Wednesday, November 03, 2010

why the state should fund universities

I never thought this needed explaining, but seeing that the government releases details today of what they admit is a move "to shift a greater proportion of [Higher Education] funding from the taxpayer to the individuals who benefit" (quote from the comprehensive spending review, page 51, last bullet point), it may be time to spell out the blatantly obvious.

The three words "individuals who benefit" are the most insiduous piece of misleading political propaganda that I've come across in a long time. So, for the benefit of the individuals who are busy wrecking higher education:

* giving people as good an education as their brains can soak up is not primarily to benefit the individuals, it is in the best interest of society. We all, i.e. society, need well-educated scientists, medical doctors, even lawyers and accountants. These days, we need more of these than of people who can stack shelves without complaining.

* yes it is expensive to educate people, but the benefit to society outweighs the cost by a large factor. Imagine the talented people who would normally study decided to work as bar staff instead. In the words of one ex Harvard president: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance"

* on top of the benefit that academically educated people offer society by doing intelligent work, they also earn more more on average, so pay more taxes (disproportionately so in a progressive tax system), so they also are "the taxpayer" who funds their studies.

* even when the state pays the full cost of tuition, students still have their bills to pay for the duration of the study, and often make a sacrifice in terms of what living standard they could afford if they went to work straight after leaving school.

* Burdening students with the cost of their tuition on top of that will definitely scare away some talents (no matter how clever the payback arrangements) - especially if they have the opportunity to study elsewhere for free.

* Furthermore, I am worried that the "market solution" will turn degrees into commodities. If students are regarded as paying customers and have to pay close to the full cost of their education, they could very easily get the idea that with the payment they have purchased the right to get a degree regardless of their talent or effort.

These are the reasons why in civilised countries the state does (and should continue to) fund higher education, collecting at most a small nominal fee from students to avoid abuse of the facilities offered. It's not that difficult to understand, is it?

(protest posters seen in Oxford last week)

I'm pleased to report that we have a very active protest group here, the Oxford Education Campaign, which has already managed to scare away business secretary Vince Cable (the fact that the business secretary is in charge of HE tells you a lot about what's wrong here!). You can look up OEC on facebook or email to find out more.

A nationwide demo against HE cuts will take place on Wednesday 10.11. 11.30am at London, starting at Horse Guards Avenue - more details here.

PS: More about today's government announcement in the Guardian.
Also, my blog entries now get a tweet button, please use it generously (noting that both the button and the counter refer to the URL shown at the top of the browser, so if you're looking at a page with several blog entries, you'll have to click a specific blog entry first to get a specific tweet and counter result for it):

1 comment:

Ruth Seeley said...

When I first learned that tuition fees in Canada cover only 10% of the costs of running a post-secondary institution, I immediately thought - why bother charging tuition then? If you want an educated citizenry, make it possible for everyone with the ability to benefit to attend. I'm saddened to see the UK increasingly abandoning this model.