Asset Sales and Contempt for Education
September 28, 2012 in Political Commentary
In political discussions regarding the purpose of tertiary education, there are two fundamentally different camps. The first rests upon a conviction that the university is supposed to act solely as an extension of the free market, and that the main intention with tertiary studies is to generate wealth for the private sector. According to this group, studies of the arts and the social sciences are unimportant, seeing as they are less likely to serve capitalism.
The other group, however, recognises that a functional society needs the context and the moderating influences provided by the humanities. Adherents of this side in no way despise those who study finance, but believe that society benefits from i.e. history, sociology, philosophy and anthropology. It realises that the university is an institution where an understanding of contemporary life, rather than the skills of making profit, is the ultimate aim. The second camp argues that all education is needed, and defends the right of everyone, regardless of socio-economic background, to obtain academic knowledge; education is the torch with which the individual navigates through the dark terrain of society.
The National Party is, not very astonishingly, a supporter of the first camp. The party aims to discourage students from engaging in studies which do not result in immediate financial return. Students are seen as commodities in the market. This became clear when the changes to Study Link were presented, eliminating student allowance for postgraduate studies from next year. This is not crucial to students within business and finance, since they are quite likely to have their financial sacrifice rewarded by a well paid place within the corporate sector afterwards. For the social scientist or historian from a humble socio-economic background, however, a change such as this has severe consequences. He or she is now forced to think twice, before taking on the economic challenge of postgraduate studies.
Herein lies the connection to asset sales; privatisation undermines the role of education in society, substituting individualism and the profit motive for altruism and investment simply for the greater good.
This policy thus manages to kill two birds with one stone: the theft of public by private concerns, and decreasing the number of citizens educated enough to challenge and critique the Neo-Liberal agenda.
When considering asset sales, it is important to keep the educational system in mind. Even though education is just one of many sectors slated to suffer, it is a vital one, and it deserves a greater place in the discussion. Ultimately, New Zealand must make a choice between two models; the corporatised American system, with runaway tuition fees and token State support, or the classical New Zealand socialist model, where people come before profit, and all citizens enjoy a right to both free tertiary education and extensive social support from the state.