Contrasting headlines

November 23rd, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial today:

Editorial: Threats won’t produce more engineers

And then the headline of a story in the news section:

Skills crisis: Engineering students get 1000 extra places after Joyce cracks whip

I guess the leader write didn’t see the news copy as he/she wrote the editorial!

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18 Responses to “Contrasting headlines”

  1. Mikey (13 comments) says:

    There is no inconsistency there. 1000 extra places does not equal 1000 extra students who want to take those places and who actually enroll in, and complete, the programme.

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  2. peterwn (4,281 comments) says:

    AFAIK some if not all engineering courses are ‘restricted’ ie there are more applicants than places. So it makes sense within reason to provide more places as long as there are employment opportunities at the end.

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  3. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    Herald editorials have been rubbish for years.

    On a similar note, have you noticed the Law Commission has made its first half-sensible recommendation in living memory?

    It has recommended responsibility for leaky homes = building quality and durability be removed from Councils by abolishing the “last man standing” liability for actions that were not under their direct responsibility and control.

    Of course they should have gone further and said the Government should legislate that Councils are not responsible for quality and durability at all and that responsibility and those choices lies directly with designers, builders and owners. That would then enable the Government to abolish 90% of the building bureaucracy.

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  4. flipper (5,296 comments) says:

    But Alan W….
    You overlook the vast local Govt bureaucracy BS that all the “quality” legislation supports.
    Also…what about those poor Master Builders and those poor Certified Builders?
    Sadly, in 2012 the whole system has been built upon a law society type of trade union protection premise.
    But you are right…there is only one sensible solution – let’s also go kill off the Dept of Building and Housing at the same time as Councils are dealt to….,.,.

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  5. Archer (248 comments) says:

    I’m not sure which is worse – the herald or stuff.

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  6. mavxp (504 comments) says:

    We have a serious problem in New Zealand when it comes to tertiary training. It’s a big con job, sucking taxpayer money into wasteful training of young people. Not all is wasteful, but more targeted and direct funding will yield a better ROI. In my observation universities are poorly managed and lots of lazy staff with little or no accountability. That needs to change. Swing that axe Mr. Joyce!

    We need to rethink tertiary training. With Fibre to the door, many students can stay at home with mum and dad while they study (reducing student loans), work part time and study part time. There is no need to attend boring lectures presented by boring lecturers on PowerPoint in large lecture theaters when you-tube exists. Harvard is moving to this approach. For courses that need practical training (science and engineering especially because of the laboratories), have well equipped labs in major centers, or intense month long training of those practical modules rather than spread weekly over a full semester.

    R&D currently has little to no engagement from industry – there is no incentive when budgets are tight. Tax breaks will help them to get engaged with Universities and make the research more relevant, attract more funding, train more researchers and improve the level of knowledge of the whole etc. A virtual circle.

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  7. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    @flipper, no, I certainly don’t overlook those multiple empires. They were directly in my line of fire. You can add Standards NZ to the list of useless paper pushers to be 90% gutted as well.

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  8. scrubone (3,791 comments) says:

    peterwn: quite. There’s plenty of applicants. Not quite as extreme as medicine of course!

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  9. David in Chch (595 comments) says:


    First of all, universities in the past have almost always been institutions geared to yielding educated citizens, and were never intended to be training programmes. That is a recent modern development. But such a disconnect has been around for at least a couple of decades. I recall reading a newspaper article some years ago in which the CEO of a major company was asked what he thought was the best ‘training’ for management. He said a BA in Liberal Arts, because the person obtained a breadth of learning, especially how to learn, read, digest and communicate, and then come to some conclusions about future directions. Then the HR office was asked – and they said they needed data entry clerks!

    As for R&D, you like most people have no idea what is involved in R&D. The R part of it, research, yields results that are useful when unfettered. Solutions to problems often come from unexpected directions. History teaches us that. ‘Directed’ research is an oxymoron, as is ‘relevant’ research. It is trying to pick ‘winners’ when you don’t know where they will originate. The best funding scheme I have seen is the Canadian one – most researchers are guaranteed some basic funding. The high fliers then can leverage that into bigger and better funding from a variety of sources. What have we got here in NZ? Funds where the funding success rate is about 1 in 13! And most of the funding ends up going into administrative costs because of the pressure for ‘fully costed’ proposals, an absurdity when you peel away the layers and look at the system closely.

    And as for budgets – the successful companies are always engaged in R&D, because that represents future products and future success. The previous times that R&D tax credits were introduced, some companies did things like making changes to their billing systems part of the R&D! The rorting of those credits was widespread, and did almost nothing for genuine R&D.

    There is so much more that could be said, but this is too long already.

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  10. RRM (12,544 comments) says:


    And it seems like only yesterday that forum user “flipper” was telling us (s)he’s worked “at editor level” in national newspapers, and then went on to tell me that somehow (s)he’d figured out I was probably an unemployed career beneficiary.

    Taking that in conjunction with this farce here, it starts to look IMHO like a propensity for talking smack and being completely wrong must be, if not actually compulsory in applicants for “editor level” positions, then at the very least it is highly desirable.. 😉

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  11. mavxp (504 comments) says:

    David, I appreciate those arguments, but the fact is far too many people go to university now to get their meal ticket – a Bachelor in Whatever Studies. The government is funding this from taxpayer money and getting little obvious benefit for the taxpayer.

    This is less the case for professional programs such as Engineering, Surveying, Architecture, Medicine, and Law. These are “training programs” for the needs of industry and society and have been for a long time. Your comments on ‘educated citizenry’ is for a time when few went to university, they were generally the smarter folk, or those who could be bothered studying instead of working at a time when there were plenty of well paid low skilled jobs. With the loss of those jobs, successive governments have tried funneling people into university programs without direction to where the demands of industry were. This has many poor outcomes:

    1) Lots of money is spent training people when they could be working productively, paying taxes and getting on with their lives.
    2) Our best and brightest who are there to get educated are drowned in an environment of bums on seats “i’m here for my meal ticket” mediocrity.
    3) Money is spent on training the masses instead of education and research.
    4) The value of once lauded degrees to the market (through scarcity and the quality of the individuals who held them) is now rock bottom through what can only be described as ‘runaway inflation’.

    On the other point. If the R&D tax breaks are linked to contracts/ agreements/ spend with Universities doing the bulk of the research then it can have some benefit. It comes down to how it is implemented to get the desired outcomes. I am an engineer, so to me research linked to industry happens alongside blue sky research. The industry support helps implement the blue sky of yesterday into industry today, which otherwise would not happen, provide many new ideas and interesting problems for research, and the funding is a boost to both. In highly competitive professions such as engineering, there is little to no investment in R&D in New Zealand. We wait and see what overseas comes up with, and as a consequence fall behind and lose our best overseas to where things are “happening”/ cutting edge.

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  12. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    maxvp, in my opinion R&D tax breaks of any kind are the wrong way to go and will be 90% faked and rorted.

    “Cutting edge” happens when challenging stuff is being done. Government should focus on making it much easier for challenging stuff to be done by cutting bureaucracy and naysayers’ and delaysayers’ rights. It is also very important to keep company tax low so that fast growing companies can plough back their profits into funding growth which will often be dependent on real R&D expenditure, not faked ones

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  13. Falafulu Fisi (2,151 comments) says:

    David in ChCh…
    First of all, universities in the past have almost always been institutions geared to yielding educated citizens,

    That’s a stupid assertion. You can still have a society with educated citizens from area of knowledge that’s productive to the society’s economy. Everyone will benefit. Would you consider teaching paranormal at our universities as somehow good, simply because it’s geared to yielding educated citizens? YES or NO? BTW, there are Universities from around the world that they teach paranormal courses. It won’t be too long before some of our Universities adopt it, that’s the way how it is. Auckland University didn’t have a Bioinformatic Department, but now they have. Well, they should have one since it is a branch of science. So, you can have an educated citizens but not fucking useless education (Maori Studies, Pacific Studies, Gay/Lesbian Studies at the Film, TV & Media Department, etc,…).

    David in ChCh…
    It is trying to pick ‘winners’ when you don’t know where they will originate.

    Yep, correct. But Maori studies (and the likes) only produced idiots like Peter Sharples & Margaret Mutu, who think that the country be returned to them and everyone else here should fuck back to where their ancestors come from. Its a waste of university funding to keep such useless departments running. More funding to Science & Engineering will produce cutting-edge start-up electronic devices companies like PowerByProxi (for wireless power transfer). This University spin off startup company is expanding overseas and this is the kind of knowledge that the country needs.

    Any commercial spin off from the fucking useless Maori or Pacific Studies? I mean any companies that have spun off from R&Ds at Universities which has been commercialize? Fucking NO. Those graduates are the ones who ended up as politicians and then try to dictate to productive members of the society (business men, entrepreneurs, etc,…) of what they can or can’t do with their businesses. Yep, those useless unproductive graduates in useless subjects are trying to tell the productive members of the society how to run their business.

    Steven Joyce is doing the right thing. Downsize useless departments & chop useless courses but upsize the funding for Engineering & Science. CalTech with 31 Nobel Prizes to date & MIT (Massachusetts) with more than 60 Nobel Prizes didn’t become better in technology (which their graduates & spun off research companies have been driving economic growth in the US tech sector for many decades) simply because they run useless departments and useless courses. They do have humanities’ departments but their emphasis is mainly on science & engineering. That’s what they’re known for.

    Its time that someone like Joyce need to say what he had just said. Its fine if private institutions teach useless courses, since taxpayer $ is not involved. They’re free to do what they want to do (free markets). The ranking of our universities have dipped in the last 5 years or so. The reason is because science & engineering are underfunded but Gay/Lesbian studies at the Film, TV & Media Study department (like that at University of Auckland) is funding 26 PhD candidates to study fucking useless topics. I’m not joking here. Just take a look at the topics those PhDs are studying and doing their thesis on.

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  14. mpledger (429 comments) says:

    There just aren’t the jobs or good pay for science graduates in New Zealand to do science. Mainly because NZ doesn’t do science it does management and advisory group ad infinitem.

    And where science is done, it mostly done on contract and so gets hogged by experienced baby boomers. There is no progression in to the field for the up and comers. It means when the baby boomers start retiring it’s going to be a massive problem.

    However, the earlier problem is when the baby boomer tradesmen (and women) start retiring. We’re going to be left with a huge gap in trades knowledge and trades business experience. We ought to be investing in the tradies because they are the ones who are going to put science innovation into action (plus it soaks up the active learners who tend to find the academic nature of school hard work).

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  15. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    mpledger, there is opportunity to do science innovation but it requires a team that includes business and sales savvy as well as technical expertise. And yes, it will not necessarily pay high salaries but if young people are prepared to share in the risk of such ventures then they can share in the eventual rewards which may be considerable.

    In my view we need universities to put more effort into constructing such multi-disciplinary and multi-skilled teams. Not all will be high academic achievers or even graduates, but the team will create jobs and rewards for some who are. And yes, they will need a mixture of experience and youth.

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  16. Lee C (2,987 comments) says:

    I get tired of the idea that you can quantify the benefits of education, or that adult education is ‘boring lectures and powerpoints in big halls’. Where I work, we (until recent cuts) have been working with returning students who for a variety of reasons did not get through school, and who now want to make a difference in their lives. (Recent cuts to level 1 & and; 2 courses, and only one high-ranking educator at OTAGO came out and exposed this for he shame it is.) These peoples’ experiences are randomly and inaccurately dismissed as irrelevant, because for some reason by those who seem to think they could use their time more productively sitting at home watching the television.

    The same people seem to dismiss all attempts by such people as ‘basket-weaving’ or ‘woodcarving’. Like getting into a proper routine, mixing with people and seeking to pull themselves out of the doldrums is somehow being undertaken at their direct expense. In fact, the fact they are doing something with their lives is a major plus, and it indicates that they are reducing the victimhood some appear so keen to assign to them.

    But another major point is often overlooked by those who seem to think that people who are seeking an education ‘owe’ the taxpayer something – that is, that they often have to start somewhere. This is where the educator comes in. We are part teacher, part counsellor, part friend and part taskmaster, ringing a range of skills and attributes to the learning environment, assisting people to make a transition from and uncertain destiny into a more productive one. And yes this takes years. Waving a magic wand with a Herald soundbite its certainly isn’t. Mr Joyce and many who subscribe to the simplistic view that education begins and ends with the dollar on the table appear to miss this point. Does every student succeed – no? Guess what? that is because it isn;t as easy as some people imagine to go through such a transformation.

    Did you know that research has shown that every for adult that gets into education the academic expectations of their children are somehow automatically enhanced? Can you put a dollar value on that? How much money does that save society in the longer-term?
    Kids who don;t go to jail, or grow up to see worka as a positive value.
    Did you know that teaching adult students requires the formation of long-term working relationships based on trust and and communication? What’s the dolar value of assisting someone to become more ‘job-ready’. And yes, even ‘basket-weaving’ assists in this.

    If a student starts with an institution, he or she is more likely to stay and develop their skills in that same place? How can you put a dollar value on the quality of that situation, as opposed to ‘revolving door’ smaller businesses who will spit people out with questionable pieces of paper, rather than quality education?

    The ironic thing is, tht in an era steadily more reliant on technology, whic is damaging peoples’ ability to functio and socialise properly, there will never be a greater demand fo rpeople who can actually interface and speak and communicate face-to-face, probationers, social workers, teachers, legal, care-work, nurses, police, -all useful and necessary, but not served by science education or engineering.

    The response? Poo-poo the systems in place, people who care, and techniques they use, which make positive impacts on people who need it most, and pull literally out of your ass, some straw man proposition that our white-hot technological wonderland is crying out for engineers and scientists. In the real world, not the world of soundbite nonsense, people have been getting off their arses, trying to improve their lot, and making positive differences to their lives.

    Much to the annoyance of some who would prefer them to draw benefits for life so they can then take a pop at them for being ‘intergenerational welfare dependents’.

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  17. Lee C (2,987 comments) says:

    Apologies for typos, the edit timer beat me in the end.

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  18. mikenmild (23,508 comments) says:

    I used to think Falafulu Fisi was some kind of libertarian, going on about principles all the time. Now I see he is an ACT-style ‘libertarian’: the free market can provide for things he doesn’t like – he’s confident there would be no demand, while taxpayer funding should be reserved for things he defines as useful.

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