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Better public-private balance needed in tertiary funding, says consumer advocate
Wednesday 16 April 2008, 10:54PM
By Massey University


Consumer champion David Russell says the Government should pick up a bigger share of the cost students currently pay towards tertiary education in recognition of the public benefit that arises from study and research.

At a ceremony in Auckland this morning, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Commerce, Dr Russell recalled the days when students were not only paid to go to university but they could also get funding for training in various occupations and skills – in his case, learning to fly a plane.

"Now there is a bit of history that perhaps you shouldn’t pass on to current Massey aviation students," he told the other graduates. "Envy can be distracting!"

Dr Russell said Government spending priorities had changed. "The true cost of tertiary education has been calculated and you [students] have had to pay a percentage of the figure. I don’t believe the right balance has been struck between the public and personal benefit that is derived from tertiary education.

"I’m not advocating going back to the halcyon days of free handouts, but I believe there is room for a more equitable split between the gain that flows from having a well-educated society – the collective national benefit – and the dollars individuals have to pay to gain a qualification – the personal benefit."

Dr Russell urged the students – all of whom were graduating from Massey's College of Business – to maintain high ethical standards in whatever areas of commerce or industry they were employed in.

"You may be tempted to take unfair personal gain at the expense of innocent consumers or less well informed traders. Resist.

"I’ve spent a working life observing, commenting on and working in the commercial world. I’ve seen the cons, the tricks, the deceits. I’ve also seen generosity, fairness, consideration. With few exceptions the crooks get caught and the ethical trader gains. Stay on the side of the angels and you will be rewarded with self-respect and, with few exceptions, financially."

Emeritus Professor Tim Brown said Dr Russell, a former architectural draughtsman who joined the Consumers' Institute in 1971 and was chief executive from 1990 until his retirement last year, had played a major role in developing many of the statutory and industry-led protections that consumers now enjoyed and remained involved in many of the bodies that dealt with the rights of customers in areas such as banking, real estate, insurance, electricity and gas.

Dr Russell received a standing ovation after being bestowed with his honorary doctorate by Massey University Chancellor Nigel Gould. He said later he was surprised and a little overwhelmed at the reception and recognition he had received.