Thoughts On Free Education

6 Percenters

Disclaimer: I did my undergraduate studies at a private fee-levying university in Sri Lanka.

The above disclaimer reflects my natural sympathies in this fight. It was easy to support the private university cause, simply because:

  1. Not everyone can get into state universities (in the academic year 2013, only 16.5% of eligible students were afforded placements according to the UGC)

  2. The rich-enough will look for uni placements abroad

  3. The not-rich-enough-to-go-abroad (like me) would end up without any means to get tertiary education (if not for private universities)

  4. The anthare makes it hard not to hate them.

Simple argument, simple logical conclusion: allow private universities.

This was the entirety of my view on the argument, circa 2010 - 2014. At the time I was also strongly libertarian.

Well, it's 2016. The world has changed, and my views have matured and become more nuanced. I have become a BernieBro

It's increasingly clear that student debt is a problem that does not go away, and that there are serious flaws with not only the financials, but the entire structure and role of tertiary education institutions. Are liberal arts worth teaching any longer? Is graduate employability and salaries the only measure of success for a programme?

I digress.

My point is that I now think that tertiary education should be considered a student right that should be provided for by the state, and that it should be available to all eligible students.

  • I am still 100% pro letting all eligible students get university education, not just 16.5%. There would be no need for convoluted z-score schemes and the anthare feeling all superior to people who lost out on admission by a fraction of a percentage point.

  • I am not naive enough to assume the government will foot the bill for this 6-fold increase. A public-private partnership with scholarship funds etc. will need to be set up.

  • I am painfully aware, through my own experience and those of my peers, of just how mercenary a vast number of private educational institutions are.

  • I am also aware how expensive education is, and that not everyone can afford it. Poverty not standing in the way of opportunity, which is the greatest triumph of our Kannangara system, should be defended at all cost.

  • There are also plenty of kids who can afford to pitch in and pay a bit. They should be able to contribute and support their peers who can't.

  • Where applicable, student loans should have 25 - 30 year repayment periods.

Yet despite this widespread borrowing, there is no student debt crisis in Sweden, because payments are spread out over 25 years. They also start out low, rising slowly over time. [...] In Germany, students pay their loans over 20 years; in England, it’s 30 years.

This makes sense. A core principle of finance is that the length of debt payments should align with the life of the asset. We pay for cars over five years and homes over 30 years because homes last a lot longer than cars. An education pays off over a lifetime, so it makes sense that student loans should be paid off over a long term.

There is no need (nor is this an endorsement) to pre-emptively ban all private universities, but a sufficient public option should exist for all interested students (which I wager is most of them).

There are serious issues in the state university system right now (from under-paid lecturers, to strikes, to lack of research output, to academic inbreeding), and the GMOA's self-serving agenda (and using medical students as pawns to further that agenda) invokes nothing but disgust.

But the people of this country should, for once, look at the core issues surrounding our tertiary education system and try to fix them at the root, instead of palming it off to the private sector and forgetting about it.

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