Education has positive benefits for the rest of society. If university education is left to market forces, there may be under-provision, and the economy may suffer from lack of skilled graduates. Furthermore, in a free market, higher education would become the preserve of wealthy families who can afford to send their children to university. Therefore there is a strong case for the government providing higher education free at the point of use.
However, others argue the positive externalities of higher education are limited, and the prime beneficiaries of a university degree are the graduates who can command a higher paying job. If the external benefits of many degrees are limited, government spending may be misallocated in offering relatively expensive university education. Rather than fund 3-4 year university degrees, governments may be able to get a better return from spending money on primary education and vocational training – training which is more relevant to the needs of the economy.
In recent years, the UK government has sought to increase the amount students pay for studying at university. In the UK, the government have phased out grants and introduced top-up fees. With tuition fees and rising living costs, students could end up paying £50,000 for a three-year degree, and leave university with significant debts.
Some argue this is a mistake. Charging for university education will deter students and leave the UK with a shortfall of skilled labour – and arguably this will damage the long-term prospects of the UK economy. Furthermore, charging to study at university will increase inequality of opportunity as students with low-income parents will be more likely to be deterred from going to university.
Arguments for free university education
- Positive externalities of higher education. Generally, university education does offer some external benefits to society. Higher education leads to a more educated and productive workforce. Countries with high rates of university education generally have higher levels of innovation and productivity growth. Therefore, there is a justification for the government subsidising higher education.
- Equality. There is also a powerful argument that university education should be free to ensure equality of opportunity. If students have to pay for university education, this may dissuade them. In theory, students could take out loans or work part-time, but this may be sufficient to discourage students from studying and instead may enter the job market earlier.
- Increased specialisation of work. The global economy has forced countries, such as the UK to specialise in higher tech and higher value-added products and services. The UK’s biggest export industries include pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals, optical and surgical instruments, and nuclear technology (see: what does the UK produce?). Therefore, there is a greater need for skilled graduates who can contribute to these high-tech industries.
- Education is a merit good. One characteristic of a merit good is that people may underestimate the benefits of studying and undervalue higher education. Government provision can encourage people to study.
- Non-economic benefits of education. It is tempting to think of university education in purely monetary terms. But graduates can also gain skills and awareness of civic institutions which offer intangible benefits to society.
Source: Times Higher Education
Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private and Social Benefits of Higher Education (2009) Professor McMahon examined the “private non-market benefits” for individuals of having degrees.
This includes better personal health and improved cognitive development in their children, alongside the “social non-market benefits”, such as lower spending on prisons and greater political stability.
- If you wished to evaluate this point, we could ask – is it university education which causes these civic virtues or is it because university education is dominated by middle classes who are more likely to have better health e.t.c. already?
Arguments against free university education
- Opportunity cost. If we spend billions on free university education, there is an opportunity cost of higher taxes or less spending elsewhere. Arguably, there is a greater social benefit from providing vocational training – e.g. so people could become plumbers, electricians e.t.c. There is often a real shortage of these skills in an economy. The UK Commission for skills and education report significant skills shortages in the basic ‘core generic skills’ such as literacy, numeracy and communication skills. These skill shortages are prominent in industries like building, health care, plumbing, social care and construction. The problem is not a shortage of graduates with art degrees, but a shortage of lower level vocational skills. (See: BBC – skills shortage in the UK) Therefore, there is a case for charging students to study at university – allowing higher public spending to tackle more basic skill shortages.
- Do we have too many graduates? In recent decades there has been a rapid rise in the number of graduates. But many graduates are now leaving university to take jobs which don’t require a degree. A study by the ONS found that nearly 50% of workers who left university in the past five years are doing jobs which don’t require a degree. (Telegraph link) Therefore, it is a mistake to continue to fund the public expansion of university education because the economy doesn’t need more graduates as much as other vocational skills.
- Higher quality of education. The rapid rise in university numbers means that greater pressure is being put on university resources. Since the government is struggling to increase real spending, there is a danger that university education and research may suffer, causing UK education to lag behind other countries. If universities can charge students, it will help maintain standards, quality of teaching and the reputation of UK universities.
- Makes people value education more. If people have to pay to go to university, you could argue that they would value the education more. If higher education is free, it may encourage students to take an easy three years of relaxation.
- Signalling function of higher education. Arguably, higher education acts as a signal to employers that graduates have greater capacity. As a consequence, people who gain a degree, end up with a relatively higher salary. Therefore, if they financially gain from studying at university, it is perhaps fair they pay part of the cost. This is especially important for middle-class families, who send a higher proportion of people to higher education.
Another issue is whether we need 50% of 18-year-olds to go to university. The increase in student numbers is a significant contributory factor to the increased financial pressures on universities. Rather than encouraging students to automatically go to university (as some schools do), it would be better to encourage more students to take vocational training and avoid three years of academic study. If less went to university, it would mean the cost per student would be relatively lower.
Another issue is how do you charge students for going to university? If students leave university with large debts, this has negative consequences. But, if we finance university education through a graduate tax paid when graduates get a decent income then it may be less of a disincentive.
Abolition of Tuition Fees
In the 2017 election, the Labour party proposed to abolition tuition fees. This is estimated to cost £16 billion.
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Governments Should Offer A Free University Education - With A Free Essay Review.
Prompt: Governments should offer a free university education to any student who has been admitted to a university but who cannot afford the tuition. Write a response in which you discuss your views on the policy and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider the possible consequences of implementing the policy and explain how these consequences shape your position.
Governments should offer a free university education to any student who has been admitted to a university but who cannot afford the tuition. Implementing this policy will have both positive and negative consequence. It will help the poor students to get quality education but on the other hand it will be imposing burden on the Government, which already has more expenses to face. So, the government can allot some free seats which can be claimed by meritorious students who cannot afford the tuition fees. When the number of students is more, the government cannot support. In those cases, the government can set up some organisation through which people, who are willing to donate for education and who are in need of tuition fees can come into contact. So I would agree partially to the prompt that Government should offer free university education to the eligible but poor students. But when it becomes a burden, Government can only encourage affluent and humanitarian people to help the students.
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Nelson Mandela
Such a powerful weapon should not be denied to any person since he is poor. Any student once he has got admission in a university shows that he actually possesses the capability. So if such a student cannot take up the course only because he cannot afford the tuition fees then, the institution is losing a good student and the society is losing a great asset. Think of a situation where only wealthy people can study at universities. How will all the deserving but poor students study? There are adverse effects in that situation. On one hand, the student is prevented to advance in his career and on the other if most of the bright students get secluded from universities on this basis, then the society would suffer hunting for intelligent minds.
So providing free education for those students is necessary but the government cannot afford free education for all those students. If it does so then the government cannot meet its other expenses; free education will become a major part of the expense. Then it will turn into a burden. Instead, the government can take few measures which would help those eligible students. Government can allot certain number of seats in each college for qualified but poor students or can introduce new measures for reducing the tuition fees. Government can set up some organizations which actually serve as a bridge between those who are willing to support the education of the poor people and those young aspirants who are in need of help. Apart from setting up its own organization, the government can also encourage more people to help and more private organizations to come up for this motive.
Another great measure in this field is managing the budget surplus. For example, the Australian Government Future Fund is a fund in which Australian Government deposits its budget surplus. Though the main purpose of this is to meet the future liabilities a sum is appropriated for health and education. Education Investment Fund works under this. This fund provides capital investment in higher education. So managing the surplus would be an intelligent measure to provide financial support to students.
So I would like to conclude that the government cannot afford granting totally free university education to all poor students. But, it can take few measures that would help those students to study in the universities because society needs loads of talented educated people.
The introduction is too long, especially so given the fact that much of what you say there is repeated later in the essay. You won't get extra points for saying something twice, and you will be wasting time.
The paragraph that contributes most to elucidation of your argument is the second paragraph, in which you explain ethical and pragmatic reasons for wanting to fund every poor qualified student. The ethical argument is only implicit, however. Presumably you mean to say that it is simply unfair that someone should lose out on an education because of poverty. You ought to make that argument explicit. The pragmatic argument has two parts. The first part is that without funding poor students, society will lose out on an important asset. That's a reasonable and clear enough argument (one could always elaborate, of course, and one could also relate it to the question of government budgets you later raise). The second part of the pragmatic argument, the conclusion of the paragraph, about "hunting for intelligent minds" is vague, but presumably just a repetition of the first argument (losing an important asset). Elaboration is better than repetition!
In several of your essays, you've shown a stronger tendency to try to solve the implicit problem rather than analyse the actual merits of the claim in the prompt. In your next paragraphs here you go about solving the problem of how to educate the poor once the government has done its bit. Generally speaking, it would be better to focus on the argument. In this case, for example, it would be better to argue that the government should directly fund poor students (for reasons you specify), but it should also explore other ways of helping students because doing so would allow it to avoid the funding of education becoming an excessive burden. This is implicitly what you are arguing. Again, you should try to make every argument explicit. Note also that you don't need to claim that "the government cannot afford free education for all." The truth of that claim obviously would depend on the particular government. You can simply say "If the government cannot afford free education for all qualified students without sacrificing other important programs, then it ought to explore other ways etc."
Submitted by: LakshmiRam
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