarisation? She explains:

“One way cultural Marxism manifests itself is through the mantra that a university degree is for everyone and anyone. The old model of taxpayer-funded university places being limited and only available to those with sufficient academic merit or relevant experience was criticised for being too elitist. Academics used to be in charge and would run the courses, and decide the content and students would revere their knowledge. It was replaced with a system of uncapped taxpayer funded university places, with entry standards to many courses being very low. The low standards have been justified and continue to slip further down in the name of ‘equity’, and ‘inclusion’.”

Too elitist? Is modern Western parenting to blame for this perception? Have today’s children been coddled to underperform and expect trophies to easily come by? Carmen elaborates:

“It’s difficult to say what exactly lies at the root of this. I would say in part, that indulgent permissive parenting is to blame, but I’m not sure it’s a uniquely Western phenomenon. I teach adult international students (from China and the Middle East) who are also afflicted with an attitude of entitlement, or an inflated sense of their own ability, and get upset when they are not coddled along, and their feelings are hurt when they don’t pass, and too many of them think they should pass when they actually haven’t made the required effort.

As for the Australian side of things, I think that yes, poor parenting is partly to blame. Poor parenting coddles the child, giving praise, where praise is not due, failing to admonish when attitude, performance or behaviour have been substandard, with a kind of attitude where the most important thing is pandering to the child’s feelings, not instilling discipline, not demanding respect from the child, not instilling an ethic where hard work is rewarded.

Parents without strong morals may influence their children. Dare I say it, but the rise of single parenting, and parental delinquency may well be contributing to the phenomenon of ‘adult children’, as there is no backup parental pillar of strength to guide children correctly. Love of course is important, but tough love is part of being a good parent. Instilling discipline, and self-control in a child can be an unpleasant experience for an adult and is often unpleasant for the child as well, but leads to success later in life.

The pandering to feelings culture manifests itself, for example, in the practice administrations have of using student questionnaires about satisfaction as a measure of the worth of a course. At the end of every course students fill out questionnaires and are asked to rate many aspects of a teacher’s performance, everything from whether the teacher was always available to help with any concerns, to suitability of course content.”

Administrations take these survey results seriously, and use them to give feedback to teachers, change course content and even influence recruitment. But how reliable are these surveys really? Are good teachers meant to be friends with their students? What about the strict teacher who has high expectations and doesn’t tolerate laziness? Will such a teacher rate highly? In addition, the culture of ‘making work’ by administrations, no matter how mediocre, where there is no such thing as failure, may have parallels with children coddled by poor parents:

Administrations ignore huge problems like poor numeracy and literacy entry standards, much like parents may just shower children with gifts, and favours, despite bad behaviour. The child has an extended tantrum, and the parent gives in, rewarding the child’s perseverance. Next time the child has an even longer tantrum. In a similar way, I have seen managers cave into students’ demands for special treatment. Some students actually harass administrators, teachers and managers until they are given a pass grade, and succeed.”

Unsurprisingly, universities now have dedicated departments to coach and tutor students to pass courses. Carmen was told by an Education lecturer that half the students doing an Education degree couldn’t spell. In her own experience half of them can’t use apostrophes, many of them use tenses incorrectly, and it is apparent that some of them don’t know what a sentence is:

“A university science Dean told me that most of his Masters students did not have the literacy to write a thesis. He showed me examples, and written pages were littered with basic errors in word order, subject verb agreement, subject topic and so on. For many universities an IELTs of 5.5, 6.0 or 6.5 for international students is acceptable for study of a Masters Degree. These low bands allow irrelevant, inappropriate, incorrect language, with the main goal being communication. Crony capitalism is manifest in that universities have become greedy for funds. It’s not a free market as there is a government-funded prize in the form of a visa or a degree in exchange for money.”

Universities receive money from the government per Australian student who is enrolled, and so it is a competition between universities to get as many students as possible, to feed the gravy train. Entry standards are set by the universities. A similar situation is apparent with international students, and universities receive even higher funds, often around $20,000 per student per year. So universities can rake in millions from this revenue as well. Despite the expense, the demand is huge with around half a million international enrolments per year in Australia:

“Students are lured by the stronger possibility of a permanent residency visa from the government, as a result of getting a degree. Others want to buy property in Australia, which is possible with a student visa. I’m not against this ‘immigration’ per se, but I am critical of the effects of universities as migration processing centres, and think it should take place in a dedicated institution. Much of this revenue is going into university administrations, feeding huge bureaucratic empires, with social justice warrior educationalists, creating heavy teaching loads for academics, who would mostly prefer to engage in research. One result is degraded university standards.”

Carmen explains that a ‘dedicated institution’ refers to an institution designed for the purpose of integrating migrants. These used to exist, and were mostly successful. Such places could teach new migrants English at an appropriate pace, and incorporate cultural elements to empower newcomers to maximise their success in Australia. Or a dedicated institution could have degrees solely for international students, designed to be at an appropriate level and pace:

“I have talked to migrants of the old system, and they are shocked to learn that we no longer have these institutions in the same capacity as before. I feel that universities have become in part, migrant processing centres. International students pay $20k or so a year to do a degree. This gives them points towards a visa. They learn English during their degree and values to some extent, so this is probably one of the reasons the whole system exists in its current form. However the courses which are marketed and purchased are actually mostly impossible to deliver.”

To give an example, someone coming from overseas with no English at all, is promised an English course to get them to Masters level within a year. Even research does not make this cognitively possible, unless the students are in the language genius range of aptitude. The reality is that language courses get watered down in order to deliver lessons that students can actually cope with, falling far short of marketed programs:

“Actual degrees are being dumbed down in the classroom with PowerPoint slides showing summaries and readings that students can just cut and paste into assessments. Special tutors are present in many universities. They may even draft assignments for students. Otherwise desperate students may pay agencies to write assignments for them. The result is that many students do not learn English to a sufficient level to get a good job.”

Carmen has painted a negative picture thus far, but it isn’t all bad. International students do benefit from their education here in Australia, as they enjoy smaller class sizes, and more interaction with teachers than in their home countries, and they learn critical reading and how to form opinions of their own, and hopefully some high-end skills like analysis and synthesis. They broaden their cultural horizons, and expand their international networks. As for local students, they do further their education. On moving forward:

“I think one fix would be to strictly limit government funded university places, so only the best students can go to a publicly-funded university. The system should be more like it used to be in Australia, back in the 1990s. The rest of the universities could be completely private, with full-fee places for students. At the very least, the uncapped taxpayer-funded university place system needs a serious rethink. As for international students, how about having English language migration centres? Or special private universities for them, with government mandated visa entry language requirements?”

It’s worth noting that there are a lot of private colleges out there that have been filling in the ‘dedicated institution’ role, primarily for teaching English. Exposes and reports have found a lot of dodgy practices at these institutions which rort international students and the immigration system. There are already English language requirements for visas, including universities, but that standard is arguably too low, and students can find ways to get around this, like getting others to take the tests for them. There are a lot of rorts in the international student market, which every few years Four Corners seems to recycle a story on.

“Another contributing factor to the decline in standards in Australia is the quality of primary and secondary education, which has been infiltrated with constructivism, cultural Marxism, child-centred learning, and postmodernism. Universities have become a kind of extension of high school. Perhaps we could learn from the system in Singapore, where students do not go up a grade unless they achieve certain standards? Also, the outcomes-based curricula in the primary and secondary systems are too subjective, and give rise to all kinds of wafty justifications for substandard lessons.”

According to Dr Jordan Peterson, postmodernism is Marxism and communism in a new cloak. Marxism and communism led to millions of deaths in the 20th century. The ideas of Marxism were spread from France, into the US through the universities, and eventually emerged as identity politics. Instead of the proletariat versus the bourgeois, it’s now the oppressed versus the oppressor. Postmodernism is about power, and has manifested itself with the rise of political correctness. Here, there is a hierarchy of power when it comes to opinions.

It is said that your opinion is okay as long as it is the correct one, or as long as you are operating within your rank in the hierarchy. Cultural Marxism is based on the ideas of Karl Marx. Marx thought that capitalism would create wealth disparity. He thought that the workers would rise up and become a dictatorship over the wealthy class, and lead to so-called equality. This idea has a modern form: the victimhood hierarchy. The more ‘oppressed’ are the higher up the hierarchy.

Under constructivism, the learner constructs their own knowledge, and discovers it. There’s not necessarily logic, investigation, negotiation or dialogue, meeting or consensus. Child-centred learning centers around the idea that the child constructs their learning. The teacher is not the purveyor of knowledge; the students construct their own knowledge, so it’s a kind of Marxism, where everyone is equalised, in Carmen’s experience:

“I’ve seen this take form in practices like not teaching children times tables by rote, and instead letting children ‘discover’ multiplication answers. The teacher’s power is thus taken away in our primary and high schools. The power is with the administration. ‘All ideas are equal, and all subjects are equal’ is the mantra. In a similar way, in universities, the power of academics has been taken away by the administration. The postmodernist influences are actually extremely destructive.”

Is postmodernism the issue, or is it managerialism and economic rationalism?Carmen concludes that Syllabi need to be content-based, not outcomes-based. High quality teachers in schools need to be in charge, and academics need to be in charge in universities. Bureaucracies and administrations need to be cut drastically. The top countries in the world for literacy and numeracy do not have bloated administrations. They are based on the former principles. Taxpayer-funded university places need to be strictly limited and possibly only matching the number of jobs available, with students competing for places, that only end up going to the best students. The best students become teachers, and they are respected. For example, in Asia, there is a culture of respect for teachers and teachers are the purveyors of knowledge.



Trans ⚧️ and Anglo-catholic ✝️ | Liberal Arts student @notredameaus | phenomenologist | social media content curator | all opinions expressed here are my own

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Dana Pham

Trans ⚧️ and Anglo-catholic ✝️ | Liberal Arts student @notredameaus | phenomenologist | social media content curator | all opinions expressed here are my own