Saturday, 13 February 2016

Defending Free Tertiary Education: Chris Trotter Responds To Dr Oliver Hartwich’s Praise For The User-Pays University.

Ungrateful Son: In spite of the German taxpayers funding his entire education - from primary school to university - Dr Oliver Hartwich chose to devote his life to fighting against the principle of universal social entitlement. Labour's re-commitment to that principle prompted an immediate response from the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Initiative - successor to the Business Roundtable.
 
WHEN DR OLIVER HARTWICH departed his native Germany for the Anglo-Saxon lands it was in high dudgeon. In spite of the fact that German taxpayers had paid for his entire education – from primary school to university – there wasn’t much evidence of gratitude. Meeting the cost of young Germans’ education out of the public purse was, in the newly-minted economist’s opinion, a dangerous policy relic of Germany’s social-democratic past. The British and the Americans had long since dispensed with the notion of  publicly-provided tertiary education. It was, therefore, to the English-speaking world that this eager young neoliberal foot-soldier took his publicly-funded doctorate.
 
New Zealand is, of course, very much a part of that world. Hartwich arrived here via England and Australia, where he was a major force at the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies (an extreme right-wing think tank). When the notorious Business Roundtable joined forces with the NZ Institute in 2012, Hartwich was the corporate bosses’ pick for Executive Director.
 
Moved to contribute an opinion piece to Interest.co.nz on Labour’s re-commitment to the principle of universal social entitlement in tertiary education, Hartwich has usefully rehearsed all the familiar neoliberal excuses for making young people pay for their education.
 
“The first thing I would say about free education is that it suffers from a basic flaw:” writes Hartwich, “If something does not cost anything, it is not valued much either.”
 
This observation, Hartwich tells us, is born of his “personal reflections of free tertiary education”, and is not to be confused with rigorous policy analysis.
 
That being the case, let me respond in kind by declaring that my own experience of free tertiary education threw up not one case of a recipient who did not value their opportunity to explore the life of the mind in their late teens and early twenties. Quite the reverse, actually.
 
University was a magical place, insulated from the charges of the workaday world, and collectively dedicated to the expansion, communication and acquisition of knowledge. If a vocation was one’s sole purpose for attending, then those skills were available. But of infinitely greater value to students than a mere “meal ticket” was the access that university afforded to the signal achievements of their culture. Young people emerged from tertiary study as both engaged and enlarged human beings.
 
Hartwich deplores this aspect of tertiary life:
 
“What it means in practice is that when university courses are free, students will think about them differently. Some students may begin their studies without much commitment because, well, it does not cost anything. They might also then take a more relaxed approach to studying since, again, it does not cost them anything (other than opportunity costs which are harder to notice). With this attitude, these students may not even bring their studies to a conclusion.”
 
It is clearly Hartwich’s view that the pieces of paper doled out at the end of its courses are the be-all and end-all of university life. This instrumental view of tertiary education lends itself to the notion that: “as the recipient of something free, you are not in the best position to demand better service. As a paying customer, suppliers need to treat you better if they do not want to lose you. If customers are not paying, they may well be regarded as a nuisance.”
 
It gets worse. “For a university to be run like any good service provider,” says Hartwich, “it should think about its students as clients. And for students to take their studies seriously, they should be paying for them. Of course, for students who cannot afford to pay the fees, there need to be financing options. But university education as such should not be free.”
 
Nothing here about the pernicious consequences for both academic rigor and student achievement of turning tertiary education into a commodity. Fully enmeshed in the market economy, university “providers” cannot afford to risk alienating their fee-paying “clients” by holding them to the sort of rigorous academic standards that characterised my tertiary education. If it comes to a choice between jettisoning standards or jettisoning students, the commercially-driven university will sacrifice its standards every time.
 
Of course no neoliberal paean to user-pays tertiary education would be complete without the ritual condemnation of publicly-provided tertiary education’s allegedly socially regressive character.
 
“Finally, as someone who has successfully completed a master’s and a doctorate, of course I have a much greater ability to generate income than someone without such qualifications. So the question is, why would I expect that other person to subsidise me? What right do I have to demand people with poor skills in low-wage jobs to pay for my university education that would yield me a much higher income than they would ever have? Isn’t this grossly unfair for them?”
 
I am always astounded at the neoliberal’s confidence that the above argument should be regarded as the clincher – against which no rational or ethical response is possible. It is only possible to make this case, however, if the concepts of citizenship and social reciprocity are first eliminated from the equation.
 
Access to tertiary education is every citizen’s right, and so it is also every citizen’s responsibility. The low-wage worker contributes to the cost of a wealthy person’s children’s university degrees because the wealthy person contributes to the cost of the worker’s kids’ post-school education. For the low-wage worker, this is a huge step forward, comparable in its life-enhancing effects to the provision of universal health care.
 
But the very notion of “middle-class welfare”, or, as Hartwich puts it, “the reverse of income redistribution” only makes sense in a neoliberal society which no longer subjects its wealthier citizens to the rigors of progressive taxation.
 
Of course the graduates of Law and Medical School will earn more than workers “with poor skills in a low-wage job”, but in a decent, social-democratic society, the lawyer and the doctor will also pay much higher taxes. It’s all about your fellow citizens paying you forward, and you then paying them back.
 
This was the socio-political environment from which Dr Oliver Hartwich fled and is ideologically committed to destroying. It is also the socio-political environment in which I was raised, and which allowed me to attend university without incurring massive debt. That Labour is pledged to restoring this environment is extremely heartening. Not only because it will make this a more just and equal country to live in, but also because any such restoration of social-democratic values in New Zealand will, almost certainly, see Dr Hartwich high-tail it for more congenial jurisdictions.
 
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Saturday, 13 February 2016.

27 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I also received almost free university education, as did all of those neoliberal wankers who ruined the economy under Roger Douglas. I don't remember Prebble complaining that we should all be paying fees when he was there. And of the people in my "upper sixth" form at school who went to university all now seem to be – or have been, because we are approaching retirement – contributing members of society. Even if one of them is/was a builder and didn't use any of that university education. There were a number who dropped out, deciding that university education was not for them. There were some that changed course in midstream – I remember one who went from doing a degree in mathematics, to doing a masters in economics, because as she put it "it's baby maths". And we were pretty much all working class. I wonder how many would have managed this under the present system. These days when you pick something you pretty much have to stick to it, because you can't try it, see if it's okay, and leave if it's not. My kid's a case in point. He has no student debt, but only because we were in a position to be able to pay his expenses. I work with kids whose parents can't begin to think about that.

Do we really want a system where our best and brightest study what is relevant to earning the most amount of money? Under that system we probably get lots of doctors and lawyers, but bugger all scientists – at least ones that are prepared to stick around in New Zealand. It's time we admitted (again) that education is a public rather than a private good. And it's time we gave everyone an equal chance at it. I mean – whatever happened to the level playing field. It's always been tilted firmly to the right.

Carl Stapleton said...

Using Dr. Hartwich's argument any scientific discovery or newly establish fact published internationally and accepted should be discounted if it was published by someone who received a free education.

peter petterson said...

Neo Liberalism has had its day, and in its present form a very short day. Those who condemn so-called free education benefitted from it in their youth and young adulthood, especially in tertiary education. Just like the Tory minister Paula Benefit who jumps on beneficiaries if they don't start looking for a job soon enough - she was a solo parent who benefitted from social welfare and tertiary education to get her started in the world, where she is now a cabinet minister. I don't have a problem with that at all. Hats off to the system and Paula for using it wisely, but don't put the boot into those who don't have all the benefits that Paula and others had a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Chris and GS, When both of you received the generosity of the state for your education both of you lived in a different NZ to the NZ of today.
In 2025 'when and if Labour win 3 elections' most, most and let me repeat most, of the people who will be lining up for the freebie will be temporary NZ resident overseas students who will, because of largess of the NZ taxpayers and rich Mummies and Daddies be able to get and afford accommodation close to our universities.
Working class children of Maori, Pacific Islander and European descent will be left floundering looking for jobs to try and keep body, sole and family together.
Labours policy, without positive discrimination for our poor people, will be a disgraceful tax and burden on working class New Zealanders for the benefit of temporary or rich residents.
Labours policy does not have protection for poor Kiwi's.
Chris and GS both of you are absolutely wrong in your comparison to your youth and the youth and New Zealand 'now or in 2025'.
Labours promises are a vote catching deception, shame on Labour and both of you for buying into this sham and fraudulence against the poor.

Anonymous said...

When I see this Hartwich character he always reminds me of Herr Flick...

Anonymous said...

I admit it. I went to uni for the meal ticket. Best thing I ever did.

When I was there, the arty-farty crowd were busy "expanding their minds" just as you suggest. This seems to consist largely of organizing protests and sit-ins to prevent me from getting my meal ticket, conducting chemistry experiments with their brains, all whilst doing the absolute minimum of actual work.

Nick J said...

I cost the taxpayer a bundle as I messed around, took too long, and graduated with an "arts" degree. I am forever grateful. I have been in the top tax bracket for three decades since then, one year I got lucky and I paid over $200K in tax....what a good year. I never resent paying taxes. It keeps us civilised. It gives us a decent society. It should give others the opportunities anonymous taxpayers gave me. Herr Hartwick needs to grow up and become civilized. He appears to me another economic barbaric Hun.

Nick J said...

Anon of 13.48. Yes it is 2016 and there is no difference to 1990 in terms of funding studies except ideology. Zippo! It's a matter of choice. Neoliberalism is not set in stone unless you are a slave to unpalatable ideas. So get a life.
Second the bollocks about overseas students benefitting: it might be better spending than "aid" $s. That said it is easy to control who gets the benefit from NZ taxpayers.

greywarbler said...

NickJ at 20.00
You were doing fine till you brought the barbaric Hun bit in. Let's have a look at brutality around us in other places than Germany.

Cameron's British Tories present the people there with a brutish welfare regime. People in USA died fighting in wage wars, the employers hated the unions and vice versa. Then some of the unions preyed on the workers.
And the slaves before being freed then how they were treated afterwards.
All that is brutal.

Laissez-faire was first referred to in France in the late 1600s and as Wikipedia explains: 'Laissez-faire is an economic system in which transactions between private parties are free from government interference such as regulations, privileges, tariffs, and subsidies.
That leads to brutality to the people who don't do well in this system.

Then there was the Belgian King who took command of the Congo and they were all cut up about that there. He used his royal position to get hold of the Congo Free State as a private venture. Wikipedia says estimates are that 10 million Congolese died in gaining ivory and rubber for his demands. He started in about 1886 and wasn't stopped till 1908.
A photo has the caption: 'A father stares at the hands of his five-year-old daughter, severed as a punishment for having harvested too little rubber.' Brutal enough? But he was never punished, too big to die. And that was what should have been done to the monster, and great liar and hypocrite who prevented information from leaking to the world.

Then there were the Highland Clearances from Scotland. Throwing people off their little farmlets in Northern Scotland, to be homeless, without food for themselves and their families. Very brutal.
Mismanaging the provision of famine relief during the second Irish potato famine was a blot on the arrogant Brit Charles Trevelyan who was in charge. Very brutal by wilful negligence, irresponsibility and lack of basic human consideration and compassion but ultimately Brit. fault.

Neo liberal economics developed at the University of Chicago, influenced by Austrians like Hayek, have brutalised world populations in a different way.

And that is just a smorgasbord of 'brutal' ways. In truth, we all have the ability to be brutal, or not to look too hard at what brutal people might be doing, in case we have to make a protest about it ourselves.

pat said...

@ anon 09.33

LMAO...youre right! I wonder if he's now the one with the painting of the fallen Madonna with the big boobies?

Anonymous said...

Nick J 20.12,

You are wrong and careless in your assumptions, NZ is a lot different to your youth years and will be more so in 2025 and you know it.

It will not be easy to determine where NZ tax dollars on free tertiary will go in 2025, it is to do with residency, temporary residency, parents and family residency, refugee and migrant status.

You should talk to more people about this and stop listening to anti- NZ taxpayer nonsense.

I do have a life, it is exciting, worthwhile and I pay tax's willingly, I simply put NZ poor people first.

Nick J said...

Anon I am neither wrong nor careless. To accept we can't be different to today as you do is to surrender yourself to alternatives, to become a slave to somebody else's reality. That is truly careless.

On your worries 're foreign students I for one see no issues; they currently pay...it's a nice little earner for NZ. If residency etc is an issue well that's another debate altogether (that as Chris pointed out long since that we the populace have not been consulted on).

If putting the poor first is your goal I am with you all the way, they don't currently even sit at the table.

Nick J said...

Grey, why do you connect Hun with Germany? It's a lot older than that. We happily use "barbarian,hooligan, vandal etc". We're the man Japanese I might still describe him as an economic Gun to describe his actions / attitudes.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Nick, I think that you might be being a bit disingenuous about Hun. Maybe you're very young, but even so you should know it was commonly used in world wars 1 and 2 to refer to Germans. So it's not the same as vandal or barbarian. Yes it's much older than that, and it was intended as an insult. As in as in "Beware of the Hun in the sun." Don't remember my dad using it very much, maybe it was an RAF thing.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"It gets worse. “For a university to be run like any good service provider,” says Hartwich, “it should think about its students as clients. And for students to take their studies seriously, they should be paying for them. "

That's really interesting. As a "mature" student I can definitely compare the "service" that's delivered now to that which was delivered in the 1960s and 70s. In some ways it is better, but I think that's a reflection of the fact that it's finally come to terms with the fact that working class kids attend. But in most ways it's much worse. So how do I go about demanding it be better? I would really love to hear Hartwitch's advice on that. The problem with that is the government controls the purse strings. And better often means more money.

Anonymous said...

Nick J, You are wrong, you are still careless and I would add now smart-ass with your opinion.
Foreign students may well be a 'nice little earner' today and they and their families know it.
Residency etc is achieved many ways is indeed an issue now and it will be in the future.
You fail completely in understanding the fact of residency in NZ which is spelt out in 'articles 138 and 141 of the NZ-China free trade agreement 2008, which was negotiated by the Labour party. Non resident owners of property will be able to put their children through our "free tertiary" education programmes legally.
Labours argument in our society is not between the poor and the rich it is between the middle and the top.
They sell-out the poor in NZ.

Nick J said...

Guerilla I grew up in that post war shadow of the "Hun", we used to read it in war comics, quite a laugh in retrospect. As I said to Grey it's a far older term, goes back to Atilla. Why the Germans got tarred with it is beyond me apart from their tendency in the last century to act like Atillasome Huns. I am sure you would agree with me that this incidental German Herr Hartwick follows a philosophy the Huns might have found very much to their taste.

Anonymous said...

I attended Otago University pre & post fees.Back in the late 80's there was about 5000 or so students. This year there are about 25000 students.

About ten years ago, I was casually speaking to a senior professor at Otago and he suggested that there should be about 12-15000 max students attending Otago. He stated that about half of the current crop of students leave Otago with what he called 'toilet paper degrees' ie laden with 'C's' in other words kids that barely scraped through university.

He went on to say most of the kids at unversity these days in New Zealand wouldn't cut it at a major foreign university eg Yale, Cornell, Cambridge, Chicago etc

In short my view is: university should be free in New Zealand to attend but it must be difficult to get in ie special entry exams, interviews, etc

At the moment, the university system is a state money making scheme churning out kids with soft degrees laden with soft marks that mean nothing to anyone.

Richard McGrath said...

But surely, using the logic that "free" (i.e. paid for by someone else) education is a right, free travel to one's chosen tertiary institution should be a right; free accommodation near one's tertiary institution should be a right, along with free food and coffee. Alcohol and drugs should also be laid on, gratis, in order that those from low income families can enjoy the same experiences as the children of the wealthy while at university. Where does one draw the line and why?

Pasquino said...

As Shaw said, "If all the economists were laid end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion."

Well, Chris, when you lay one out like this, is it surprising that he does not reach very far in that direction?

Thinking in boxes is the standard modus operandi of meal-ticketed minds, so why bother to dissect them with such apparent surprise?

Here indeed, is a latter-day Herr Flick, as someone has observed. Should he not be left alone to lord it over all his Von Smallhausen offsiders? Such people know the price of everything and the value of nothing, and will have a merry old time with their mental numericals in ever decreasing circles...

Guerilla Surgeon said...


'But surely, using the logic that "free" (i.e. paid for by someone else) education is a right, free travel to one's chosen tertiary institution should be a right; free accommodation near one's tertiary institution should be a right, along with free food and coffee. Alcohol and drugs should also be laid on, gratis, in order that those from low income families can enjoy the same experiences as the children of the wealthy while at university.'
Er... no. We don't have to follow that logic. Why would we have to? Why would we want to? One draws the line at education. In fact one draws the line wherever one wants.:)

Grant said...

Why are Germans referred to as 'Huns'?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_II,_German_Emperor#Hun_speech_of_1900

Nick J said...

Anon I bow to your knowledge: apologies. Was not aware of those clauses. Hells bells is nobody at MFAT and government looking out for us.

Anonymous said...

About 10 or so years ago Bob Jones published a novel titled 'Degrees for Everyone'. Humourous in its intent but to a large extent accurate to some of the silly nonsense that goes on in NZ universities. Jones' catchcry was 'once a university degree was a badge of honour but now it is a badge of attendance.'

For those who have read more broadly, it was in a way derivative of Don DeLillo's 80's novel 'White Noise'. A commentary on the US university system and its attendant inanity.

Both amusing reads.

My point, though, is that fees or no fees is not the issue.

A qualified entry criteria is what we should be talking about regarding the NZ university system.

greywarbler said...

Richard McGrath at 22.35
I think your statement is covered by the meaning of the word 'hyperbole'.
Hardly worth writing really.

Richard McGrath said...

Guerilla Surgeon - to simplify my point (as you seem to have missed it, perhaps deliberately): what good is education paid for by someone else if one cannot also access it without having someone else pay the cost?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't understand your simplified point Richard. Education is pretty much a good anyway. Just listening to national radio saying a degree gives you more money over your working life. You seem to think that someone else paying the cost is a bad thing. Or maybe I'm just stupid, but I doubt it somehow. But –
" what good is education paid for by someone else if one cannot also access it without having someone else pay the cost?" Makes absolutely no sense to me. Perhaps someone more conversant with libertarian ideologies could enlighten me :).