Stephen Joyce – “Yes minister, your F grade IS well-deserved.”

March 10, 2010

There’s a not-so-subtle form of political agitation that Government ministers employ when they want to stir the pot and push through some ill-conceived short-term policy change that will save them money and make them look good to some sections of the electorate.

It’s called “dog whistle” politics and the simple technique is to make an emotionally-charged announcement in a speech or other forum that gets the media’s attention and then gets the hounds racing.

Tertiary Education minister Stephen Joyce made a dog whistle announcement yesterday in a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

The language of dog whistling has to be carefully constructed. There are two methods – scare mongering and aspirational – and both are usually employed.

Here’s a sample of Joyce’s aspirational language. The language of “improving outcomes”:

  • Increasing the number of young people achieving degrees
  • Increasing the success rate of Maori and Pasifika students
  • Increasing the number of young people successfully moving from schools to tertiary
  • Improving the outcomes of level one to three study
  • Improving the educational and financial strength of providers, and strengthening the research outcomes.

Who could disagree with these sentiments. Of course we want to improve and increase the outcomes of tertiary education. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

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