Opinion – NZ Union of Students’ Associations
On the eve of the launch of the latest Tertiary Education Strategy that proposes punishing tertiary institutions for the employment outcomes of their graduates, its time for the government to step up and take responsibility for delivering the jobs.A Job For Every Graduate.
Dr Alistair Shaw is the Executive Director of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations. firstname.lastname@example.org
On the eve of the launch of the latest Tertiary Education Strategy that proposes punishing tertiary institutions for the employment outcomes of their graduates, it’s time for the government to step up and take responsibility for delivering the jobs.
Last weekend, the Dominion Post published a story [http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/9110729/Graduates-frustrated-at-lack-of-jobs] about graduates finding it difficult to get work. The article profiles four graduates (in nursing, photography, teaching and aviation) who have been unable to find a job in their chosen profession.
The article suggests that New Zealand is clearly training too many students in careers with limited job prospects.
The Dominion Post asked whose responsibility it was:
• The Ministry of Education said it monitors supply and demand, but it isn’t its job to regulate trainee numbers.
• Health Workforce New Zealand says it is “in regular contact with nurse training providers about planning for future health workforce needs” and doesn’t believe there’s a surfeit of nursing graduates.
• Massey University Vice chancellor Steve Maharey makes the point that universities aren’t, and shouldn’t be, just job factories. He noted that vocational course restrictions based on job opportunities would prevent people from learning skills applicable to other jobs.
• Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says the Government is working on more robust ways to report graduate success. He acknowledges that successive governments have shied away from telling students what they can study, based on job opportunities, except in the most expensive careers such as medicine and veterinary science.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has developed Occupation Outlook reports for 2013 that have been designed to be a place for young people to look when making a decision on career options and, in particular, to determine what their chances are of getting a job are once they have finished studying. Yet for the more than 40 key occupations listed, there are only three that indicate likely income, fees and job prospects for young people entering the occupation.
The Tertiary Education Union published a post [http://teu.ac.nz/2013/09/no-jobs-for-graduates/] on the article saying that the Dominion Post had identified a significant flaw in the government’s Tertiary Education Strategy. They wrote “the Minister seems to bump along from anecdote to anecdote about where the short-term jobs might be, training students for his latest favourite subject – trades, teaching, engineering, maths, aviation have all had their moment in the sun – rather than investing in creating long-term job opportunities for graduates. There need to be jobs.”
The TEU is right, and the work that MBIE and the Tertiary Education Commission to require institutions to report on employment outcomes is misplaced. The problem isn’t low quality qualifications leading to poor employment outcomes; it is highly qualified graduates unable to find work in their chosen fields.
Tragically, this is most apparent in areas where the government is the major employer, that is, education (teaching) and health (nurses and doctors).
Ministry of Education officials admit [http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/editorials/7818295/Editorial-A-waste-of-trainee-teachers] that as many as 80% of current teacher graduates will not be able to find work in New Zealand over the next six years, and with class size changes still hanging over the compulsory sector this is a crises for those who want to teach. Yet Colleges of Education continue to recruit, and advertise their teaching qualifications. The Dean at the Waikato College of Education, in a story [http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/8880819/Too-many-teachers-too-few-teaching-positions] highlighting that at the end of 2012 its 660 graduates were competing for just 35 jobs in the region, said the government needed to make providers limit enrolments as none were going to do it themselves.
That crisis has now spread to nursing, with a third of nursing graduates also headed for hibernation as they wait for health needs of the aging population to kick in. They shouldn’t have to wait until they are themselves part of that demographic. Many who qualify as registered nurses will instead be taking work as an enrolled nurse (who works under the direction of an registered nurse, most often as a care-giver rather than a medical practitioner) that will not make use of their skills and does not pay them sufficiently to pay back their loans. The one-third of unemployed nurse graduates excludes those who are underemployed in this way.
District Health Boards have known for six years – the duration of a doctor’s degree – that the numbers qualifying from New Zealand Medical Schools were to increase, yet there is no funding for placements for all those that the tax-payer has invested more than $1,000,000 in. Yet 40% of doctors in our hospitals were trained someplace else. This is a waste of resources at epic proportions.
So, while the government introduces measures to clamp down on (and even arrest) overseas based borrowers they seem to be doing nothing to stop our best and brightest leaving New Zealand since they can’t find jobs. Surely any campaign to get tough on debtors needs to be dwarfed by a much more important campaign to get tough on the causes of debt. There needs to be a focus on the lack of proper jobs that enable graduates to pay back their loans, and simultaneously addressing high fees and students borrowing to live that causes the debt in the first place.
Joyce has admitted he recognises the problem with debt for lower level qualifications by making them free – that’s fine, these are at secondary-school level after all – but it’s about time he owned more of the responsibility for the qualifications, and the jobs, that the overwhelming majority of New Zealand students are enrolled towards.