Thursday, 11 March 2010

A note of I told you so...

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.


Julie said...

Snap, my first year was 1996 (after some very minor dabbling in 1995).

While it's good that The Market Will Provide ridiculousness has been disproven, it's annoying that market mechanisms still seem to form a large part of the new round of solutions. There have been missed opportunities in the financial crisis of recent times, in terms of questioning the very basis of capitalism, and looking at rebalancing things in a different way.

backin15 said...

I was around this debate during this time too but haven't caught up with the latest announcements. I do think there's a place for private tertiary education, but it's complementary to public provision.

I agree with Maia's point about the degradation of the tertiary experience, my nephew starts this year and I hope he has half as much fun as I did but I suspect he'll not have time!

But back to the funding discussion, the voucher system applied by Creech et al was ill-considered since there was never any thought given to the 'value' of programs or any outcome measures; the policy was intended not to induce/produce a better system, it was designed to undermine public provision.