Seeking closure after decades?

“I would say to all members of the family of the crew of HMAS Sydney, our Government sends our condolences for the loss of these brave young men.

“This is a day … which begins a process of closure for many families of the crew of the Sydney. [emphasis added]

– Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on the discovery of the wreckage of HMAS Sydney, which sank in November 1941, with the loss of 645 lives.

Grief can, of course, last for a lifetime. On my occasional strolls through cemeteries (the Melbourne General Cemetery is just up the road, with the graves of several of my 19th century ancestors and relatives) I find the decades-old graves with fresh flowers sad but touching.

But beginning a process of grieving sixty-six years after death? Many people have criticised the spread of the ‘therapy culture’ into ordinary language. The idea that we cannot recover from the death of someone we love until their body or grave is found seems unsound to me. Fortunately those bereaved by the loss of HMAS Sydney were from a (seemingly) more resilient era.

It is one of the paradoxes of the time that though there is less objective cause for the extremes of ill-being than there was in the 1940s, more people are reporting such ill-being. There is a debate about whether or not the statistical trends record real changes or just different descriptions of ordinary feelings.

But surely promoting the idea that grief can’t be put into the background until a body is found can only be bad for well-being, postponing the adjustment to loss that most people feel as time passes? We should not encourage people to spend 70 years with disabling grief, on the idea that bodies or graves are necessary for ‘closure’.

Is Julia Gillard going to upset the public school lobby?

Last year I suggested that all schools, and not just private schools as now, be funded on the basis of the average socieconomic status of their parents. In today’s Weekend Australian, Julia Gillard is reported as suggesting this as well.

It’s not quite clear, though, what her version would entail. My proposal would have meant that government schools (though I would have privatised their management) serving affluent parents would no longer be free. While this would remove the inequity of rich people sending their kids to state schools getting greater educational subsidies than poor people sending their kids to private schools, needless to say ending the right to have your kids educated fully at the taxpayers’ expense would be very controversial. It’s the kind of idea think-tanks come up with, not Deputy Prime Ministers.

So presumably Gillard means that every school gets a base level of funding, but that schools serving low SES parents get more. So her version would have a much narrower range of subsidies than I was envisaging (from $0 for the richest areas to more than now for the poorest), and greater total cost to taxpayers.

To the extent that currently ‘over-funded’ government schools in affluent areas lost out, it would speed the shift to the private system. I don’t think the public school lobby is going to like the implications of what Gillard is suggesting. But it will be tricky for them to handle. ‘Equity’ is one of their cloaks of respectability, and it will be hard for them to argue against more money for poor schools.

Update: Gillard clarifies that money won’t be taken away from schools in affluent areas, and mentions an alternative index that would help identify students in particular educational need.

OECDitis, again

Yesterday Education Minister Julia Gillard announced a major review of higher education policy, to report by the end of the year. The terms of reference are sensible enough. But I hope we will get over the bout of OECDitis on display in the Minister’s speech to the AFR higher ed conference.

As I noted last year, OECDitis is the modern-day version of the cultural cringe, except that now it’s not England that sets the benchmark for Australia, it is the OECD average. Whether or not other OECD countries are actually getting good outcomes, or if they are whether doing the same thing would work in Australian conditions, is all irrelevant. We must at least be the same as the OECD average.

So according to Gillard:
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Ideological contortions on VSU

A quick student politics quiz:

1. Which student political movement believes that student charges should be increased:

a) The National Union of Students
b) The Australian Liberal Students Federation

2. Which student political movement believes that additional student charges would a significant disincentive to participating in higher education?

a) The National Union of Students
b) The Australian Liberal Students Federation
Continue reading “Ideological contortions on VSU”

White flight?

The SMH this week has been taken with the idea of ‘white flight’ from public schools. On Monday they told us that:

WHITE students are fleeing public schools, leaving behind those of Aboriginal and Middle Eastern origin, a secret report by high school principals reveals. …

In New England, in towns such as Armidale, white middle-class students are flocking to Catholic and independent schools. In their report, principals say this is so the students can “get away from their local school”.

“This is almost certainly white flight from towns in which the public school’s enrolment consists increasingly of indigenous students,” the report says. “The pattern is repeated in the Sydney region. Based on comments from principals, this most likely consists of flight to avoid Islamic students and communities.”

As usual, parental choice is described as bad for ‘social cohesion’: According to UWS academic Carol Reid:

“I’m concerned that social cohesion is going to be at risk through this. I see signs of that. You have a lot of segregation going on.”

And in this morning’s paper, public school lobbyist Chris Bonnor makes his standard claim that the shortcomings of public education are the fault of private schools:
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Win trip to Tokyo, meet Nobel Prize winner

As Jason has already informed Catallaxy readers, the 2008 Mont Pelerin Society Essay Competition is on. The prizes are pretty good – trips to the Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Tokyo over September 7-12 this year, plus US$2,500 for first prize, $1,500 for second prize, and $1,000 for third prize.

Speakers at the conference include luminaries such as Gary Becker, James Heckman, and Vaclav Klaus. He’s not so famous, but I am also looking forward to hearing the prolific but consistently interesting Edward Glaeser (and of course I am also looking forward to my first trip to Japan).

To get there, you have be less than 35 years old and to write in 5,000 words maximum by 30 April your answer to:

In The Constitution of Liberty Hayek says that “we are probably only at the threshold of an age in which the technological possibilities of mind control are likely to grow rapidly and what may appear at first as innocuous or beneficial powers over the personality of the individual will be at the disposal of government. The greatest threats to human freedom probably still lie in the future.”

Has Hayek’s gloomy warning been borne out by events, or has technology become more a force for liberating people from government?

Why do for-profit higher education providers have a small market share?

In this week’s Campus Review, John Quiggin in polemical mode takes aim at for-profit higher education. He claims ‘for profit education has been a consistent failure in all times and places’ , with some ‘limited exceptions’ in vocational training.

Curiously, he provides very little evidence of the failure of for-profit higher education. He reports some of the legal troubles of the University of Phoenix, but it has 250,000 students and has operated successfully for many years, as have various competitors in the US market. The legal troubles relate to violations of student admissions and loans regulations, not the quality of their courses. The statistic he cites on their graduation rate refers to a market they barely target, full-time and first-time college attendees (as here, US completion statistics are of poor quality).

Apart from the Singapore-based but partly Australian owned U21 Global he doesn’t even mention any of the Australian for-profits, though there quite a few of them, with nearly 30 signed up for FEE-HELP (some with common owners). The players in the for-profit market include the stockmarket listed and profitable Navitas, the Australian College of Natural Medicine, and the various providers owned by Amadeus Education.

But there is an interesting issue here: why is for-profit higher education relatively rare? Even in the US, the for-profits have only about 1 million students out of a total enrolment of 17.5 million. (In 2006, about 20 Australia for-profits reported 5,094 students to DEST, but they were only obliged to report students receiving FEE-HELP.)

Professor Q’s answer is:

Continue reading “Why do for-profit higher education providers have a small market share?”

Liberty and Society seminar

The CIS Liberty and Society seminar is coming up again. It’s a weekend live-in seminar on classical liberal ideas for university students and recent graduates. It covers political philosophy, economics, law and social policy. It’s a bit like a good blog with high-quality comments – there are lots of opportunities for discussion with the lecturers and other students.

You don’t have to be a classical liberal to attend – a few conservatives and social democrats are good for keeping the debate lively – but you have to be interested in the ideas, do the reading, and of course be civil to everyone.

The next one is in Sydney over the weekend of 11-13 April, with 14 March the deadline for applications. It’s free, and the CIS will also pay most of your travel expenses if you live outside of Sydney and need financial help getting there.

Political incentives

There is a strange disconnect between the debate on political donations laws, with yet more regulation proposed by the Prime Minister yesterday, and with the problems faced by Australian governments.

We have plenty of bad policies, yet very few of them have even plausible, let alone proven, links to political donations. As I noted last year, the people who are ‘bought’ in Australian politics aren’t politicians, they are voters. Politicians promise to spend billions to get themselves elected. Many bad or ineffective programs stay in place because they create their own constituencies that fight for them. In between donors and voters, donors lose every time. The incentives in the Australian political system aren’t to favour donors, but voters – donors are only ways of getting the campaign message to more voters.

As this theory of Australian political incentives would predict, there are very few cases of proven improper influence by donors, particularly at the federal level. Joo-Cheong Tham and Sally Young’s book on political finance laws, though proposing a bureaucratic extravaganza of regulation that would require the political parties to employ small armies of lawyers, provides little evidence that they are not proposing a solution to an imaginary problem. They suggest that a long-term donor to the Liberals may have received improperly favourable Ministerial discretion in an immigration case, and note that the unions finance the ALP, but they can’t actually nail a case.
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Should the HECS debt be sold?

Universities Australia, formerly the AVCC, today released a paper suggesting that HELP student loan repayments be securitised.

Versions of this idea have been around for many years. In the past, people in the finance industry have wanted to buy the stream of future repayments from previous HECS debts (now HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP). They would of course have demanded a huge discount on the face value of these debts, because of the risks of slow or non-repayment we have discussed before. For financial and political reasons, previous governments have never agreed to this.

The Universities Australia version gets around the political problem of explaining to the punters that the $13 billion dollars lent to students still outstanding at 30 June 2007 is, on the government’s own estimates, worth only $8.2 billion. It suggests that the government sells bonds in the capital markets to raise money for higher education, and uses the income stream from HELP repayments to finance the interest it would have to pay the bond holders. Money not immediately spent on universities would be put in a Future Fund-like investment scheme, and the returns spent on universities in later years.

This idea neither should nor will go far, for at least the following reasons:
Continue reading “Should the HECS debt be sold?”