The ABC’s Four Corners program has delved into the deep abyss of education, finding that many Australian health academic believe that students are not deserving of their degrees in nursing. The knock-on effects for public health have been elaborated by researchers an doctors from the University of Western Sydney (UWS) and the Australian Catholic University (ACU).

A senior academic noted that the University of Western Sydney was guilty of turning a blind eye to the most basic form of misconduct.

“There are students that are falling through the cracks, and yes, they could end up being unsafe practitioners,” the academic told the ABC. “There are a group of students who I honestly believe … should not be graduating.”

The program also discussed the findings of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption’s report, which investigated accusations of corruption across the state’s universities.

“There is a gap – at least in some courses – between the capabilities of many students and academic demands,” the report reads. “Students may be struggling to pass, but universities cannot afford to fail them. There is pressure for some international students to pass courses that are beyond their academic capabilities, pressure on staff within universities in NSW to find ways to pass students in order to preserve budgets.”

The report continues its scathing criticism.

“When it involves sufficient numbers, the tension created by the student capability gap and the need to meet revenue targets becomes more conducive to corruption. Academics come under pressure to turn a blind-eye to problems caused by poor academic capabilities and actively play a part in allowing students to pass who should fail.”

Professor Paul Frijters, of the University of Queensland, says the end result is a system that churns out underqualified graduates.

“There’s also been pressures on the academics … to make the courses simple enough so that the vast majority get through in a reasonably quick space of time,” Professor Frijters told the ABC. “Hence you’ve effectively got to dumb down the degree. Now that’s happened definitely in the last couple of decades.”

ACU economist Professor Paul Oslington has also written extensively about the climate of denial within NSW’s universities.

“The culture has become so corrupt that a new sessional who refused to divulge the examination paper was abused and threatened by students, and presumably punished in his teaching evaluations,” he wrote in a Quadrant article.

“Another who objected in a meeting to giving a credit to marketing students with a grade of 23 per cent soon had the Dean in his room pointing out the implications of such behaviour for his chances of contract renewal.”

Sadly, the effects of slipshod university administration may not be known for some time. With a new (perhaps underqualified) generation of nurses about to encounter the public health system for the first, it’s a worrying indicator of things to come.

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