Key Points:

My kids don't know this but I'm immensely proud of their attitude to their university costs. I suspect I'm not unusual among parents of the generation that has grown up with Rogernomics.

Parental incomes meant our kids didn't need the Government's living allowance but they had to take out student loans to cover their tuition fees and I never heard them complain.

In fact, I don't recall even a discussion of the "loans burden" loudly condemned by student associations then and still, nor any conversation that raised the "intergenerational equity issues" invoked this week when Labour promised to waste more money.

I'd always meant to have that conversation at home. I wanted to explain why they didn't have the kind of support my generation did, as the Prime Minister put it. But public discussion often bears no connection to what people and families actually think, say and do.

The difference is not so much the income test on the living allowance, which Labour promises to remove gradually, it is the fees. My generation was charged a nominal amount that bore no relation to the cost of anything.

We had that kind of economy then. Public services were practically free and nearly everything else was ridiculously expensive. The country felt like a debtors' prison, which it was really.

It was comfortable enough if you didn't look out the window. But when you ventured outside the tariff walls, you bought every damned thing you could bring home.

Generation Y has no memory of this. Born around 1980, they were unaware of the new guards who opened the doors and said we would be fine if we just paid the true price of things.

True prices they explained, would ensure that national investment went where it would generate the most value. Many prison activities would disappear but there would be plenty of employment in the imported goods and world class services we would afford.

When tertiary fees were steadily increased through the 1990s in line with the logic of the new economy, Generation Y was at secondary school. Most of their teachers were out of sorts with what was happening. I glanced at my son's economics textbook one day and despaired.

By the time the kids went to university, the present Government had come to power with a jaundiced view of an economy it could not change. It couldn't afford to lower tertiary fees but didn't like the logic that public money should follow students' investment decisions.

So it established a central commission to distribute tertiary funds by criteria of its own devising. Educational competition was considered wasteful duplication, popular career courses were not necessarily in the public interest, professionals knew best.

From that point there was no reason for high tertiary fees except that they saved the taxpayer some money and the cost to students was offset by the soft loans available.

Still, the students I knew didn't complain. They seemed to find it fairly natural to take out loans against their future earnings and I admired them immensely for it.

They had nearly completed degrees before Labour offered at the 2005 election to make loans interest-free for the duration of study. They regarded the offer with that sense of sordid acceptance that accompanies any needless public grant.

Today's students probably feel much the same about this election's bribe. At least in 2005, the public accounts were healthy, now they are projected to be in deficit for a decade.

Announcing their living allowance would gradually lose its parental means test, Helen Clark said her "dream has always been to enable our young people to have the kind of support that my generation had".

Her dream is unduly romantic; our generation did not live as well at university as today's students do. A student of today dropped into a campus of 1970 would notice the clothing, vehicles, bookshops, cafeteria food and general surroundings much plainer and poorer.

About the only thing more lively in 1970 was the politics and it would strike today's students as immature. It was generationally embarrassing in Tuesday night's television debate when Helen Clark could not believe John Key had not taken sides on the 1981 Springbok Tour.

It is not hard to believe a 20-year-old commerce student with conservative views and a new girlfriend was among those not particularly interested. He spans the generation between me and my kids and makes mine seem suddenly dated.

When I consider the economy we have given them, it is not tertiary costs and their debt that I regret, it is the housing debt they face because the baby boomers never learned to invest in anything more productive. Most of my generation never learned to invest in themselves. That's the difference.