7 Nov 2019

Tertiary education: an overwhelming choice?

From Nine To Noon, 11:25 am on 7 November 2019

With an increasing the number of pathways, options and qualifications students can enrol in, Dr Mohamed Alansari, from Auckland University's School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice speaks with Kathryn Ryan about the range of choices facing year 13 students as they leave secondary school. 

Is it too difficult to choose?

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Photo: Flikr

“A lot of school kids are graduating and they still don’t know where to go or what to do. We just finished a big study in New Zealand where we found that roughly 30 percent of surveyed students still don’t know much about their aspirations or where they want to go," Dr Alansari says.

“You wonder what happens if those students go to an institute, university or polytechnic and a couple years down the track and they realise it was a waste. For me, it’s really important to have those early conversations with students about where they might go, what might a university education offer them that other places don’t.”

According to Statistics NZ, two thirds of school leavers go into tertiary education. Dr Alansari says this probably includes people studying trades too. 

“People anticipated greater enrolment in universities after the government introduced free fees for first year students, but interestingly a couple of our colleagues in Canterbury have found that there wasn’t a lot of change in student patterns.”

He says the consequences of making the wrong choice in study are financially terrible and there needs to be more communication between students and their teachers about future pathways.

“One thing that we should probably start thinking of is to start having, as early as intermediate or early secondary school, future-oriented conversations with our students. Understanding their needs, their passions, what they want to do when they grow up, and move them from there.

“The problem with doing that at a late upper-secondary level is that by that time, students would have chosen certain subjects and credits that might not qualify them to go to university.”

Dr Alansari also suggests universities become places of hybrid study where the first years are more general and then specialise at later stages. 

“It’s not a matter of them getting a degree for one job and one job only, it’s a matter of opening a career plan for those students, should they chose to move from one place to another.”

He says students are pushed into university study when it’s not necessarily for them.

“If you’re an amazing dancer and there’s the top dance academy in the world and this is where you wanna go, I think we should support them doing that in the same way that if someone wants to get into trade, and that’s 100 percent what they’re interested in and passion about, I think we should not force them to go and do something else.”

He also says that students shouldn’t be made to stick to a programme or feel ashamed if they decide it’s not for them. 

“That in itself is a piece of learning, which is very valuable.” 

For students who have no idea what they want to do after school, he says gap years are crucial. 

“Just because someone seems as though they’re not interested in anything now, doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in anything later. It just takes time and different strategies.”