Monday, February 12, 2007

More academic corruption

This sort of thing is an old story in Australia. Protesters such as the guy below are the saviours of Australian academic standards and should be praised and encouraged, not harried. The shortsightedness of the administrators who are endeavouring to destroy the asset they depend on -- the reputation of their university -- is incredible

A leading Queensland academic quit his university post in disgust after being told to pass fee-paying overseas students he had intended to fail. The academic, who asked not to be named, said he refused to pass the students attending a Queensland university last year, even though he was put under "enormous pressure" from senior academic staff. "I was told, in no uncertain terms, to pass some particular students, who in my opinion, had not met the standards required – not by a long shot," he said. "To pass the subject, there were several components: an exam, an essay and a practical assessment, none of which these students had passed. "They had not even come close to passing. "If it were a mark out of 100, I would have given them a five and yet I was told to somehow get them through."

His claims came after a recent report by Monash University demographer Bob Birrell in Melbourne which found more than one-third of overseas uni students were graduating with a lower standard of English than what was required. But Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop challenged the findings and has asked anyone with evidence of favouritism towards full fee-paying students to come forward. "This is a very serious allegation and I want to see the evidence: which universities, which professors, which courses," Ms Bishop said.

The academic said he believed a cash-for-degrees culture was growing at all Queensland tertiary institutions, due to Federal Government budget cuts. "What happened to me is by no means an isolated incident," he said. "I have spoken to many other academics and they have had similar experiences."

National Tertiary Education Union Queensland secretary Margaret Lee supported the academic's claims. "The National Tertiary Union is certainly aware members are under enormous pressure," she said. "There is anecdotal evidence that some members have felt pressured, either directly or indirectly, to ensure high pass rates for their international students. "They are told that a fall in international student numbers would pose income difficulties for their university." Ms Lee said that, on average, Queensland universities received 18 per cent of their income from international student fees.


Federal call for a return to quality education

Article below by Federal education minister Julie Bishop

There is no doubt that education plays a key role in the economic and social fabric of any society. Early childhood education and our primary schools should provide fundamental skills, such as literacy and numeracy. Students at secondary school should develop more advanced but equally valuable skills, such as greater initiative and analytical abilities.

Vocational education should provide skills and knowledge that are specifically required for various occupations. And our universities not only equip graduates with skills for the professions and industry but also create new knowledge to underpin our economic prosperity and international competitiveness. But our education system is not only about personal attainment. It is also a driver of economic growth directly related to the quality of the education students receive.

Quality is the key determinant in education's contribution to economic growth. The determinants of economic growth, for example, were analysed in a study of 100 countries, including Australia, from 1960 to 1995 by Harvard researcher Robert J. Barro. His research found that the quality of education was far more important than quantity when looking at the impact on economic growth.

At the heart of this debate about quality is the decline in academic standards in our school systems. This is the new frontier of the education debate. The quality of our teachers is critical. After parents, teachers are the most important determinant in educational outcomes for school students. Our teachers are a precious national resource. They should be respected and rewarded for their significant role in educating our children.

But like other professionals they deserve career incentives. That is why I am developing options for greater consistency in professional development for teachers as well as calling on the states to provide higher salaries, with an element of performance or merit-based pay and greater workplace flexibility. For example, we should be rewarding teachers who work in our most disadvantaged schools and achieve outstanding results, or specialist teachers such as in science or maths. But let us focus on what our schools are being asked to teach our students.

I am concerned that students, teachers and parents are being let down as many aspects of school education get hijacked by teachers unions and state education bureaucrats. This has led to the role of teachers being redefined from someone who teaches a syllabus to someone who facilitates; many children lacking basic numeracy and literacy skills; parents lacking meaningful feedback about the performance of their child and their school. Instead of learning basic facts in subjects such as history, children are being taught according to an ideological agenda. And the values and discipline parents teach at home are not being reinforced at school.

The problem is the growing number of students at the tail end who don't have the fundamental skills to even hold down a job. A growing number of remedial English and maths classes are being offered by the nation's universities and other tertiary institutions to bring first year, and in some cases PhD, students up to appropriate English standards. Employer groups have reported that school and university graduates lack generic skills such as grammar. In terms of literacy and numeracy, recent reports of statistics, such as those released in my home state of Western Australia, reveal that about one in five students who completed Year 7 last year are functionally illiterate, that is, failing to meet national benchmark standards in reading, writing and spelling.

We are already making our funding for the states and territories conditional on a number of areas of reform: plain-English report cards and making more school performance information publicly available. With commonwealth funding of $1.8 billion going directly to the states for literacy and numeracy standards, we have established national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The first national assessments will be carried out next year.

Literacy and numeracy skills are not a "tired old cliche" as Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford said recently. These skills are the fundamental, the essential, the enduring foundations for an educated society. Yet the study of English, for example, is not compulsory in the senior secondary years in Queensland. When the issue of compulsory teaching of English is raised, Welford defends this by saying that most senior students take English anyway.

What he doesn't reveal is the level of English those students take. Students can elect to study standard English, English extension (literature) or an English communication subject, or none at all. Standard English is the subject we would expect every student to take, and which would meet community expectations. English literature is more advanced, but English communication is the soft option. It is a disturbing fact that between 1992 and 2005, the number of students studying standard English or English literature dropped from 93 per cent to 80 per cent of Year 12 students, while the number of students studying English communication rose from 6per cent to almost 20 per cent of Year 12 English students. The number of Year 12 students studying soft option English in Queensland went from 2376 to 8494 a year, almost tripling in a decade and a half.

The teaching of English is essential in primary and secondary schools and must include not only reading and comprehension but spelling, punctuation and grammar. On leaving school students must have the ability to not only express themselves orally but also to write comprehensible prose. I note that in some states SMS messaging is part of a tertiary entrance English course. Apart from the fact students know more about the language of texting than their teachers, it will not help a student write a CV for a job or a letter to customers.

We see similar trends in science and mathematics where students are choosing to study, if at all, the soft options of these important subjects. Research shows that the study of science and mathematics and the acquisition of these skills is fundamental to the ongoing economic prosperity of a nation. We must capture the imagination of students on the wonders of science and mathematics early, and ensure that they have the skills to continue to study in these areas in Years 11 and 12. Otherwise they will not go on to university and take up careers based on science or mathematics.

Now is the time for the states and territories to put aside their parochial differences. With an increasingly mobile work force, we must put the interests of parents and students first, for their interests coincide with the national interest.


GREAT! The Skaf brothers get what they deserve

Muslims who think it is OK to rape Anglo women could do with more of this

One of Sydney's most notorious gang rapists is fighting for his life after being bashed in Goulburn jail. He was with his older brother and fellow gang rapist in the yards of Goulburn Correctional Centre when they were set upon by six prisoners on Thursday afternoon. The younger man suffered serious head injuries and was evacuated to Canberra hospital in a critical condition.

Goulburn Police Inspector Joseph Thone said the 26-year-old was operated on by surgeons on Thursday night and was in a serious but stable condition last night. The 28-year-old brother suffered a broken arm and was returned to the prison yesterday after a night in Goulburn Base Hospital.

Authorities would not confirm the identities of the men. But the Nine Network reported they were the eldest of four Pakistan-born brothers convicted in 2002 for a number of gang rapes, including that of Tegan Warner, who was 14 at the time of the assault. The brothers, who were only able to be identified in court by their initials, are serving between 10 and 28 years in prison.

Inspector Thone said Goulburn detectives had interviewed several prisoners in relation to the attack. The investigators plan to interview several more prisoners and staff who were present when the attack happened. The attack occurred at 12.30pm on Thursday when the prisoners were exercising. A spokesman for the NSW Department of Correctional Services said the attack did not occur in the Goulburn "Supermax", which is the state's highest security prison, but at a nearby prison yard.


Another defence equipment meltdown

The navy's ill-fated Seasprite helicopter program is almost certain to be scrapped after a decade of problems, leaving taxpayers with losses of more than $1 billion. The Defence Department had recommended that the contract with US manufacturer Kaman Aerospace Corporation be terminated. And senior government sources say the axe could fall on the project to refurbish the Vietnam-era helicopters as soon as next Wednesday's meeting of federal cabinet's National Security Committee.

The Seasprite helicopters have been dogged by software engineering glitches and airworthiness issues, with the project running more than six years behind schedule. The twin-engine SG-2G(A) Super Seasprites, equipped with Penguin anti-ship missiles, are designed to operate from the navy's Anzac-class frigates, providing a maritime strike and surveillance capability for the surface fleet.

If the Seasprites are dumped, Defence will buy a new helicopter for the Anzacs, choosing between the US Seahawk, which is already in service with the navy, and the European NH-90, in an investment likely to cost at least $1.5 billion. The failure of the project will be an embarrassment for the Howard Government, which is extolling its virtues as a superior economic manager against new Labor leader Kevin Rudd. The Government is expected to counter that it was burdened with the project by the previous Labor government of Paul Keating.


Australia's "drought" hits Canberra

Despite floods in North Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria, Australia is still apparently in "drought" -- caused, of course, by that wicked global warming. No-one seems to want to admit that Australian rainfall has always been erratic and that there is always some region that is in "drought"

Dozens of homes in Canberra were damaged by flooding overnight by a severe thunderstorm. Residents in suburban Weston Creek and Tuggeranong reported leaking roofs and collapsed ceilings after 50mm of rain fell. The house of an 87-year-old woman in Stirling was flooded and a woman with a six-week-old baby was unable to leave her home in Kambah because her driveway was under a metre of water. ACT State Emergency Service deputy chief officer Bren Burkevics said the service had 61 calls and deployed 41 volunteers to help residents.


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