Category Archives: Education

Australia’s unhealthy obsession with sport.

I won’t beat around the bush: I have no interest in watching sport, whatsoever. Living in Melbourne, that can make one feel somewhat like an alien, as the media here is utterly obsessed by it (although, given that only 1.2 million people here watched the grand final on TV, it occurs to me that there are 67.6%25 of people who, like me, couldn’t have given a bugger about it).

Australia likes to project an image of being a country of sports players. I reject this image completely; we are, instead, a country of sports-obsessed couch-potatoes, with a minority of players who are given far more money and admiration than they deserve.

And like all obsessions, it’s getting rather unhealthy. This week, the federal government launched their
Guide to the Teaching of Australian History in Years 9 and 10
, a course that the government is saying must be taught in schools in order to receive federal funding.

So, what important Australian historical events does this 18-page guide document? The Eureka Stockade, which has been often cited as leading to the birth of democracy in Australia, perhaps? Australia’s shameful involvement in the second Boer War? No, on both counts. Cyclone Tracy? The 1999 republic referendum? Nope and nope.

What do we get instead? Cricket. 1868: First Australian cricket tour of England. 1932–33: ‘Bodyline’ cricket controversy. Listings of no less than three cricket players. Why is any of this even notable?

I was subjected to a documentary on the Bodyline “controversy” by my sports-obsessed school, back in the 80s. It was the most deathly dull thing I’ve ever had inflicted upon me and I distinctly remember being more interested in the carpet on which I was sitting than I was in watching the TV. It is of no more relevance to students today than would be an in-depth look at the history of the Russian republic of Ingushetia, and arguably, far less useful.

This booklet has the cricket-tragic fingerprints of the Prime Minister all over it. It’s highly likely that the election will be finally called, this weekend. Is it too much to ask for us to get a leader who, in the same vein as other notable politicians like Paul Keating, Bob Carr or Barry Jones, has more interest in art, science, music, literature or anything, other than sport?

The Melbourne Model

I am very fond of Melbourne University. The combination of location, environment, access, atmosphere, its thriving campus life and even the historic architecture easily make it one of the most pleasant universities in Australia to study at. I will declare my bias; I spent a decade of my life there, firstly as a student and then as a member of staff. In February this year, I returned there as a student for the first time in eleven years (I feel old) to do their summer Swedish course. I thorougly enjoyed it, and it was great to be back studying there again, even if it was only for a short time.

I’m rather concerned, however, about the University’s new education model, termed The Melbourne Model. If I understand their website correctly, from 2008, they will be replacing their entire range of undergraduate degrees with just six three-year generalised degrees: Arts, Biomedicine, Commerce, Environments, Music and Science. Students wanting a specialist degree will have to complete it as a two-year Masters course afterwards.

This has three important consequences. Firstly, it will now be impossible to do an undergraduate Engineering degree at Melbourne University. Secondly, it will be impossible to get a HECS-funded Engineering degree there, as the postgraduate courses are all full-fee. Same for Medicine, Law and all the other specialist courses that the University previously offered. Thirdly, it will take five years to get an Engineering degree, as opposed to four under the old system.

When I was in secondary school, my intention was to go on and do an Engineering degree. My course preferences reflected this: 1) Melbourne University Engineering; 2) Monash University Engineering; 3) RMIT Engineering… I can’t recall the intermediate choices, but my final preference was for Melbourne Science. If Melbourne University had have had this new course structure back when I was choosing universities, my first choice would have been Monash, and I suspect that this is what students are going to do now.

I firmly believe that education should be free. Not half-arsed government subsidised education, but completely, utterly free. I know that’s not a particularly popular view in this age of user-pays economic irrationalism, but if the prospect of huge debts upon graduation are bad enough to put students off study, then they’re going to avoid full upfront fees like the plague.

In a world where manufacturing is moving to those countries where they can get away with paying workers next to nothing, the only way forward for Australia is to have a highly educated population, unless we’re content to just be the gravelpit and playground of the world. To do that, we should be encouraging young people to study, rather than making it more difficult by lumbering them with debt and requiring them to spend five years to get an Engineering degree. I simply do not believe the rational that we cannot afford free education (look at those massive surpluses that Costello churns out, year after year) – and I’m sure some of that money we’re wasting on other people’s wars would be much better spent on our own education.

Faced with the pressure from all angles – parents, society, financial necessity – to get out and work as soon as possible, students wishing to do Engineering are likely to thumb their noses at Melbourne University, and instead choose an institution where they’re guaranteed to be able to do the course that they want, in a reasonable period of time, without paying through the nose for it.