An Insiders View of the Tertiary Education Sector in New Zealand
Continuing in our popular series of Migrants Tales, first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand taken from places around the net.
For more Migrants Tales please click on the link in the header above.
This account was first published on the forum at Expatexposed.com, a not for profit emigration forum, with a community of people who are free to discus their experiences of New Zealand without fear of censorship or moderation
This is one migrant’s experience; his opinion about the quality of New Zealand’s tertiary education sector, as told from the view point of an educator. It was written in response to this question
New Zealand is pushing itself as a quality destination for international students again because the Canterbury rebuild offered a lot of career opportunities.
Just wondering, for those of you who’ve had experience with the New Zealand tertiary education system, what were your impressions of it? If you were given another choice, would you still choose to study in New Zealand?
Well, it depends a lot on what you study. If you’re interested in study in the arts, humanities, or law, forget it. The arts and humanities are under constant threat, MUCH more so than elsewhere in the world.
I did my degrees in the US and EU, and I’ve taught in higher education in the US and NZ, and let me tell you: In terms of rigor the US and Europe blow New Zealand (AND Australia) completely out of the water.
The degrees here are three years in duration, followed by an “honours” year. The “honours” year is comparable to what I did in the third year of my B.A. at a less-than-renowned regional American university.
Essentially, there are several factors that bring NZ education down:
1. Staff are constantly under threat of losing their jobs in NZ if students complain. This is not possible in the US or EU because professors have actual lifetime appointments and cannot be fired for exercising academic freedom. Part of that academic freedom is the freedom to EVALUATE students, which means giving them grades they might not like, and standing by them. Department heads/administrators are VERY unlikely to go over an instructor’s head and change a grade for a student, which is the norm in NZ. An A+ in NZ is 100-85%. A+ in the US or EU, however, does not exist. It would be considered better than perfect, and no one is perfect. You also have to remember that teaching staff are encouraged to pass along international students without much fuss, even when they’ve been caught plagiarizing repeatedly. Grade inflation is rampant, and employers overseas are catching on to it. The NZ bachelors degree just doesn’t really mean anything to anyone.
2. The universities don’t allow the teaching staff the freedom to structure their courses and assignments in a way that allows them to ensure that their students know what they need to know. The administrations regulate how “hard” assignments are allowed to be and how many assignments an instructor is allowed to give. Instructors also can’t assign too much reading, and everything — EVERYTHING — is taught from a course reader and Power Point. In the third year of my American BA, I was reading up to 8 COMPLETE NOVELS per WEEK for 5-6 different upper-level courses. Unheard of in New Zealand. An English major in NZ *might* read 2-3 novels PER SEMESTER.
3. If you do a BA in NZ, and then want to do an MA/PhD overseas, you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage because you will have absolutely no real background in the subject you want to study. You also will have no training in academic writing, and you won’t have any of the necessary research skills. If you do a MA in NZ and want to do a PhD overseas, same story. The BA(Hons) in NZ is basically half of what I did in my 3rd and 4th years as a regular undergrad in the US. The rigor of “Hons” coursework is ANYTHING but postgraduate-level. It’s American/European third-year level, just with less of it.
Basically, New Zealand has a heavily corporatized structure of tertiary education. This should come as no surprise: the tertiary sector is a massive cash cow for the government. International students tend to bear the brunt of budget shortfalls in the form of massive fee hikes. In return, students can effectively BUY their degrees.
For some of the internationally-regulated professions, such as medicine (but not law), it could be a viable option. Or if you’re interested in studying some of the niche areas, such as Antarctic Studies or forestry, New Zealand is a good place to be.
So if you want a VERY easy BA degree with “honours,” and don’t want to have to put much time or effort into becoming proficient at anything, then New Zealand is the place to be. You’ll pay dearly for it as an international student, but you’re essentially guaranteed a degree regardless of your performance or ability.