Privatised education will set us up for export In the knowledge economy special edition of Computerworld last week a number of points were presented with regards to education. Our publisher Martin Taylor made education his pick for the New Zealand economy, talking about it as a market sector that we can excel in and gain tremendous side-benefit from along the way. Meanwhile, in other articles NZ Intellectual Capital Foundation’s John Blackham argued schools are an anachronism, Eagle Technology’s Trevor Eagle called for the demolition of the student loan scheme and Kirstin Mills discussed the petty-mindedness of the student loans debate. My thinking is that a loosening of the state’s hold on education would aid the development of the market and knock out New Zealand’s internal education issues. The National government has been clearly moving down the path in fits and starts but a redoubled effort would pay off across the board. Act’s ideas, whether expressed as vouchers or entitlements, are frightening to some in a knee-jerk sort of way. However, they do empower the individuals and parents to spend on education with whom they see fit in a competitive environment. If we can create an education system that is directly responsive to parents’ and individuals’ demands then we will see many education providers develop offerings for youth and corporate markets that will be very marketable around the world. Student loans, when added to a flat-rate entitlement that every student receives, serve a worthwhile purpose. They allow the pool of state funds to serve a larger group and they allow the student’s cost/benefit decision to reflect reality more closely. However, the implementation of the scheme leaves much to be desired and must be sorted out urgently. Unless we’re going to replace it with full funding, scrapping the scheme itself won’t achieve anything except to reduce the number of students. Interest holiday proposals seem at this point to be just plain politicking. We could move to make it much more difficult to escape the repayment of loans but the cost of doing that might nullify the exercise. I’d prefer we invested, through an entitlement or voucher scheme, more efficiently in education and got more value from our institutions by putting the customer firmly in the driving seat. Richard Wood is editor of Computerworld. Phone him at 0-9-377 9902. Send comments about this article to email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
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