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Insights 15: 1 May 2020
New Research Note: Reinforcing New Zealandís trade relationships after Covid-19
In this podcast, Nathan Smith talks about Covid-19ís impact on publishing, journalism, tourism, supply chains and what NZ's economy may look like
New Policy Point: Open for minds: export education and recovery

Paving the path to recovery
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
New Zealand has come out of lockdown to enter the purgatory of Three-dom (hopefully for only a couple of weeks). The path towards a new normal remains long and littered with challenges.

Since the crisis affects every part of the economy, policy-thinking must do two things at once: It needs to deal with myriad individual issues, but in doing so keep the bigger picture in mind.

That bigger picture is the question of what kind of country we want after the pandemic.

The most immediate challenge is to ensure employees retain a connection to their workplaces not just during the lockdown but also during the recession. The wage subsidy scheme was a blunt tool, but it broadly achieved this.

Still, there are two reasons for concern. First, the scheme’s rough-and-ready nature meant it was not properly targeted, let alone fine-tuned. That is not a criticism of the Government – there simply was no time for designing something better.

However, it meant the scheme has paid out to some companies that technically qualified but were not in the greatest need. Conversely, it was not generous enough for other companies.

It would be unfair to blame businesses for accessing the scheme if they qualified for it. But similarly, if the Government were to extend the scheme beyond the 12-weeks limitation, it will need to refine the criteria.

Beyond such short-term questions, we must ask how to reopen our economy. This week, Trade Minister David Parker co-authored a piece with his ministerial colleagues from Australia, Singapore and the UK. The ministers stressed the importance of free trade.

At the Initiative, we believe this is the right way forward. We released a research note this week in which we explained the trade opportunities open to New Zealand after Covid-19. We applaud the Government’s move in this direction.

Another way of reopening will be to allow international students to enter New Zealand again. In a short paper released today, we presented a plan to revive our education export business. Provided the students undergo a strict quarantine, they should be able to study at New Zealand universities again. This would prevent our universities experiencing severe financial difficulty over the coming years.

Our recovery path will be bumpy. But good policy development can help clear the road and lead us towards a better future.

Please download our new research notes on trade and tertiary education exports from our website:

Exacerbating inequity in schooling
Briar Lipson | Research Fellow |
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, there were gaping inequities in the educational outcomes of students in New Zealand.
For example, in its latest (2018) round of PISA testing, the OECD found that New Zealand had the worst socioeconomic gradient (i.e. the strongest relationship between socioeconomic background and educational performance) of all English-speaking countries.
The partial closure of schools due to the Covid-19 lockdown will only exacerbate this inequity.
Of course, many teachers have been proactive in finding ways to stay connected with their students. The Ministry of Education has supported this, circulating devices, modems and hard-copy teaching resources. However, how students are using these remains to be seen.
Just as in normal times, the children most in need of support tend to be the hardest to reach. Online learning only magnifies this challenge.
For some children, temporary homeschooling using resources selected and sequenced by their parents has been an epiphany. Through programmes like Oak National Academy, Khan Academy and Times Table Rock Stars, children have seen that schooling can be about so much more than researching, collaborating, and meeting your unique, child-centered needs. They are learning that school can also be about learning from subject-experts, about drilling and killing (in the best possible way), about quizzing, reciting poems and studying art.
For these children, lockdown has been inspiring, provoking and testing, just as every school day should be.
For too many Kiwi children, not even normal school days aspire to these things. These days, with the unbalanced push for schooling to be relevant, child-centered, egalitarian and kind, teachers are trained and cajoled into overlooking essential aspects of what children need.
For example, New Zealand’s national curriculum undermines the importance of learning a canon of knowledge in favour of complete flexibility. It also finds no need to mention teacher-led instruction as part of effective pedagogy. The national qualification, NCEA, offers endless second chances and pretends all subjects are equal.
Each of these aspects of official policy, influential though they are, are based on only half the story. In this way they meet the definition of an ideology.
Even virtues turn toxic when left to an unchecked extreme. Tough love is important too.
Official policy in New Zealand extols only the flexible, the child-centered and the kind. Until this changes to reflect the complete story, it will only reinforce inequity.

Bake sale: Victoria University
Luke Redward | Research Intern |
This week, the vice chancellor of Victoria University (in Wellington) proved once again he is the bull in the china shop by doubling down on an $150 weekly holding fee for first year student halls.
Now, we can all sympathise with universities since they have lost a large portion of their income from international students. However, I feel duty bound to share an idea about how they might take advantage of a golden opportunity.
I’m not talking about turning halls into storage units as many suggest. While there is merit in cutting costs for food and internet access, with the rates he charges I doubt he’d have any biters.
No, I’m talking about having the biggest bake sale in history.
Think about it, 22,000 students are stuck at home doing next to nothing. If every single student baked one cake, that would be 22,000 cakes. And at $10 each, the university would make more money than it ever could from holding fees.
It even works as a PR stunt. I can see the headlines now: “vice chancellor sizzling snags at biggest ever bake sale.”
Face saved.
Not to mention that it solves the name issue. At Guinness World Record speed, Wellington’s version of the institute would become the predominant Victoria University in the world. No longer would international students accidentally enrol with the Australian or Canadian phonies.
But then again, a large bake sale poses its own issues. How can you ensure with certainty that no student has the coronavirus? Even worse, how could you ensure that every student fulfils their civic duty and bakes a cake – not to mention the varying quality of the pastry.
Perhaps there is another, safer alternative – one that makes even a large bake sale look like chump change.
Yes, it’s those international students. And no, not to increase the number of keen bakers, but to allow them to re-enter New Zealand and resume their studies.
New Zealand’s universities already attract large cohorts of international students through reputation. By being swift to re-open to students, and burnishing the success of the country’s elimination strategy, these universities could have a bumper year!
With safe and effective systems in place to quarantine student arrivals and courses provided online, Covid-19 could be transformed into an opportunity for New Zealand’s universities.
No need to shake-down absent freshers for pennies. We should all embrace our inner Scrooge McDuck, and aim high, so we too can swim in gilded pools filled with international cash.
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