the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

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The students are revolting

(as someone said at work)

I guess if I was a student facing a hike in student fees I'd also be a bit peeved. Not kick-windows-in peeved, but peeved nonetheless. As I always like to say, people are always more unhappy about having things taken away than if they'd never had them in the first place.

So why does society expect students to be able to study for free? Or perhaps put another way, why does the government think it's desirable to take money from taxpayers and give it to universities and students? I can think of some arguments:

  1. higher education generates more productive people who benefit society and the economy. But then the only question should be whether the 150 thousand missed places each year will disappear completely if university prices were 9k a year. Capped fees are a price limit, and economics 101 says that price limits result in unsatisfied demand and reduced supply (et voila). If going to university is good for the economy, then we should allow fees to rise to the point where there are no empty places. The economy (and society) will be better off. Turning that around, price caps are bad for the economy.

  2. poorer people have an opportunity to drastically improve their earning capacity. Ignoring scholarships and bursaries and charity, if loans enable students to study and pay out of future earnings, why are reduced fees necessary? They're still going to be substantially better off. Besides, poorer people lack money, not brains: plenty have even more incentive to work hard to get bursaries, and they'll take loans because they know it's worth it. Right now the limited places system means that poorer students (whose poorer school education is a disadvantage in merit-based admission systems) are denied the opportunity to decide whether taking out a loan is worth doing.

  3. higher education is considered beneficial to a nation's society and culture. I wonder how many working class people would agree.

  4. politicians and bureaucrats are mostly university educated and are favourably disposed towards universities.

  5. university is a rite of passage for middle and higher classes, and university fees are especially painful for middle classes (higher classes would go, regardless). In other words, subsidised university education is a way of buying middle class votes.

I think the justification for free tuition is more strongly biased towards the latter reasons than many people would care to admit.

{2010.11.12 - 17:23}


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