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Thursday, 16 January 2014

Scholarship Fee Changes

http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/fees-scholarship-exams-introduced-5785799

This is a most concerning development. To my mind, Scholarship is about providing monetary reward for our top students but it's now going to become about providing monetary reward for those who can afford to risk $30. There's no way that I would have attempted the three I did (economics, classical studies and history) if doing so would've resulted in an additional $90 outlay. I tried them for entirely personal reasons and goals with only minimal expectations of any money (naturally, I hope I've done well but I am certain economics can be discarded and it was only slight anyway). There are plenty of people for whom that cost is even more of a burden than I view it as. Even with financial assistance this is a great step to creating a divide along socio-economic lines -- ignoring that NZ already has a huge problem with inequality in education to begin with (it was one of the key failings identified by PISA), which means that this is further disadvantaging students from such backgrounds..

I recognise, though, that there is a problem here. Shame on those students who didn't turn up. Slightly less shame on those who turned up and then left. NZQA does a lot for the money that is required. Sure, that money is contrary to a "free education" system like we should have but the plain truth is that it's a political reality. There are far too many people out there who don't care enough about their fellow man to pay more in taxes. They also tend not to recognise that, contrary to what they think, that they benefit from taxation. User Pays systems are something that we expect and have come to terms with in New Zealand, but there are cases where it's inappropriate to impose what basically amounts to a socio-economic punishment: Scholarship (Schol to students) is one of those. What should happen, instead, is that a cost-plus system is used for no-shows. Costs of printing, shipping and compensation plus, say, a 10% penalty.

Some may be thinking, "But additional subjects beyond the base three have always required extra cash, how is that not as wrong?" It is my experience that most students take five or six subjects in total, which include core subjects as well as student chosen options. The number of options to core subjects increases as the student progresses through school, allowing a degree of specialisation to occur. Three subjects, therefore, is most or half of a student's total. It is reasonable to expect that most students consider that they have a shot at scholarship in only a selection of their subjects. Therefore, it is only necessary to provide three for free (well, at no additional cost). Those who attempt more, as such, are the ones for whom a scholarship is probable. Their forking out now matters less because the money obtained will cover that expense. Yes, a socio-economic penalty still exists here and, yes, that is wrong. But, in these cases, a financial assistance scheme is appropriate.

Adopt a penalty system NZQA. Do not disadvantage those from low socio-economic backgrounds any more than they already are.

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