Saturday, June 23, 2012

An unequal access to higher education

Oh for the good old days, when access to a higher education was more equal, at least for those who wished to be teachers. We had a bonding system whereby once you were trained, you worked for two, or later, three years. That could be brought down by undertaking ‘country service’ or working in what we now call low decile schools in the main cities.
Then the system of student loans and allowances was introduced. That led to a huge blowout (from the present Government’s point of view). There is no doubt that if the figure had kept trending up, we needed to achieve a higher payback system and possibly at a higher rate.
The issue is one that needs ‘cross-party discussion’, to take it out of the political forum. Parties have tinkered with the system or made drastic changes that have left a section of our society bereft of hope for achieving anything other than that of ‘graduate level.’ The present government cynically makes claims that the system works for all. It has support for this attitude in the community; it presents individuals who say that they worked part-time and after a struggle were able to complete a post-graduate education. Just show me how prospective doctors and other higher-level graduates could cope with part-time work and their studies. For the huge majority of our students at this level, that situation is clearly untenable, both financially and physically.
Not only are we going to see more graduates going overseas, some of them to complete their education after attaining the right through residency in Australia, but we are going to see more leaving our shores to gain the higher pay, in order to payback the debts they have already incurred.
I am not proposing that we do not seek repayment of student debt---that is the reality of life now. I am saying that we need to revisit some of the policies of the past and extend them. We can have a win-win situation if we institute a system of ‘bonding’, much like we had for many years for teachers. For nurses, there was a system that allowed them to work and train at the same time. With necessity for higher level technological study, that would now need more ‘in-campus study, much like teachers do.
Design a scheme that is flexible--- one that includes a range of occupations, with those occupations that we are in most need of, receiving favourable loading. The possibilities are there. For example, if we need doctors, in rural areas, bond the doctors for a set period and then then cut their debts by a generous amount. If after that bonding period they wish to go overseas, then well and good. There is a strong possibility that many would have settles and would wish to stay in NZ.
I am sure that there are many occupations that would, fit the category for ‘bonding.’ Make it flexible enough to target those areas where we see a need. Yes it would increase the burgeoning figure ‘owed to the State,’ but we would retain more of our NZ trained young people. It is very much a scenario of ‘what goes around comes around.’ We would also have a much more equal and caring society, where all can realistically have hope rather than ‘hopelessness.’ Ask yourself--- which state is more economically viable in the long run.
Politicians—stop seeing the three-year cycle of politics as the measuring tool for our future!