College and university fees are surely one of the hottest topics of discussions for many learners and their parents. With rising costs of education, many believe that education should become free for all. But is that the right solution? Let’s find out…
Should Education Be Free?
Recently Lower Saxony in Germany proved to be the final state which abolished tuition fees. This re-emphasised the notion that education must be made free for all and it is a public good. On the other hand, higher education largely depends on free market forces in the United States, which results in increasing fees. As a result of this student debts have escalated to $100,000, which requires several years for the graduates to repay. In fact, it has become so severe, that in the wake of the impending vote this has become one of the key issues for the voters.
Although, the idea of ‘zero fees’ appears attractive, the fact remains that cheap or free mass education is not ideal for our students as it is far from the required standards. It is not ideal that our students share a single lecture hall with numerous other learners just to learn the basics. The provision of quality education with zero fees can only be sustainable with substantial public resources, which is not the scenario currently. Moreover a ‘plan economy’ for further education, where authorities attempt to control demand and supply, has already proved to be futile.
Producing Winners & Losers
Similarly, as the free market results in creating winners and losers, it cannot work effectively. In fact the so-called ‘losers’ signify wasted talent in reality, from a socio-economic viewpoint. This is clearly unwise and unreasonable from an economic outlook.
We need to engage large numbers of people in the knowledge-based economy for the sake of national interest. It is clearly not smart to exclude talented individuals from education for the sole reason that they are unable to pay for it.
Following The Middle Path
If we fail to find a satisfactory solution at either extreme, then the answer will most probably be found in the middle somewhere. This refers to a regulated market which will require students to bear the costs, while being supplemented by a funding scheme for those groups who otherwise might get excluded. This can also help to bring in gifted and skilled students in fields where talent is actually required. This form of system is prevalent in a number of countries like the United Kingdom.
However, this balanced approach between a planned-regulated and free-competitive system poses a serious challenge. This process necessitates heavy pre-financing from the government or the private sector and includes a high risk of defaults. In the United Kingdom, the challenges of this system are with the individual students and the government. Due to the involvement of large number, both are concerned.
Although universities must play a vital role in inspiring “knowledge for the sake of knowledge,” as believed by the University of Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, it is only one of its roles. It is possible to deal with this in the context of regulation.
Education is in fact an investment in to the future for most students. The best solution for high quality education provision is perhaps sharing the risks of that investment between the education provider, the government, the taxpayer and the students.
What do you think about the rising tuition fees? What solution would you suggest? Feel free to share your opinions by commenting below.