Bert Kelly columns on force-feeding and force-funding education:
1. Should we continue to educate the unwilling? (October 9, 1970)
2.Canwe judge students by the amount of hair on their heads?(Nov13,1970)
3. No pity for the poor graduates (January 14, 1972)
4. So why not learn now, pay later? (July 21, 1972)
5. The sacred education cow has had her day (April 28, 1978)
A Modest Member of Parliament [Bert Kelly],
“Should we continue to educate the unwilling?,”
The Australian Financial Review, October 9, 1970, p. 3.
The last sacred cow I tentatively disturbed was the compulsory voting cow. I got no votes by so doing, though a lot of people have again written in to ask if I found out why we do things this way, would I please let them know?
I am now worrying about the education cow. This cow is not only sacred but she has a very loud and penetrating bellow. She is certainly not a cow to be lightly irritated, or indeed quietly milked.
It was Eccles who started me off on this profitless path.
Mavis has felt for some time that I do not put enough sentiment into my speeches, that there should be a heart throb or two stuck away in all the solid stuff about wheat and wool and tariffs.
So I made up a speech entitled “Our Heritage” and high on the list of the benefits bequeathed us in our heritage is “our inalienable right to a free education.”
Eccles, when he heard me use the words “free education,” said sourly that there was nothing in this world that was free, whatever may be the position in the next.
Far from being free, education was becoming increasingly and frighteningly expensive and was only free to some people because other people worked like galley slaves to make it all possible.
I could tell that Eccles was getting worked up about taxation so I asked him whether there was anything else on his mind about education that he wanted to unload.
What is really puzzling him is why we make education compulsory after a child turns 14 years.
He can understand that it is compulsory until 14 because up until that age most children really cannot be expected to want to go to school.
And too often the parents may want him to leave school for economic and other reasons. And, up to that age, if he is forced to stop at school against his will, he is young enough, in most cases, to be amenable to discipline.
But after that, in this permissive society, a child who is forced unwillingly to school can be a very grave problem to the majority of the class who want to learn, and even more of a problem to the teachers, and particularly to young girl teachers.
I must agree with Eccles in this because I know of many cases where 20-year-old teachers had nervous breakdowns because of the treatment handed out by louts driven unwillingly to school to while away the time until it is legal for them to leave.
A private school is at a great advantage here. If a boy becomes a disciplinary problem a private school can expel him so that he doesn’t pollute the whole school. But not so the government schools.
What is the good of expelling a boy if he is forced to come back next day to either that school or another government school somewhere else?
I suppose the theory of compulsion is that some students may gain by being forced to drink from the trough of learning by having their heads held under, as it were.
But the splutterings and commotion caused by so doing will certainly distract the attention and adversely affect the performance of those who come willingly to the trough.
That the position will get worse there is no doubt, as the canker of the permissive society eats into the morality of our people. And the pressure to learn will be more insistent with the rise in the level of technology, so the student who wants to learn will feel the distraction caused by the unwilling students all the more.
There is no doubt that the position is serious. The solution seems so simple but there must be good reasons why we do as we do. Perhaps someone will tell me what it is, otherwise again I will conclude that like immigration we just don’t know how to stop.
Old Fred the farmer wants me to say something about universities. I will too, but I will wait until just before I go overseas, or something.
A Modest Member of Parliament [Bert Kelly],
“Can we judge students by the amount of hair on their heads?,”
The Australian Financial Review, November 13, 1970, p. 3.
Fred keeps nagging me to get stuck into the universities. He often sees, on TV, hairy, scruffy students behaving like ignorant larrikins. And he wants to know why I continue to vote for his hard-earned taxation money to be squandered to enable such people to abuse their educational opportunities.
That this feeling is common throughout the rural areas there is no doubt.
I sometimes tell me country constituents they should not judge the majority of university students by the behaviour of a sordid minority that blackens the reputation and spoils the performance of the solid, silent majority.
But they don’t really listen.
I have a nephew with very long hair and I have watched him grow up with acute anxiety. But I now have to admit that, in spite of my gloomy forebodings, he has turned out to be quite a sensible young man.
So perhaps I should stop judging students by the quantity of hair on their heads. It won’t be easy, but I will try.
But although I realise that I must not judge the majority by the behaviour of the stupid minority, yet there are two things that really worry me, as well as most country people, who are most acutely envious of the opportunities that these young people have.
The first is the bland assumption that everybody has what is called an “unalienable right” to free university education.
Eccles has constantly drummed it into me that there is nothing in life that is free — that someone, somewhere, somehow always has to find the money and resources.
He tells me that tertiary education costs the taxpayers of Australia about $300 million a year, so it certainly isn’t free. It is paid for by the taxpayers, most of whom seem to work a great deal harder than the university students who make all the mischief.
I suppose this is what sickens people most about the behaviour of the minority.
If those who were wasting their time were also wasting their own money instead of ours, it wouldn’t be so intensely irritating.
But it is not easy to cheerfully pay taxes and see the money frittered away.
Fred says if students had to pay a greater share of their expenses, it would encourage them to appreciate their opportunities.
Even the student who pays his own fees is only meeting about 20 per cent of the total cost. And the number who pay for themselves only make up about 33 per cent of those who go to university.
Evidently, fees pay 10 per cent of university running costs. Fred says that the things you get for nothing you usually appreciate as such.
I know that some will claim that this is unfair on the poor student to have to pay a greater percentage of his fees, but most people could get through a university if they wanted to.
And then the behaviour of many students during vacations doesn’t give one the impression that they are earnestly toiling to get together enough money to pay next year’s fees.
The second thing that worries Fred and me is, when the minority play up and take over administrative buildings and smash things up and generally interfere with the running of the university and spoil the opportunity of the keen students to learn, why the bad ones can’t be expelled. (Eccles says the proper term is “sent down.”)
Surely it is not beyond the wit of the administrators to kick them out.
Obviously they do not appreciate what is being done for them at great expense. So I don’t see why we should keep them there if they don’t want to learn.
There is no doubt that most people in Australia are rapidly becoming disillusioned about universities and will increasingly be unwilling to go without things for themselves so that universities can flourish.
This is a pity because in an increasingly technological age I guess we need well educated people.
But I know that the quickest path to popularity in a rural constituency would be to advocate cutting down university expenditure.
It is with difficulty that I have so far resisted the temptation.
But it gets harder each week.
A Modest Member of Parliament [Bert Kelly], “No pity for the poor graduates,” The Australian Financial Review, January 14, 1972, p. 3.
About the only certainty in the uncertain political world is that 1972 is going to be an election year.
So during most of this year I will be describing my desperate efforts to ingratiate myself with my electors, with Mavis pushing me forward on every occasion.
I cannot quite understand why I make such desperate efforts to retain my seat in Parliament, when I spend most of the rest of the time complaining about how hard I work and how little I am paid.
Mavis says I do it for the country’s good — I’ve got a suspicion it’s because I don’t know how to stop.
So Mavis and I have been desperately thinking of popular things to say. The first subject that attracted us was unemployment, so we composed a tender little speech, redolent with compassion for the poor unemployed people standing in the soup kitchen queues, and pity for the poor university graduates as they “were flung brand-new on to this harsh world’s scrap heap.” (This was one of our finer phrases.)
When we had finished the speech, and as we wiped the tears from our eyes, we felt that we had really laboured to some purpose.
“It’s very good, dear,” Mavis said, “it shows you are a man of feeling. It should get you a lot of votes. You must make sure that Eccles or Fred don’t get their hooks into it.”
I can see what she means. This time last year, Eccles made me write articles appealing to the Government to do something worthwhile, even if unpopular, to counter inflation.
It has done at least some of the things that Eccles was urging on it, and the economy is slowing down — a little painfully, I know — but slowing down, as had to happen if we were to dampen down the flaring fires of inflation.
Now one of the results of doing this is that the rate of unemployment has increased. But it is only a marginal increase.
At the end of November 1.53 per cent of our work force was listed as unemployed, and, if you take the school leavers out of this, the figure is 1.2 per cent. And about half of these were wives or teenagers, dependent to some extent on the father’s or husband’s income.
Our figure of 1.2 per cent unemployed is the envy of the world. The average rate of unemployment between 1961 and 1970 has been: Canada 5 per cent, USA 4.7 per cent, Italy 3.3 per cent, France 2.4 per cent, UK 2.1 per cent, Sweden 1.7 per cent, and Australia 1.4 per cent.
Now we are expected to go to panic stations because the figure has reached 1.53 per cent (including school leavers) and jeopardise by so doing the anti-inflation measures we painfully began during the past year.
So you can see why I hope Eccles mustn’t get to hear of my speech. And, come to think of it, I hope Fred doesn’t either.
Fred and I both left school during the depression and we know what unemployment really means.
But Fred knows, as I know but mustn’t say, that one of the reasons why we have had so many strikes, why our productivity performance has been so lamentably low, is that so few people have been available to fill the many empty positions.
This has meant that there has been no economic discipline to encourage people to work well.
And I don’t think I will try to move Fred’s bowels of compassion at the picture of university graduates being unable to stroll into any particular job they fancy, just because they are able to flash a degree in the face of the employer.
In many disciplines those days are gone — at least for the moment, and Fred is glad and so am I, but I am frightened to say so.
I am really keeping the university question up my sleeve until closer to election day.
I am well aware that Fred resents the fact that many university students take it as a right that Fred and his fellow-workers should have to slog away to find the money to put them through their university courses at great expense to all concerned.
He would resent it even more if he finds that he has got to do something heroic to look after them after they are through. I wouldn’t like to ask him to do that.
So I am having second thoughts about my fine, flowering speech on unemployment. I can’t show it to Eccles — that doesn’t worry me because Eccles lives in his ivory tower in Canberra and so doesn’t vote in my electorate.
But now I find I can’t show it to Fred either, and I have a lot of Freds who do. Perhaps I ought to tear it up.
But if I can’t make popular, powerful speeches and unemployment, I will think of something else equally exciting. If I am going to be beaten I will go down with my mouth open!
A Modest Member of Parliament [Bert Kelly], “So why not learn now, pay later?,” The Australian Financial Review, July 21, 1972, p. 3.
Mavis is nagging me to find a subject about which I can make powerful and popular speeches with election day drawing nigh.
Fred says I should come out with a definite policy to kick the universities — to promise to cut off their money supply and so on. This is a tempting prospect as I know there would be many votes in it.
My people distrust the university louts they see on TV and they are always grizzling because they have to pay taxes to keep them.
I tell them that TV stations only show the bad students and they mustn’t think that all are like that. This sounds convincing until you look at the “drop-out” rate, which stands at about 33 per cent.
This is about twice as high as in the UK. Why do we do so badly?
One of the reasons is that our universities expanded so quickly in the 1960s and too many poor quality staff had to be appointed and with which we are now lumbered.
Evidently university staff are a kind of sacred cow: if you sack them they bellow that they are being victimised because of their political beliefs or something.
Universities are always acutely conscious of their haloes, so evidently they either can’t or won’t sack the bad ones.
Fred says that this is either incompetence or cowardice. If the dean of a faculty doesn’t know good staff from bad, he can’t be much of a dean. If he does know, but can’t sack the bad ones, then there is something wrong either with him or the system.
CSIRO can get rid of their failures, why can’t universities? They would have a lot more public sympathy and we would have a better “drop-out” record.
Another reason for the poor performance is because the things you get for nothing you appreciate as such.
If a student had to pay the full cost of his tuition he would be more likely to appreciate his opportunity and would be less likely to embark on a course beyond his capabilities.
The total running costs of universities in 1970 came to about $212 million and the fees paid by students came to $27.4 million, or 13 per cent.
And of this amount, about $11 million came from the Commonwealth scholarships and another considerable amount from State Government scholarships.
So it is clear that the average student pays directly from his own or his family’s pocket a very small proportion of the cost of his university education. If he paid a larger share, we would get better results.
It has been estimated that the increased earning power of a graduate would enable him to pay 15 per cent interest on all the money invested in his university education.
Surely it would be possible to work out some loan scheme whereby the money to pay full fees would be advanced to the student, and the amount recovered from him later in annual instalments.
There would be problems, of course. Some graduates get paid more than others and also the costs vary between different faculties. But generally speaking, the earning power of graduates from expensive faculties, such as medicine, is higher also.
And what a difference it would make to the administration of universities. There would be a real inducement to cut costs as they would no longer have the feeling that if they grizzled long enough the Government would pick up the tab.
They would be encouraged to have a higher entrance standard, and to kick out the students who make learning difficult for others.
And from the students’ point of view there would be less of a tendency for the student to gravitate to an easy faculty if he knew that he would have to pay the full cost later in life. I shouldn’t think there would be quite so many doing Arts!
And it would stop the students thinking that a university education is his right. The opportunity would be his right, provided he was prepared to do the work and take the risk. This is a good principle.
I know there would be many problems in this scheme but the Swedes seem to be able to make it work. We could too if we had the will.
But if we can’t, Fred wants me to sound a grim warning. He says he’s getting sick of paying taxes for education in general and university education in particular.
He wouldn’t mind so much if he thought this money was being well spent. But a “drop-out” rate of one-in-three doesn’t seem good management to him.
A Modest Farmer [Bert Kelly], “The sacred education cow has had her day,” The Australian Financial Review, April 28, 1978, p. 3.
For most of my political life I have been careful to treat the education cow as sacred and to pat her ostentatiously whenever possible because, until recently she had many admirers.
But she has now gone off her milk somewhat and patting her is no longer fruitful.
I once said rather sourly to a rather rabid education group that, if it was popularity I was after, I would gain rather than lose by advocating a cut in the education vote.
I suppose there is no more waste of education money in the country than in the city, but it is more visible in the bush.
My electorate was latterly very keen for the biggest cut to be made in university expenditure. From now on, with a superfluity of graduates in some disciplines, the pressure to bear down on university expenditure will be even stronger.
And if the Fraser Government sticks courageously to its policy of sitting on the head of the government spending horse, then the pressure to kick the universities will be hard to resist.
If I were still after votes, I would mount the “cut the university vote” bandwagon. But now I can take a more lofty, objective national outlook, I will content myself by giving the universities some fatherly advice.
I wish we could revert to the previously policy of university students paying at least some of their fees instead of having them paid by the taxpayer. I am careful not to use the term “free university education” because we all now know that nothing in this world is free — someone always has to pay.
And with university fees, most of the paying is done by the average taxpayer, probably by a shearer or truck driver with two or three kids, who is expected to work a bit harder to ensure that the son of his boss can go to a university without paying fees and have exciting adventures during vacations instead of having to work his way through as his father had to.
When I talk at universities, I go out of my way to say that we made a great mistake in making the taxpayers pay the fees and I used to anticipate an angry reaction. But I have been surprised to find that a large number of people agree with me.
I wish we could put an end to the tenure system whereby a bad staff member, after he gets a few rungs up the university staff ladder, is assured of a safe position until he retires, and with annual increments. The same situation applies in the civil service and I suppose is a relic of the days when both groups were paid less than in private industry.
This position is now reversed but permanency of employment still persists. Australia would be better served by its civil servants and universities if this were not so.
Because of the permanent employment link between civil servants and university staff, the position will be not easily altered, if only because both groups now pack a lot of votes.
But at least with university staff it surely should be possible to grade people on merit. The number of research papers published should be a guide as to the quality and quantity of a person’s research.
The teaching side presents more difficulties but I have seen a Yale pamphlet in which the various courses are described and also comments made on the quality of teaching in each course.
The information on which the assessments were made was obtained from a questionnaire filled in by the students of the previous year. Some of the comments were devastatingly frank and others were quite heart-warming.
I can well imagine that a lazy or incompetent lecturer would make heroic efforts to get better assessments after his peers had seen what his students thought of him.
If this method is good enough for Yale, surely it should at least be tried here. And until some effort is made to separate the university sheep from the goats by some kind of drafting process, the amount of money and goodwill going from taxpayers to universities will be limited.
The education cow is no longer sacred, particularly the university cow. There will be more votes in kicking her than patting her from now on.
This is said not to frighten her but to make her more careful not to put her foot in the bucket.
[For more Australian writings questioning the free, subsidised and compulsory education sacred cows, and mostly questioning them more fiercely, see this collection featuring John Singleton, Maxwell Newton and more.]
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- "Ford ... seems to spend more time bending its knees than its back"
- Clyde Cameron's weak ways with wise words
- Why flaunt what others flout?
- Bert Kelly yearns for Tim Flannery's powers of prediction
- Looking after yourself is silly
- Bert Kelly masterpiece on drought, fire, flood and other natural disaster relief schemes
- Government can take credit for our car industry mess
- Car makers want the 4wd driven deeper into tariff bog
- Why our MP is no longer prone to a good sob story
- Auto industry is in a straitjacket
- Bert Kelly on market predictions
- Why should dryland farmers subsidise irrigation farmers?
- How much should government decrease incentive for independence from government?
- Clarkson crowned Deputy Government Whip
- Bert Kelly to blame for soaring government healthcare costs
- 1959 return of Dave's Diary
- Bert Kelly in 1966 on developing northern Australia
- Successful government intervention can [sic] occur
- Vernon Report upholds Clarkson
- Quiet Man Makes An Impact
- Should it be compulsory to buy footwear and clothing?
- To save Australian clothing industry women must all wear same uniform
- Don't confuse plucking heart strings with plucking harp strings
- Speech only for public
- Catchy Tariff Circus Extravaganza
- Bert Kelly in 1985 on cars yet again
- Hurrah for the Gang of Five
- Thoughts on a verse about Balfour
- Bert Kelly pep talk to politicians
- Government intervention = Agony postponed but death brought nearer
- Recipe for disaster: Freeze!
- Recipe for government intervention: Gather winners and scatter losers
- Recipe for industry destruction: Blanket market signals
- Mavis writes!
- Bert Kelly's empiricism is not kneejerk reaction kind
- The $2,000 song of the shirt worker
- Subsiding only small farmers means subsiding the big banks
- Difficult to be fast on your feet when you've got your ear to the ground
- It would surprise people to see how sensible MPs behave if they think they are not being watched
- Bert Kelly on "this land of limitless resources" and "great open spaces"
- Growing bananas at the South Pole
- Car components tariff protection under fire
- Why carry a $300m car subsidy?
- Tariff feather beds for the foreign giants
- Bert Kelly says end compulsory voting to stop donkey vote
- Perhaps being smart and insured isn't all luck
- You gets your tariff, you pays a price
- More funds to train Olympians?
- Fire in their guts and wind in ours
- Should free universal healthcare include pets?
- Sound advice from a modest farmer
- A tottering monument to intervention
- Cunning meets wisdom
- Competition, Aussie-style: Who's the bigger parasite?
- Australians are proud patriotic parasites, says Bert Kelly
- Taxpayer-funded sport is cheating
- Being loved by all is not always a good thing
- Welfare State Destroys Society
- 1980 Bert Kelly feather bed series
- The White Mice Marketing Board
- Government intervention and advice can be harmful, even when right, even for those it tries to help
- One small step on the compulsory voting landmine
- The free & compulsory education sacred cows have no clothes
- Holding a loaded wallet to an economist's head
- Political No Man's Land
- Only blind greed demands both equality and prosperity
- A cow that sucks itself — that's us!
- Government Schools Teach Fascism Perfectly
- CIS and IPA Defend State Schooling
- Quadrant Defends State Schooling
- Singo and Howard on Striking at the Root, and the Failure of Howard, the CIS and the IPA
- Teaching My Kids to Read and Write
- Our kids don't deserve such nonsense
- Paddy McGuinness on class sizes (1991)
- More teachers won't solve the problems in our schools
- Shit State Subsidised Socialist Schooling Should Cease Says Singo
- Greg Lindsay: state schooling unjust
- Singo and Howard on Education
- Paddy McGuinness in 1994 on the 2012 class size debate
- State aid and the privileged
- The lies they teach our children: Vipers in the nation's classrooms
- Maxwell Newton measures bullshit tertiary schooling
- Our kids will get homework, so let's first give them schoolwork
- The free & compulsory education sacred cows have no clothes