Should higher education be free?

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In high school  I  found a majority of my classes boring and uninteresting.  Throughout grades 7-10  I  did just enough to keep up my satisfactory C+ average.  It wasnt until my 11th  grade that I realised there would be  no more coasting along and going through  motions. After these last year was  completed it would be on to the “big scary”  post secondary education, so I had no choice but to buckle down and improve my grades. A majority of the faculties then claimed that they looked at your 11th and 12th grades marks to ensure you admission.

I moved from a C+ average to the high B’s and graduated . It wasn’t until after I received my diploma that it hit me ” how am I going to pay for university?”. I had moved out on my own at the age of  17 so having my parents pay for it wasn’t an option, especially since my father lived across the globe in a third world country.

So options were :

  •  Take out a student loan and be raped with obscene payback interest rates for the rest of my life.
  • Work and pay my way through school
  • Not go to university.

I chose to work and pay my way through school, I took a year off  after high school in an attempt to save up money.  I quickly realized  that rent and bills were  cutting a huge chunk of money out my savings. So for my first couple years I ended up taking out a student loan to help me along.  During my 2nd and 3rd year I was able to get a decent paying internship that was very flexible with my schooling.  I still regret taking out that student loan, this the means the government pretty much owns my bank account after I graduate.

Here are a couple facts about student loans:

1. Two-thirds of college students graduated with college debt.

2. Among student loan borrowers, 25% left school with at least $30,500 worth of college debt.

 3. 10% of all college students borrowed $39,300 or more for their education.

4. Student, attending private, non-profit colleges, borrowed an average of $16,900 in private student loans, which are the least desirable college loans.

I’m sure as a youngster we all heard the phrase “education is key”” , it leads to a better job, a better life and the list goes on. My question is ” if education is so important, why isn’t it free?”.  This is a very complex question, many arguments for and against it can  be made.


Most would agree that there isn’t sufficient funding for the sector and that extra income has to come from somewhere. Some Vice-Chancellors think it should come directly from students through unregulated and variable fees. By contrast the National Union of Students (NUS) thinks it should all come from public money through taxation of the rich.

The argument against free education is this; it’s not free! Graduates are obviously good for the economy and society and there is some mileage in suggesting that Universities and individual degrees should be government subsidised. But the money has to come from somewhere and do we really think it’s fair to ask the majority of general taxpayers who didn’t directly benefit from Higher Education to completely pay for those who did?


It’s not unreasonable to suggest that those who directly benefit from the system should make a level of contribution to the costs of their degree given the potential return after they graduate. Clearly there is a debate as to where the level is set but any contribution is an acknowledgement of a duty to put something in for what you get out. It might go some way to combat the culture of knowing ‘the price of everything and the value of nothing’.

Asking students to contribute to the costs of their degree is not a simple venture and with it come some serious caveats. We must recognise that for some in our society, any kind of contribution is not possible. At that point we must champion and prioritise the maxim that entrance to University should be based on your ability to achieve and not on your ability to pay. Otherwise we will price people out of a degree and more often than not they will be from lower socio-economic backgrounds and low participation neighbourhoods. If we are to be serious about widening participation in our Universities then we need to assure that there is funding for those who can’t afford to pay.

Some proponents of free education assume that it is the only way to make education fair. The virtue of free education is that it enables access for all. But asking some students who can afford to pay fees whilst paying for those who can’t afford it through grants and bursaries is also a system which enables access for all. Surely we can imagine a society in which those who can afford to pay study alongside those who cannot? Isn’t that Socialism 101? ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his (or her!) need’ provides for a system that is fair but also properly funded.


One Response to Should higher education be free?

  1. Pingback: UK Students Riots over FEE increase. « I am informed

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