The Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University has an interesting article in the Herald today about education funding:
Over the last thirty years, our educational institutions have created a $2.3 billion per annum export education industry – now the fifth largest export earner in the country. We can surely do it again with research.
So what would I do to bring about this change?
I would invest in education, valuing our teachers – from pre-school to professors – as the professionals they truly are. I would focus on supporting our most able students to continue on to postgraduate study and research careers, rather than terminating the very scholarships that keep our best doctoral students in New Zealand, as the government has recently done.
The removal of the highest value scholarships for PhD students by the incoming National government was an incredibly silly thing to do.
Look at the number and value of scholarships available to Australians and New Zealanders provided by the Australian Government. Look at the way they are offering massive incentives to our young doctors to move to the lucky country. It is little wonder we have such a big brain drain when our smartest are being snatched by our neighbour. And it will require more than a rugby team and national pride to keep them here.
Sadly New Zealand has been reducing its investment in the tertiary education of each student for 20 years, choosing instead to directly support students, most recently with interest free loans. This must inevitably compromise the quality of education and research at a time when other countries are investing heavily in these areas.
Interest free student loans are a good thing for supporting students and giving them opportunities they would have been unable to otherwise afford. However, as I blogged a few days ago there needs to be much tighter controls on who is allowed at university to reduce wasteful spending on those who are never going to complete their degree.
I would concentrate our research investment on “blue skies” projects, the kind that will create radical innovation, and with it undreamt-of opportunities.
After all, the single most important technology in New Zealand’s history, refrigeration, came out not because of attempts to preserve dairy and meat products so they could be exported – though that was what it achieved – but rather from fundamental university research on the thermodynamics of expanding gases.
At the moment a lot of new products come out of private enterprise in New Zealand. Most of these products are not mainstream consumer products either but rather for specialised industry. However, little of these products are information sciences based, instead they are physical products. Investing in information sciences based research at university and CRI level makes sense. If we want to succeed in the knowledge economy we must first join it (by getting into the top half and higher of the OECD averages) then we must actively lead the way in new ventures in the economy and not just follow what others are doing. How about getting past web 2.0 and start thinking about cloud 3.0?