Thursday, July 28, 2005

Education vs. Training

Last week's edition of Canta magazine ran a page on "National Deputy Gerry Brownlee in his own words". Here's the first section:
"We think [fee freezes are] the wrong way to approach things -- the real issue is University's [sic] being able to control their costs. We certainly want access to tertiary education at a minimal cost and what we have said is that we're going to shift funding away from non-vocational courses to ones more vocationally oriented." [emphasis added]

Does this mean that it's now National Party policy to withdraw all funding from universities? Universities are (ideally) centres of higher learning, not vocational training. The latter is instead provided by trade schools and polytechnics. They have their value, of course, but so do the more intellectual pursuits of the University. I can't really believe that our major opposition party would want to turn New Zealand into a stagnant intellectual backwater.

Of course, there are vocational degrees like Commerce, Engineering, and so forth. But I'm not convinced that they really belong in universities anyway. Again, if it's explicitly vocational, it belongs in a Polytech or the like. Universities are to provide an education, not training. Training is merely a means to an end: preparation for some specific vocation. Education has both intrinsic and instrumental value. It is about developing the intellect, and broadening one's understanding of the world. This does serve to prepare one for later life, as the general skills one picks up from a liberal arts education are almost universally applicable. But, even more importantly, it develops one's excellence as a human specimen and rational agent.

Brownlee's comments express the values of a philistine. Yet another reason not to vote National. They want to turn our universities into glorified trade schools. *shudder*


  1. Don't vote National, vote ACT.

  2. > But I'm not convinced that they really belong in universities anyway.

    You know what will happen if you remove the confusion between training for employment and the more general mental exercises which you refer to. a lot of the support for education funding comes from that confusion.

    Having said that i am fully infavour of it !

    > Education has both intrinsic and instrumental value.

    It is hard to seperate since training has intrinsic value in many cases. furthermore education can be counter productive. I expect quite a few parts of the university have net negitive effects on society.


  3. I would argue most people overvalue university education and undervalue costs - they think it will make them more money than it will, be easier than they think are fairly oblivious to costs etc etc and it had considerable social prestige (regardless of whether it deserves it).
    Under normal situations these sorts of information issues would result in too many people purchasing somthing and utilitarian policy to be discouraging the purchace of that thing (rather like how you might discourage people gambling).

    Furthermore I think many go to uni to learn things they could learn themselves. I see no reason why the fact that a place calls itself a uni and has a person standing out hte front talking and being paid means it will, nesecarily, educate a person better than anything else.

    Uni's also divert large amounts of resources to various other activities - very annoying...

  4. That old chestnut. It rests on a faulty understanding of the situation, much like asking whether the purpose of a cow is milk or meat. For one thing, that represents the farmer's purpose for the cow, not the cow's own purpose - which is itself only as meaningful as that anthropomorphism is a valid metaphor. In that sense, the "purpose" of a cow is more cows - and of a university, learning. That's because dons are "for" making new dons, and either education or training at best incidental. That question is merely one of wisdom, as for the farmer. What does the state want to achieve, and how much does it risk harming the essential nature of the beast by drawing that from it? But universities are for neither educati

  5. Universities own purpose is to further its own reputation either via marketing or via papers getting into international journals - this doesnt have much to do with learning of course.

  6. Unis can be used for education or for learning - they sometimes produce these things.

  7. By the way richard I think your response looks like wishful thinking requiredto prevent cognitive dissonance between your being academic and that potentially not being utitility optimization.

    I think it is good to explore these potential contradictions even if you end up being a little hypocritical - by the way I am pretty academic.


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