The Productivity Commission: problems dressed up as solutions

Graham Scott, specialist in public sector reform

Graham Scott, specialist in public sector reform

By Brian Roper

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.

The Productivity Commission was set up at the behest of the ACT party (that didn’t poll 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, and 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.

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