Like many people on the left I cut my eye teeth on student politics. In particular, I first became involved with political organising in 1997, the year of the Green paper. This was a proposal to corporatise the education system. I, along with 74 other people, got arrested on parliament's forecourt protesting it. We defeated some of the proposals in the Green paper, such as the proposals that tertiary institutions should be charged on the basis of their assets. But others, most critically funding of Private Training Institutions, went through.
So it is with the ears of a policy wonk that I listened to today's announcements about tertiary education. It is a clear rejection of the 'market fixes all' school of thought that had predominated in the 1990s.
This shouldn't be seen as a victory. It was interesting to hear Phil O'Reilly on The Panel today - he was torn in a couple of different ways. He specifically said that private providers and competition were important, but he also criticised the number of courses that these private training institutions had developed. Rather than being a step towards anything, it's just a recognition by capitalism that providing workers with specific skills needs more managerialism than a free market system will allow.
But I want to take a moment to say that we were right.
As for the 'solutions' - I think they'll probably do damage. The idea "we want Tertiary institutions to do X, therefore we'll pay institutions that do X more" creates all sorts of perverse incentives." The Labour government introduced a Performance Based Research Fund, because they wanted to make sure universities do research, not just concentrate on bums on seats. But by attempting to quantify research, they've created huge inequities, and perverse incentives. On top of that they've made the university a much more high pressure, unpleasant place to work. None of which actually encourages academic staff to do good research. It discourages anything that might be difficult, and instead encourages meeting criteria.