For NZ to become Dawkins’ “the Athens of the modern world”, attracting European and US Nobel Laureates, we need to rebuild NZ universities. Compared to the rest of the OECD, we spend much less on public tertiary education and and much more on private tertiary education which (as TOP recognises) is often of poor quality. See the chart here…
We also underspend on blue-skies research (the very thing that top academics want to be able to do). NZ’s Marsden fund has a success rate round 8% while Australia’s ARC fund is round 20%. Apart from work that is tied to health, agriculture and (to some extent) ICT, academia in NZ has be subject to funding/hiring cuts and/or freezes for nearly a decade. The world’s great thinkers and scientists don’t want to work in glorified polytechnics / industry training schemes. Part of the problem is that NZ has fallen into the STEM trap of thinking that tertiary education is most useful for imparting technical skills that directly drive current or short-term needs of employers. If we want to avoid an NZ version of “ Brexit, Trump and the ugly march of nationalism moving across Europe” we need to enhance opportunity and equality, but also social cohesion, and quality of life in general. Universities should be tackling all these interdisciplinary issues. Having said all this, I agree with Dawkins that we really could attract a lot of talent here and we really could have the knowledge economy that other have paid lip-service to for so long, but we won’t do it unless we fix tertiary education first.
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