Welcome back to the Point-of-View series, in which I chronicle my opinions and ‘points of view’ about various topics.
Free post-secondary education is a hot topic. As the job focus continues the shift towards a knowledge economy where education and specialization are key. Education, the critical component in creating a competitive cohort remains difficult to procure, increasingly at higher levels. One of the suggestions frequently touted as the solution is to provide Free University education to all citizens of a country (sometimes even other countries citizens). The thrust of this argument is that when it’s free more people will do it.
Countries That Do It
Germany – All Public Universities
Since 2014 there has been no tuition for national and international students attending university in Germany. This, in response to unpopular fee increases in previous years. If only the US students could force such a deal.
“Tuition fees are socially unjust,” said Dorothee Stapelfeldt, senator for science in Hamburg, which scrapped charges in 2012. “They particularly discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up studies. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.” (2)
One of the best reasons provided for the lack of fees is that it allows for increased positive immigration and higher levels of competition in the market. Students without debt are better positioned to start companies, be entrepreneurial, or take risks with their career futures.
Malta – University of Malta – apx. 11,000 F/T Enrolled
In Malta, all university students receive €83 every four weeks from October to June plus a one-time grant of €466 for the first year and another €466 in each academic year. The grants are higher for those reading scientific, maths or IT degree and for those with a background of proven hardship. (1)
There is a ongoing discussion in Malta about the cost to the state and the need for the university to seek external funding in order to continue providing the above service to students.
Denmark – all public universities (EE/EAU residents)
Denmark is one of the longstanding arguments for free education. Often voted the happiest country (citizens) in the world free education, high wages, and higher tax all combine to make happy Danes. While this has increased the number of university graduates the current problem in Denmark is that students are taking too long to graduate, therefore; increasing cost to taxpayers.
The only real argument against free education is cost. This is both a valid concern and a selfish one. Increased taxes mean better social support, which is generally a socialist ideal and most people will argue against it simply because of the communist/socialist association. It’s a fear of equality.
A defining feature of Denmark is the difficulty for people to become overwhelmingly rich or extremely poor. Because of the high taxes, minimum income, and strong social solidarity (in part through unionization) people have a different kind of life, a different freedom if you will. So I just don’t understand how the argument against free education is really, honestly important. It’s a selfish financial decision made by people who want to stay incredibly rich at the expense of everyone else.
Because most universities are only partially funded by the government, and tuition doesn’t really cover the entire cost of education they are required to seek external funding. The danger in seeking external funding is the possibility of being played (owned) by external influences. Corporations can buy studies easily enough now, when they starting investing in university education and research at that level there is even more risk of tampering as researchers, students, and professors livelihoods are dependent on that external funding. Corruption is money based. With free education, government-funded through the people there is less chance of corruption being built into the system.
I think I’ve been pretty clear that I would like free education and I’m willing to pay taxes to get it.
Yet, a part of education that I still struggle with is the way it limits and requires a drawn-out, prescribed path predetermined well in advance. As someone who struggles with what I really want to do as a career or if a career is really all that desirable the limitations on how I can obtain the right education that will provide the best future seem pointlessly insurmountable and part of a larger more insidious system that limits pathways while continuing class (money-based) division.
Usher, A., Lambert, J., Mirzazadeh, C. (2014). The Many Prices of Knowledge: How Tuition and Subsidies Interact in Canadian Higher Education. Toronto: Higher Education Strategy Associates.
Free Universities and No Student Loan Debt is Hurting Denmarks Economy – Business Insider