|Issue No 37||29 October 1999|
Letters to the Editor
Education an Asset for All
I feel I must reply to the letter by our comrade who agrees with Howard on education.
The first prime minister to complain about educated people benefitting more financially was Bob Hawke. His response was to facilitate a self-fulfilling prophesy by making the higher-pay purpose of higher education more significant than it should be: apart from the notorious introduction of fees, through merging training (CAE) and education (university) institutions, and welcoming the involvement of private industry.
Even if higher education were merely about job-training I would still be inclined to disagree with him, although I reserve my opinion as I need to consider further argument. For example, one argument against fees in a job-training model of higher education is that we have an effectively privatised senior high school. In other words, why should current financial means be an obstacle to access to quality employment? This explains why current students can "live with" (postponed) HECS at the relatively modest levels it operates at now, because they do get an employment benefit.
However, to see higher education as job-training is too banal. Higher education is one of those institutions, like an independent media, an independent trade union movement, an independent judiciary, public beaches, parks and gardens, and financial assistance to the arts, that are all expensive but expensive as investments.
Before Hawke introduced industry involvement on a massive scale, universities were a major source of independent ideas. To some extent they still are, despite the influence of industry. Universities were also a place where bright young people could develop and discipline their intellects, with positive repercussions on the culture, politics, ideas and creativity of the community as a whole. That is, the more educated individuals there are, the better off we are as a community. Without education, we would be living in a dull, selfish, ignorant, cut-throat, poor, inefficient and antiquated social, political and economic environment.
There are two consequences of the sort of thinking that Hawke, Howard and now our comrade are setting forth.
First, as I have said for the decade since the amalgamations, we should separate education from training. Whilesoever we fuse the two, arguments such as Howard's and Hawke's will always cloud the importance of education as a good unto itself.
Second, although we pay for the education of our bright, we don't make much
use of the investment. Indeed, most of us feel threatened by the intelligent. For examples, (i) it is notorious that intelligent politicians such as Kim Beazley need to "dumb it down" to appeal to the electorate, (ii) I advocated a good idea within the CPSU a few years ago and was ignored, but now the idea has been taken up by the ACTU - shorter working hours, not just to save jobs but to give us time to do other things (I am particularly keen on people having time to be citizens), and (iii) intelligence is the only attribute that it is not socially acceptable to say you have.
The last example is particularly interesting. I wonder if your correspondent is one of the millions transfixed by sportspeople bragging about how good they are, yet treat as arrogance someone saying simply "I'm intelligent"? The irony is that we could do with a lift in the general physical fitness of the community, but we happily spend millions of taxpayers money on sporting elites; instead of local sporting facilitiesand general adult physical education. I don't hear your correspondent complaining about that!
Secretary, NUS NSW Branch 1987-8
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