It’s official – the Labour Party has got its first piece of education policy out there for all to see.
Progressively from some distant point in my lifetime, students will not have to pay fees to go into tertiary education. It has a good sound to it – student debt is ballooning, many leave the country to avoid it, others are stopped at the borders because they did forget it. Nostalgia sweeps across the community for the good old days when we went to university for free. Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end…..
But like a lot of things they did. Someone decided to introduce student fees and student loans. Did the Labour Party have a hand in this at any point? If not at the beginning then certainly many opportunities and elections have come and gone and they have remained somewhat silent. But now it is centre stage.
It really is an exercise in stuffing the genie back in the bottle. How do you introduce this policy without creating a new level of injustice for the generation that gritted their teeth and paid for the excellent education that they have had. Parents helped out in some cases. But a lot of young people simply had to go into debt.
I have written that we would have to pay a price for teaching a generation to be comfortable with and live with debt and perhaps that has turned out to be true. But there are other issues to be confronted in trying to recapture the good old days.
Is it to be a free-for-all by being free for all? Or will Labour have to learn to live with targeting the resource – something that has not been a favoured approach in the past. Well not in recent times – way back there was an element of “those-who-can-pay-should-pay” in the welfare state. The much vaunted 20 Free Hours of Child Care was a more recent example of a badly targeted resource. It didn’t increase access but simply enabled the middle classes to extend the number of hours they could put their young ones in day care etc and get on with the resumption of their careers. Well, they had to, that’s the economics of being a family and having a house and a car these days.
You see, there seems not to be a lot of evidence that those who can go to university by being well-prepared academically don’t get there. Throw open the gates and the numbers will not increase without a dramatic increase in the success and level of preparation among those in communities not well served. And that is where the money should be targeted.
A few ideas for those developing policy
Put the money into the things that will bring about a more equitable spread of ability to access tertiary education.
Put the money into quality early childhood education that is characterised by programmes that prepare young ones for the task of becoming educated. Make it culturally empowering, create a multilingual setting complete with other services in health and support. Make it possible to have intergenerational learning so that families are given the tools to have success. In short spend the money where it’s needed and not throw it into what is essentially a subsidy for the commercial providers who build multimillion dollar castles on major commuter routes, placed for the convenience of middle class commuters rather than the communities.
Put the money into supporting “first-in-family-to-go-into-tertiary-education” scholarships for the pioneers in a family who change the world for all who follow. This could be perhaps the most radical and transformational thing to do. Families in which a member successfully completes a tertiary education is one which sets up tradition of going to university or into other forms of tertiary education. Look at the pakeha community – is that not true?
Take note of the developments currently happening in tertiary education. Youth Guarantee places are available for 16 – 19 year olds to continue their education in an ITP rather than a school without paying fees and with a little help with transport. This puts right a long established inequity which gave to young people the right to stay at school until they were 19 years old and fail as much as they liked (or didn’t like). Now they can leave school at age 16 years which the law says is OK and get on with an education that leads to employment and a fulfilling future without the burden of debt.
The Maori and Pasifika Trades Training goes a step further and provides not only fees-free opportunities but also the support to develop personal and cultural skills and be assisted through the process of entering employment. This is a good investment and trainees will look back on this, just as those who went thorough the old Maori Trades Training Programme do now, and give thanks for the money spent well.
Spreading money around tertiary education as if it were some kind of aerial fiscal fertiliser simply won’t do it.
And will communities tolerate the targeted spending of money to get additional people into tertiary education? Of course they will if they can see an improved community generally, one in which inequity is lessened and skills are developed. Most would say that it is a nifty way to pay!
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