“Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day…….”
We would sing songs such as this lustily at parties when I went to university in the 1960s and we really did believe that “they would never end.” Especially when it came to free tertiary education.
Well, it was as close to free as you could wish – I recall paying a services fee of perhaps $70 and that was it. Added to that was the fact that I also had a Secondary (it might even have been Post-Primary then) Teacher’s Studentship which meant that a wage was paid while I was at university and this bonded me to teach for the same length of time as I had been supported. And…. In addition to all that, holiday employment was easy to get.
So we worked hard and had a really great time at university. I say we because my twin brother and I stuck pretty closely together on these matters. And our only academic distinction is that we were the first set of twins to graduate from the University of Waikato.
These things come to mind as I face going down to Hamilton on Saturday to meet with the “Early Students Reunion”. This is for those who attended Waikato in its first two years 1964 and 1965 and it is part of the year’s 50 year celebrations. It will be great to see what was a pretty tight bunch of students who formed the core student body in those first two years at the Hillcrest site. There were some part-timers as well and especially so after the teachers college opened on the site in about 1965.
And thinking about students and money it is hard to see that the current situation where students stack up debt to quite a considerable degree in order to get a degree is actually an improvement on what used to happen.
This might have driven the odd (in all senses of the word) “professional student” out of the system – there weren’t such people of course in provincial Hamilton back then but when I spent a year at the University of Auckland I was surprised by the apparent occupational class of “full-time-students-not-engaged-in-serious-study and perhaps-in-no-study-at-all!”.
But worse, it leaves graduating students not with the thrill of making a real start in life, a job that might lead to a career. Now, it’s a case of getting an income that will allow them to pay off debt. This means that it takes time for them to develop savings. I wonder, is this part of the issue of young people not being able to afford homes in their mid-twenties? They will just be starting to gain momentum free of debt when other sets of responsibilities come along.
It is pleasing that the Government is countenancing increasingly programmes and initiatives that are free of fees – Youth Guarantee is a good example although this is also driven by the issue of allowing students the same right to a free education that secondary school students enjoy to the age of 19 years. The Maori and Pasifika Trades Training initiative is another good example but again this is in one sense simply giving priority to an under-served group labeled as “priority learners”.
The tired old argument about whether tertiary education is a public good or a private gain needs to be put to one side – it is clearly both. And both outcomes – public good and private gain – are good for the family, the community, the economy and the country. And finding ways of engaging our best young people in teaching by schemes such as the old Div C Studentship should be considered. Ignoring quality can be the only way that the old tired market view that there is no shortage of people wanting to teach therefore there is no need for such an approach can be pursued.
We need top students who will become top teachers, students who are excellent in mathematics and sciences and other subjects, those who are clearly destined to be good leaders, the articulate and the enthusiastic – all qualities and characteristics that can be gauged at a school leaving age.
We thought they’d never end and those might well have been the days – but they did end and these days are not so great for students.
I hope we don’t get morose thinking about this at the reunion.
Cue in music. Start singing.
Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do