(This is a bit rambling. I apologise in advance. There is an argument in here but it’s also a bit of an emotional outpour.)
I’ve been trying to work up a post expressing my horror and dismay at National’s budget cuts in re Adult Education. As someone who teaches in the Adult Education sector I’m concerned not just that, come 2010, my courses may no longer be offered but that, generally, an important part of the education sector might well just close-up.
The funding cuts are quite drastic; I’ve heard the 80% reduction claim from many a reliable source and that, to a certain extent, means that an awful lot of courses will go out of existence. At the moment a course of mine costs $125 dollars and for that you get twelve hours of lectures, plus the coursebook plus the prep time I and the other staff spend on the course. The reasons why the courses cost so little are twofold:
1. People aren’t willing to pay more.
If you get rid of 2 then that leaves us with the problem of 1; if course costs go up enrolments go down and if enrolments go down then the cost eventually becomes uneconomical.
I’ve been to many a meeting about 1. Even when wallets were flush and the Economic Recession only a pipe-dream to those ‘wacky’1 bankers in the US of A it was still the case that people didn’t want to pay much more for their adult education. In part this is because we rightfully associate ‘education’ as a necessity; schools and universities should be engaging in outreach programmes to educate the ‘great unwashed.’
We need more education, not less, in our population. We need to be able to offer educational opportunities to all and sundry. We need decent early childhood education, we need to stop the standardisation of the Primary sector, we need to work at improving the Secondary sector, maintaining the Tertiary sector and expanding, not contracting, our Adult Education offerings.
That’s a lot of needs.
I realise that the Education Budget is never going to fund everything (although it really shouldn’t be funding private or integrated schools at all; I’m all about the Public Education, I am) and so choices should be made, but cutting funding to the Adult Education sector (and not adjusting for inflation) is not a good idea. It’s not even in the ballpark of ideas we might need to consider.
We need to be offering not just a range of education choices but we need to be offering this range to a range of people. Not everyone goes to uni; not everyone, until recently, finished school. Adult education provides educational opportunities to those who may have missed out for a variety of reasons, many of them not of their choosing2.
It provides these opportunities in a cheap but effective way.
Now, a lot of people complain about the kinds of courses that are offered, although I think you would be hard-pressed to find something truly silly in the CCE offerings. Cooking courses are not silly; people need to be able to not just cook but prepare meals with nutritional value. Courses on Comparative Religion are not silly, as aren’t Sociology or Anthropology courses; we should be studying our beliefs and how we form them.
Anyway, contentiously, education is an end in itself.
This leads to my other angle on this, which is that the entry point for further education should always be low so that people can become further educated. Now, when we have to deal with the dread of standards and assessment the entry point must be somewhat inflated so that resources can be spent on students who can succeed, but when standards and assessments are not an issue it is in the best interests of society as a whole to be as educated as it can be. Cost, then, which is a barrier to entry-cum-engagement, is something that needs to be as low as possible.
Now, Matthew, why don’t you academics just take a paycut, you may well be asking. It’s a good question. I imagine that a lot of us will; adult education is very much a vocation (which is funny, given that teaching really is a vocation; adult education is just more vocational; it has vocationality-plus) and its not well paid at all. Some people will jump ship and argue that as the benefits to teaching adult education are so low it won’t be worth it at the lower salary and others, like me, will continue on, because it isn’t really about the money, it’s about teaching others.
The problem is, even with paycuts, the system will grind to a halt. There are still costs associated with adult education. Rooms, course materials (whether printed or hosted online) and the like all cost money, and even if I take a paycut the other expenses like administration, et al, will absorb money.
The more I think about this the more I am disgusted by National’s move in this Budget. When Labour cut our funding I was unhappy; there are fewer courses on offer through CCE now than there were four years ago and several colleagues have not had the numbers to run a viable course for a few semesters now. National may well have destroyed adult education; that seems harsh but given that people are already disinclined to pay for further study of its like in the recession the combination of increased enrolment costs and less of a portfolio of courses on offer will make adult education a meagre experience.
My other worry is, of course, that this is merely the tip of an iceberg; the Arts are probably already in the firing line. Labour lost of a lot of its traditional support in the academic sector when it failed to pay even vague lip service to the ideal that education as an end to itself, rather than as a pathway to a career, is a good thing. National, which to be crude gets a lot of its traditional support from the kind of people who think that academics are a lower form of life than the scum that grows on pond scum, aren’t likely to be even thinking of hoovering up that support.
Now, my discipline, due to the quite silly metric the PBRF is based upon, scores very well in the Performance-based Research Fund index (we’re the top, actually, so nah-nah to all those ‘practical’ subjects), but even Labour were trying to change the metric to stop that from happening again. Give it a few years and (I now sound like a Conspiracy Theorist) the Arts, with its grouping of Humanities, Social Sciences and the like, will be funded into not extinction but a state almost worth than death…
(Apologies, once again, for the ramble… It’s been a stressful week.)