Wednesday, November 26, 2008

University Funding

If its one thing thats guaranteed to get me riled up its University and student funding. Labour lost the plotand a significant amount of votes on this. Let me recap. Two elections ago Labour promised to write-off student loan interest payments, this was and remains a significant investment in my generation. A policy I am hugely thankful for as because of it several of my friends are still in New Zealand. This election Labour came up with another promise, universal student allowances phased in over several years. The thing is this time they had missed the boat. Equal access to education has become a joke. While living costs have risen student loans have remained at the same level, at the level where sometimes they can't even pay the rent, let alone the expenses as well. For example a student loan can not pay the residental fees for halls in Dunedin. The percentage of people obtaining entry to limited entry courses like medicine and law is hopelessly skewed towards those in halls, because of tutor support and peer groups, and therefore the advantage already experienced by the rich kids, whose parents can subsidise their costs, is exaggerated. It is a disgrace.

Then there are articles like the one on the Herald this morning. With University administrators (I hesitate to call them leaders), putting out statements to the media like, "The committee said the OECD average was for 82 per cent of government funding to be devoted to institutions and 18 per cent to student financial support. But in New Zealand 58 per cent went to institutions and 42 per cent to students.". They go on to say they are not really interested in a "zero-sum game" battle between universities and students but obviously they are.

The Herald quoting Hugh Fletcher on education, scares the bejusus out of me. Really. Its hovering over me like a stormy sulky cloud.

The fees cap: "I just think it's a nonsense for the Government to be controlling fees."

How some degrees should cost more than others: "[Law] students should be paying a hell of a lot more than those doing a history degree."

How some law schools should cost more than others: "Let the students decide. If they want to go to the lower priced one, they can go to the lower priced one."

The biases his ideas seek to perpetuate and increase are all to obvious. The ironic thing is I'm not really too far "left" on University funding. I like the reasoning behind strategically directed and focussed Universities. I supported the intent, if not the method, of the reduction of Arts at Canterbury University in the last couple of years (we have better humanities schools elsewhere) and I like the idea, if not the practice, of making academics more accountable for their research outputs. I'm way out on the "right", in my opinion that the biggest problem with Universities today (and arguably the public service) is "tenure" and the sense of privilege of University staff. The problems of deadwood, academic paralysis and inter-departmental rivalries may be overcome by changing how academics are employed. The current funding system is achieving this to some degree, but experiencing teething troubles with bureaucracy, it will be interesting to see how this evolves.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jamie,
I have to come at this from a different perspective, though in agreement with what you are writing. My wife returned to uni a few years ago, while also working full time at a MASH unit doing sleep overs. Aside from her student loan we get absolutely no financial. Working for Families on a grass roots level is a joke. Last year we had to PAY 900 bucks back, out of the blue, and so we did and just cancelled the bloody thing. She is doing very well academically and opened up a few avenues for grants and such, but it all seems very political from my view.
When I did my undergrad in the states, I thankfully had an athletic scholarship, but still needed student loans to live, as well as a part time job for "entertainment" money. The loans were very low interest, 3%, and I paid them back as quickly as possible. How kids and families manage it now in the states I have no idea when I lokk at he costs there as well. But that was me alone, and now with the other responsibilities of adult life, mortgage, two boys, 1000 bucks just paid to my son's high school for "fees" and camp in a "free" education country, it is a real struggle at times.
As to different fees for different courses I write crap! We would be better served requiring law students, for instance, to first do an undergrad degree, then move into a specialized law course they must qualify for - in the states that is a three year course beyond one's undergrad degree, same structure for medical. Particularly in law, when we release early 20 something lawyers upon society, in my opinion perhaps well versed in law, but not in its appliciation, or in other aspects of education, history and politics, ect, which make better well rounded people.
As to the university system, ie tenure and the world of dreams some live in, well written.
Sorry for the rant, and probably off the mark as to your essay, but after trying to pay the bills this morning I feel better now. Have a great day. My wife and I are heading to CHCH to hook up with Bob in mid Dec. Perhaps we can catch up? Have a great day.

marcusd said...

Yeah, the articles have been interesting.

Hugh Fletcher said in his article that a degree should be priced on what a student can potentially earn after they leave Uni. How stupid is that? Does that mean women pay less than men considering their average wage for the same job is less as well? Let alone other groups. Honestly it is a bit hard to take him seriously when he managed to oversee billions of dollars in shareholders losses when he was Chairman of Fletcher Challenge a while back but at least he has some nice family trust funds to fall back on.

I dont know what the answer is and I suspect it has changed significantly since I have been at Uni. I worked to pay bills. Is this not an option anymore?

Bob McKerrow said...

Back in thge harness like you Jamie, Sound your last two postings happy on the heart,

The drive from Arthurs Pass to Christchurch is long but easy on the eye but so true. Great running terrain. Your posting on student funding wsa good to update me. I have put five daughters through the system and two boys will follow one day. I need to rengage on such issues. Give us a call when you are free. Bob

Jamie said...

Hey Robb,

Good on you and your wife for taking that step to do more of the University thing, I'm sure the hard yards will give rewards in the future.

Have been in touch with Bob and will do my absolute best to make that BBQ in a couple of weeks. Am helping my sister move house in Westport that morning, so my carbon footprint for the day might be big!

As a law grad I probably agree with you to some extent, although from my observation firms tend to prefer to get the grads as young as they can to shape them to their own image. Having a differentation in fees will only increase the self perpetuation of their culture.

Jamie said...

Hey Marcus,

Yeah for sure bro, you can work through Uni (I did for a lot of the time), but its getting beyond pocket money now in Auckland and Wellington and a decent time commitment.

Agree with you entirely about Hugh Fletcher, and a nice high country station near Lake Sumner too, I'm pretty anti Auckland corporates living their rustic "The River Runs Through It" retirement dream.

Catch ya bro

Jamie said...

Hey Bob,

Great to talk the other day, hope to get down to Christchurch soon to meet you and listen to some stories! (Hopefully this weekend if you are around and not too busy).

Went walking the other day thinking that the cricketers were having a good one, get back and whaddya know!