The Weakest Link: Studylink, student loans and work-oriented qualifications

I’m in the last paper of my Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology through the University of Otago. It’s been a long road, as I have worked full-time the majority of the time that I have studied towards the qualification, and also last year Otago’s papers dropped from 30 points a paper to 20 points a paper, meaning that instead of completing last year with two 30 point papers, I have to do a final one this semester. But that’s alright, I’m pretty relaxed about that.

At least I was until the point where Studylink refused to pay my fees this year because I am a part time part year student. My response was that I am in the last paper of my qualification, so I can’t do any more to study full-time. Their response has been that I could’ve been considered equivalent full-time as I am finishing a qualification, if I was studying at least 0.4 EFT. Which I am not by doing one course.

I am flabbergasted that I can’t get my fees covered. Hypothetically, If I can’t afford the fees and therefore I am unable to do the paper, Studylink are fine with that. If I couldn’t complete the paper, and therefore couldn’t move onto Masters study due to not having the requisite qualification, Studylink are fine with that.

What also amazes me is that the criteria around part-time students requires us to justify why we can’t be studying full-time under three criteria: illness; differently abled; unable to complete if you study full-time (academic best interests). Previously there was a ‘best interests’ category that was wider, but this has been narrowed so that is no real wiggle room for a person working full-time.

All of these (and other) changes are reflective of a world view in which the purpose of education is to get a job. There can be no shirkers in our drive for profit and growth; certainly nobody walking through fields, smelling the roses, doing part-time study. This is at the heart of tertiary policy now, and we can see it transforming our universities. The removal of student representatives from the boards of universities is just a next step in creating a tertiary environment in which value is solely predicated on an obvious path to employment.

When I had just finished Honours at Victoria University, one of my lecturers from Sociology asked me to write a submission to the department because they were considering getting rid of the Marx, Weber and Durkheim paper as students rated it poorly in the evaluations. Let’s just repeat that: Victoria’s Sociology department were considering getting rid of a course about the three key thinkers who founded the discipline of sociology because under-graduate students didn’t like it. This is the world that current tertiary education policy is creating.

The priorities of the Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-19 makes this clear:

Priority 1: Delivering skills for industry,
Priority 2: Getting at-risk young people into a career,
Priority 3: Boosting achievement of Māori and Pasifika,
Priority 4: Improving adult literacy and numeracy,
Priority 5: Strengthening research-based institutions, and
Priority 6: Growing international linkages.

The Tertiary Education Strategy for our country is jobs, jobs, and also jobs for brown people. We have a Minister, a ministry, a government and increasingly a sector who have forgotten the purpose of education. To date, I haven’t heard it better articulated than by Martin Luther King Jr.:

…I too often find that most college men have a misconception of the purpose of education. Most of the “brethren” think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses….
It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.

Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education….

The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals….

We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education…. If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, “brethren!” Be careful, teachers!

At risk of appearing arrogant, this short essay resonates with me because it describes my passion and experience of education. My varied education has taught me to “think incisively and to think for one’s self” and it has challenged and honed my character. I have studied Sociology, Māori Studies, te reo Māori and now Theology. It has led me into a variety of jobs in research, evaluation, policy development, community development and youth work. The variation, the curiosity and the challenge must surely be a testament to helping me “to achieve… the legitimate goals of [my] life.”

Education is my wonderful adventure following after my heroes and rolemodels. When I end my life I will not have regretted a moment I spent learning. And yet current tertiary policy is the walling up, brick by brick, of the rabbit hole. The State needs not visionaries, dreamers and prophets; it requires drones who will ignore the slow death of their own spirit in service of the destruction of their planet, of their land and of their families for the profit of the few.

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9 thoughts on “The Weakest Link: Studylink, student loans and work-oriented qualifications

  1. Another thoughtful column. One of my kids is in a traditional liberal arts and sciences college in the U.S., and I teach in an 4-year arts school – a “luxury” that is being priced out of reach for many. I understand the drive to go to a vocational model, but discovery arises from what we don’t know, not merely by repeating what we already know. We get widget makers , not widget inventors or dreamers if it skews too far. It may provide workers, but little agency.

  2. He rawe o korero brother…ka hoki nga mahara i te wa i Te Whare Wananga o Waitaha wau…i mea mai tetahi tangata pakeke, ” In the 60s/70s university students protested for others (social justice causes), these days (90s) students just protest for themselves (keep student fees down)”…kua tino whāiti te tirohanga o te Kawanatanga otiira ko te nuinga o mātau anō hoki.

    1. Kia ora e hoa,

      I think there is an element of truth in that in terms of the issues that grab the attention of a large group of students. But I believe there’s still a consciousness of social justice at universities amongst some staff, students and management that sticks in the craw of those who resist change and fear conscientization; otherwise why would National keep picking away at it?

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