1 THE CHANGING FACE OF STUDENT MOTIVATION
The traditional view has been that the majority of university students are at university in order to acquire skills and knowledge simply for the pursuit of knowledge in its own right, to attain a career, or at the very minimum to pass the degree title with high enough marks to be attractive to an employer (Aronowitz, 2000). It is assumed that students must be motivated by such long-term goals otherwise they would not be at university in the first place. In the full-fee environment of the pre-Whitlam era that was probably a valid assumption because the norm for high school graduates was not to go to university but rather to enter the work force, often leaving school before year 12. The decision to go to university was often difficult, largely restricted to the professional and moneyed classes, and beyond the financial reach of the majority.
Even before the later Dawkins "reforms" of the school system many students went to "tech schools", whose main aim was that of placing students in trade apprenticeships. As in the pre-Whitlam period many students chose a non-university pathway. Under Dawkins, high schools and tech schools were amalgamated, and in the majority of cases became simply high schools. There are good arguments that this caused the trade skills shortages we see now in Australia.
The situation we face today is that the majority of students are funnelled into university (ABS, 2005), in fact university has become the default path for students with any academic potential (Scott, 1995). The path to university is no longer just the result of active and difficult choices that are usually related to long-term goals and motivations (Bennett, 2005; Sheard et al, 2003). The authors have had extensive discussions with large numbers of first and second year students in the School of Electrical & Computer Engineering at RMIT, including focus groups, "student at risk" interviews and a survey of the entire second year cohort. Like Ashworth et al (1997), we found the value of written surveys a little suspect, and the better value is in the focus groups and interviews. It is clear that many students come to university for other reasons such as:
* "It's expected of me by parents, teachers and peers."
* "It was the default destination after high school."
* "It was better than being unemployed."
* "Full-time menial work is boring/degrading/ hard."
Focus group discussion would seem to indicate around 60% of first and second year students fall within this category. It appears that few of the above reasons support the deeper motivation borne of clearly autonomous choices (Deci & Ryan, 1987). It would be interesting to test this observation with a more rigorous study.
Such reasons do not translate into an internalised, meaningful, long-term motivation for going to university and so we contend that such students become motivated by short-term goals. From focus groups, student at risk interviews and surveys the common short-term goals observed in the student body include:
* University is only one (often a small) part of life.
* Make more time available for paid employment.
* "Get a good mark" (which is not the same as skills development and knowledge acquisition).
* Minimise work, maximise leisure.
The lack of long-term goals could be expected to change the way students behave, and consequently the education pedagogy that is behind the design of university subjects and degree programs (Roderick & Engel, 2001). Failure to alter pedagogy in the face of changing student attitudes and behaviour can be expected to result in a variety of problems in the education process and the ideal education output--a professional and highly skilled graduate.
2 CASE STUDY: ENGINEERING COMPUTING
The consequences of short-term goals can be seen in a recent restructure of first and second year Engineering Computing at the School of Electrical & Computer Engineering at RMIT. …