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I hope you’re reading this column during a great holiday, perhaps with a glass of wine.  Congratulations to The Hobson for carrying on successfully through another year, with growing readership.

By the time The Hobson hits my letter box in Remuera, I’ll have returned from Parliament which rises on the 21st and will probably be trying to tidy the house for Christmas.  Our old bungalow always needs a bit of painting somewhere.  Our favourite local adventure is to walk the dog, Langer (named by my father-in-law after the Aussie cricketer), up Mt Hobson.  Notwithstanding the rank grass, looking across our beautiful city from that vantage point never fails to inspire. 

But we’re not totally parochial.  A run up to Achilles Point and back from Kohi beach is a good option, followed by a swim out to the buoy at high tide.  Even a simple walk down to Newmarket, to one of the cafes on Teed or Osborne Streets is not to be despised.  

For the past few years we’ve been in the habit of tenting for a week at Tauwharanui Regional Park with some friends.  It’s a gorgeous piece of our coastline that I’d recommend visiting if you have the time.  It’s predator free, so the birds are everywhere.  I saw some Takahe last time, but have yet to see a Kiwi.  Maybe this year.

And, of course, while I swim and wrangle kids, I’ll be thinking about how to approach the political challenges of 2018. 

As tertiary education spokesperson I’ll be watching how the sector handles the last-minute introduction of free fees for the first year of tertiary study. 

It may be that fees provide a barrier to tertiary education for some, notwithstanding the current subsidies which average around 80 per cent including interest free loans.  Though no evidence of this has been provided.  Extra support could have been provided for those most in need.

Instead, we have scarce education resources being spread everywhere – including to the sons and daughters of the richest New Zealanders, who will go on to earn high incomes and can easily contribute something to the cost of their education. 

Meantime, my concern is that since all the extra money has been devoted to extra student support, it’s difficult to see how there will be much left to ensure that the sector remains strong and effective, and that it builds on its high international reputation.

Faced with intense international competition our leading universities are struggling to hold their rankings.  It will take careful investment in quality to arrest a downwards trend, and unless the new government has indeed found the magic money tree I struggle to see how they will do it, given the choices they have already made.

We’ll be watching closely and advocating for more balanced spending. 

In the meantime, let me wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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