Tuesday, 11 October 2016

New Zealand Productivity Commission Proposes Neoliberal Restructuring of Tertiary Education

The NZ Productivity Commission is currently systematically reviewing tertiary education in this country. Chapter 12 of its draft report is entitled ‘A System that Supports New Models’. Here are some highlights (or lowlights): The re-introduction of interest rates on student loans, universities given complete autonomy to set fees without regulatory caps (‘unregulated fees’) to cover the full costs of providing degrees, student education to be funded with vouchers and ‘student education accounts’, tertiary education providers allowed to become self-accrediting, universities given freedom to sell off assets to private sector firms, and the abolition of the requirement for university teaching to be researched based.You can download a PDF of the draft report 'New Models of Tertiary Education' here.

The Productivity Commission was set up at the behest of the ACT party (that hasn’t polled above 1% in 2016) during the Key Government’s first term. You can check out the composition of its three person governing board here.

Not surprisingly it is composed entirely of ardent neoliberals, including former Treasury head from 1986 to 1993 Graham Scott, former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank Murray Sherwin, Professor of Management from the Victoria Business School Sally Davenport.
Needless to say none of the board members have any expertise whatsoever in areas such as educational sociology, political economy, history, or political science (the humanities basically). But they are all well versed in the central ideas of neoclassical economics, neoliberal new public sector management and public choice theory, and so forth. ‘Organic intellectuals of the ruling class’ as the Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci, would accurately categorise them. Their influence must and will be resisted. Class war is looming right across New Zealand's education system. 
P.S. The submission process is obviously a facade designed to provide legitimacy for what is a profoundly neoclassical and neoliberal intellectual perspective. Let's not forget that in his previous role as head of the Treasury from 1986 to 1993, Graham Scott played a central role in the introduction of major tax cuts for the rich in the late 1980s, the introduction of GST, the ECA and major benefits cuts in the 1991 budget, and shifting the funding of tertiary education away from barrier free tertiary education funded by progressive taxation towards it being increasingly funded by tuition fees and student loans.

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