Damien Grant is an unusual person. He is on the far right of the political spectrum, the Principal of an Insolvency Firm, and someone who many years ago spent time in jail. He is open about the experience and refreshingly has opposed knee jerk style three strikes and you are out type approaches, at least to members of the Insolvency Profession. He is otherwise a far right libertarian.
He is also an occasional writer and the proponent of extreme views, also known as clickbait. Over the past few months he has mansplained feminism to feminists, claimed that child poverty in New Zealand does not exist, and complained about Lorde’s name. But his latest effort tops everything else he has written.
He poses the question “When did you last use anything you learned at university?” and then sets out to justify his view that Universities are a waste of time.
He says this:
University education is one of the great follies of modern life. Central government spends over $3 billion on the tertiary sector, which contributes surprisingly little to our economic well-being. Free education is, regardless, very popular, even if it is useless, and this government is committed to expanding the number of students enrolled.
Academics and universities are assessed on the calibre of their research, not their teaching competence, and because they get paid regardless there is no incentive to be relevant. And they aren’t. When did you last use anything you learnt at varsity that you wouldn’t have picked up on the job or from Wikipedia?
Of course this is all errant libertarian nonsense. In my particular line of work (law) I use my university training every day. The four in house counsel employed by his firm presumably do the same. And the medical treatment provided by our doctors and the bridges built by our engineers all rely on skills picked up in University and not off Wikipedia. Who would want to drive on a bridge not designed by a university graduate or be operated on by someone without tertiary training?
So what does he rely on to justify his claim that university education is essentially worthless? The claim there is little or no economic benefit for the country. He says this:
In 2016 the government asked the Productivity Commission to have a look at [the tertiary] sector. It wrote:
“Despite the theoretical links, researchers have generally struggled to find strong empirical links between [tertiary] education and economic development. In New Zealand, comparatively high levels of tertiary attainment in the working-age population have not translated into high levels of productivity.”
It is of course faulty logic to equate a lack of correlation with causation. Educational standards may be improving but if the system is not performing properly because of, for example neoliberalism, then it will not matter how well educated the population is.
And Grant’s mindset is clear. Education is only a good thing if it makes us wealthier and better job fodder. The intrinsic benefits that education provides seem to have passed Grant by. And having repositories of learning and excellence is something that kick started and pushed on civilisation. Giving people the opportunity to think and engage and research and learn and mature is something you cannot put a dollar value on.
Grant is right that the running up of student debt is a terrible thing. The Country should be planning a system like we had in the 1980s when I was at University, where my tuition fees were paid for and I was paid a modest amount to get by on.
While we have a media system that incentivises clickbait I am afraid that this sort of column will continue. But Damien is a worthy recipient of this latest award.