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Thinking of studying next year? Get specific!

I have listed 10 ‘must ask’ questions, which will help prospective tertiary students decide which program is right for them.

Before I became interested in generations and workforce productivity, I was a senior lecturer and selection officer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Universities are big businesses and there is no shortage of glossy brochures, sample bags, Facebook sites and freebies to hook in the novice candidate. So think of these questions as a guide to ask selection officers and administrators.

Why should students hit the books? In lean times – such as we have now – it’s hard to get a job. Instead of standing in line at the dole or getting paid $7 an hour flipping burgers, smart students hit TAFE and university.

Back in 2009 an AMP NATSEM report called ‘What price the clever country?” showed that Australians with a university degree earned $1.5 million more over their life time than friends who stopped studying in Year 12.

That means that a male university graduate will earn an average of $1549 a week compared to a non-graduate earning $811 a week. Now that doesn’t meant that you’re going to earn $1549 a week because it’s an average figure but it does mean you will earn more over your working life.

I used to sit with my colleagues at Open Days and enrolments and answer hundreds of questions from prospective students about facilities, timetables, contact hours and what sort of jobs could they expect to apply for after graduation. They were all good questions.

I thought though that because these prospective undergraduate or postgraduate students were committing themselves to three of fours years of study – and paying big money – that they should ask tough, pointed questions.

And they are:

  • What is the staff attrition rate for this program? Meaning – are the staff happy?
  • What is the student attrition rate? Meaning – are the students happy?
  • Exactly how many students from last year’s graduation have obtained fulltime jobs in this discipline? Meaning – is there industry demand for graduates?
  • Can I speak to a currently enrolled student? Meaning – I want the inside gossip.
  • When was the last time the curriculum was updated? Meaning – am I learning new information?
  • How efficient is your student management system? Meaning – will I get my results on time?
  • Are there any hidden costs? Meaning – I didn’t know I had to pay $800 in textbooks.
  • Can I see some of the teachers’ publications? Meaning – are they doing research as well?
  • Can I see some examples of previous students work? Meaning – I want to gauge the standard.
  • How many students are there in a tutorial? Meaning – are you packing students in like sardines?

These questions get to the ‘nitty gritty’ of an educational organisation’s ability to deliver quality research, teaching and services.

Acquiring a degree is like making an investment: the costs are upfront, whereas the benefits don’t start until you’ve graduated and are employed, but then they flow every year of your working life.

Believe universities, TAFE’s need and me you just as much as you need them.


Malcolm King
Director, Republic Workforce
Ph: 0422 838 022

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