The Monitor Economics Q&A – Jamie Beaton, CEO of Crimson Education
Every week Thing asks New Zealand business and community leaders how they think the economy is doing and what they think are the biggest challenges.
Jamie Beaton co-founded New Zealand education company Crimson Consulting. Crimson Education offers online tutoring and mentoring services for high school students hoping to improve their chances of entering US and UK universities, while Crimson Global Academy is an online high school.
Beaton said the past year has highlighted New Zealand’s resilience and adaptability.
However, the slow deployment of the Covid-19 vaccination and the increase in the level of public debt are cause for concern.
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How do you think New Zealand’s economy is doing right now?
Our international education and tourism sector is under great pressure, but these can be rekindled quickly once we open up again to the world. Otherwise, I see signs that our economy is doing quite well compared to other countries in difficult times. We can do better, we can accelerate, but we must bear in mind the levels of public debt which have exploded in recent years.
What are you most concerned about right now?
I am concerned about our speed of vaccination. Speaking with our staff, students, advisors, and investors in the United States, many have been vaccinated. The vaccination rate in the United States is now 45.9%. We need to get vaccinations quickly locally, so that we can open New Zealand with more confidence, reduce the risk of lockdown and get our tourism and international education sectors back on track.
What did the last year teach us about the New Zealand economy?
We are resilient. We are adaptable. We have the ability to rally to our nation when times get tough. None of this is surprising – we know it.
I think the rapid growth of the tech sector during Covid-19 is an acceleration of the trend towards wide digital adoption. Recent indicators of success in our local tech sector include the recent successful acquisition of Xero, Vend being acquired by a global company, EzyVet being acquired by a global company and Rocket Lab continuing their PSPC. Kiwifruit companies like Halter and Crimson continue to raise growth capital to meet demand in new markets and develop their products.
Let’s not be complacent with this. Many countries are seeing their local technology companies flourish. We want to amplify that. Get more computer and math education in New Zealand schools, standardize entrepreneurship as a career path, and invest in skills that will be competitive for our young people in this changing landscape.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the economy this year? Why?
I’m optimistic. On average, the stock market (an indicator of economic health) grows 8% per year, but there is volatility. When the economy is shocked, it usually rebounds quickly. This is true whether we have a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic or a financial shock like the collapse of subprime mortgages in the United States.
In this case, the driving force behind the temporary economic weakness is our intentional decision to shut down parts of our economy. New Zealand is a beautiful and attractive country for people from all over the world. As we open up, our tourism will come back stronger than ever. Our universities will fill up again and our hotels will thrive. We have managed Covid better than almost any country in the world both due to strong government leadership on this and our isolated geography, and are in an excellent position to capitalize on the global recognition we have received from it.
What’s the biggest challenge New Zealand faces?
Our school system is being challenged. Countries like Singapore, similar in size to New Zealand, are able to thrive thanks to a highly efficient education system at secondary and university level. Our universities are falling in the major international rankings. Our NCEA program is not internationally competitive. Students can get credits for all kinds of things like driving.
In high school I hadn’t even considered doing computer science which was a big mistake. We introduced Crimson alumnus Soumil Singh to computer science at the age of 15. He took AP Computer Science (an American degree) with us, won an NZQA Premier scholarship, then at Harvard he focused on Applied Mathematics and Computer Science. It is now innovating at the cutting edge of frontiers like machine learning and crypto in Silicon Valley.
We shouldn’t have to introduce computer science to our young Kiwis by chance. In our schools, many university students take subjects like physics, chemistry and biology in large numbers, seeing them as “rigorous” with limited encouragement to consider computer science.
My most talented Crimson alumni often enter the tech industry working in fields such as artificial intelligence after studying at top universities in the world. If a significant proportion of young Kiwis upgraded in math, statistics and computer science, they would be in a much stronger competitive position for the digital economy in which they will be competitive.
A globally competitive New Zealand requires a globally competitive education system and a cultural shift to rally with those who are ambitious and ready to challenge the status quo.
– The Monitor is Stuff’s unique set of information to help the business community better understand the economic landscape and maximize their success. Next to the quarterly snapshot is a economic index showing the speed of growth in different parts of the economy.