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This House believes university education should be free
This House believes university education should be free
Nearly every country in the developed world, and more and more in the developing world, provide free primary and secondary education. Such education is generally uncontroversial and accepted as necessary by both liberals and conservatives around the world. In the case of university education, however, there is a great deal of disparity between countries’ education policies. In many states students must pay fees to attend university, for which they may seek student loans or grants. Often states offer financial assistance to individuals who cannot afford to pay fees and lack other methods of payment. In other states, university education is completely free and considered a citizen’s right to attend. Debates center on the issues of whether there is in fact a right to university education, and on whether states can feasibly afford to finance such education.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Individuals have a right to the experience of higher education||The cost to the state is far too great to sustain universal free university education|
|The state benefits in terms of superior economic, cultural and leadership development from a university-educated populace||Maintaining a system of free university education leads to an inefficient allocation of state resources|
|Individuals have a right to equal opportunity in order to maximize their personal utility, and to break free from the social strata in which they are born||The quality of education suffers when university education is free|
|The burden of fees and loans are too great to expect young people to shoulder, particularly for more financially disadvantaged individuals||Free university education unjustly benefits one subset of society at the expense of everyone|
|In order to foster social equality, the state must actively encourage groups in society without cultures of university attendance to seek higher education||State control of acceptance/curriculum criteria has negative effects|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Individuals have a right to the experience of higher education
It is a fundamental right of individuals to experience university and to have access to the knowledge it affords. University offers a huge opportunity. It is a treasure trove of knowledge to be gained and experiences to be had. University provides an opportunity that exists at no other time in an individual’s life. It is a time of personal, intellectual, and often spiritual, exploration. In secondary school and in professional life, no such opportunities exist, as they are about instruction and following orders, not about questioning norms and conventions in the same way university so often is. University serves as an extremely valuable forum for different views, which everyone has a right to experience should they wish. A life without the critical thinking tools provided by university is less full because those without it lack the facility by which to unlock all the doors of perception and knowledge laid before them. University experience serves also, in its giving of these opportunities, to shape individuals’ views of themselves and society, helping to give form to the relationship between citizen and state on a deepened level. The state has a duty to facilitate this development, as its responsibility includes providing citizens with the wherewithal to take meaningful part in the democratic process. A state can only truly be considered legitimate when an educated electorate approves it. Without a proper education, individuals cannot be effective citizens. A university education in the modern world is essential to the development of such informed citizens. For this reason, free university is a great benefit to a citizen as an exploration for his own development on a personal level, and with his relation to society as a whole.
 Key Degree. 2010. “How to Reap the Benefits of College”. Keydegree.com. Available: http://www.keydegree.com/articles/benefits-of-college.html
 Swift, Adam. 2001. Political Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide for Students and Politicians. Cambridge: Polity.
There is no right to the university experience. University life is a mess-up. Students rarely take their time in university as seriously as some would suggest. Rather, university life is about alcohol first, education second. Such education can provide valuable knowledge, but it is not the responsibility of the taxpayer to fund it. Self-knowledge and genuine wisdom come from study and reflection. This can be done anywhere, not just in a university. There is no fundamental right of individuals to be allowed to take four years free of charge to learn new skills that will benefit them or teach them how to be better citizens. The state’s duty is to provide a baseline of care, which in the case of education secondary school more than provides. If individuals want more they should pay for it themselves.Improve this
The state benefits in terms of superior economic, cultural and leadership development from a university-educated populace
A university-educated populace is of great value to any state, and provides three main benefits. The first benefit is that it provides extensive economic boons to society. At present, Western countries have a substantial comparative advantage in terms of the production of services and high technology, though this is diminishing gradually as the developing world continues to build up technologically and economically. There is a profound advantage to countries that actively promote a culture of “smart economy”. By facilitating higher education, through state funding of university study, countries increase the likelihood and quantity of investment in their economies by both domestic and foreign firms, as a highly educated and skilled workforce is a country trait many businesses consider highly desirable when making investment decisions. Economic growth and building competitiveness in the 21st century are thus dependent on extensive investment in education. The second benefit accrued to the state from investment in free university education is the gain in cultural relevance it sees with a highly educated population. Students of the arts provide extensive intangible benefits to society, through beauty in architecture, painting, crafts, etc. Likewise students of history, literature and classics provide boons in the form of helping society to understand itself and its place and relevance in the world by fostering an understanding of its past. Without free university education, fewer people would be able to dedicate themselves to the study of such subjects, reducing the amount of beauty and culture in society, to its detriment. The third benefit is the development of leaders in society. States function best when the best and brightest have the opportunity to rise to the top. The barrier to entry created by fees and other costs of university will prevent some potentially high-worth individuals from ever reaching levels of success. Free university education allows all individuals to attend university, guaranteeing that the leaders of tomorrow have the chance to show their worth. For all these reasons, it is clear that the state benefits instrumentally from providing free university education to its citizens.
 Department of the Taoiseach. 2008. “Building Ireland’s Smart Economy: A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal”. Government of Ireland. Available: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/attached_files/BuildingIrelandsSmartEconomy.pdf
A highly educated populace does not provide the great economic bounties the supporters of free university education propound. Countries need educated people, including a certain amount of university graduates, but the idea proposed, that everyone having a degree would benefit society economically, is unfounded. There is no economic benefit when people with degrees are doing jobs that do not require university education, and represents a substantial misallocation of resources on the part of the state. As to developing future leaders, those who are gifted or particularly driven can still rise to the top, even if university is not free, as scholarships tend to be mostly aimed at such individuals. Surely, society does not benefit at all from university being free.
 Wolf, Alison. 2003. Does Education Matter?: Myths About Education and Economic Growth. London: Penguin Global.
Individuals have a right to equal opportunity in order to maximize their personal utility, and to break free from the social strata in which they are born
In order to guarantee equality of opportunity for all citizens the state must acknowledge the right to university education and to the opportunities such education provides. University education gives individuals many opportunities that will serve them enormously in later life. It does so by providing opportunities to people while they are in university and opens doors for them once they leave. When people are attending college they have the ability to gain exceedingly useful information that they can employ in a future career. Likewise, the people an individual meets while in university can be very advantageous in later life; as a networking opportunity, university has no equal. The advantages of attending university likewise extend to life after university, particularly in terms of career opportunities. The employment prospects created by a university degree are substantial, and many lines of work are only available to university graduates. People are even hired with degrees not specific to the job they will do, because the degree itself, not the subject studied, is viewed as a signal of an individual’s intellectual and professional quality. Without a university degree many paths are permanently denied. Access to the careers and beneficial connections furnished by university education should not be the province of the wealthy and privileged alone. True merit should define the ability to attend university, not the accident of birth. With the institution of fees, access becomes more difficult, and will certainly lead to lower attendance by poorer groups, as the opportunity cost of attendance is increased by higher prices of education. This serves to lock people into the economic strata whence they were born and raised, as getting out is much more difficult when denied access to most high-income jobs. With free higher education, people have the ability to improve their own future utility, irrespective of their present economic standing.
 Tribune Opinion. 2005. “Education Paves Way Out of Poverty”. Greeley Tribune. Available: http://www.greeleytribune.com/article/20051225/SPECIALB0411/112250053
There is no fundamental right to a university education; it is a service, and people should pay for it, not freeload on the taxpayer. Rights exist to provide people with the necessities of life. Some people may never have the “opportunity”, ie. wealth, to visit Hawai’i, yet that is not unfair and the state should not be expected to fund every citizen’s tropical vacation. Yet even in the presence of fees, access to scholarships and loans make it possible for people from disadvantaged economic backgrounds to find their way into university. In this way there is a degree of equality of opportunity in so far as those who are able are afforded the opportunities financial incapacity would deny them. If people want to take advantage of the networking opportunities available in university and the employment benefits available to graduates, then they may pay for it.
The burden of fees and loans are too great to expect young people to shoulder, particularly for more financially disadvantaged individuals
University fees, in countries where they are implemented, are usually quite high. When fees are put in place in countries, many people find it extremely difficult to find the funds to pay for it, leading many people, and even most in some countries, to seek school loans. In the United States, for example, obtaining loans for university is the norm. These loans can weigh heavily on the minds of university students, and put inordinate amounts of pressure to perform well. This pressure can lead to students dropping out. This is quite understandable when one considers the degree of pressure a young person would feel if his school loan was collateralized against his family home. The pressure does not end when an individual graduates, since he must then begin to pay off the debts accrued while in university. This can lead to individuals taking jobs to which they are not necessarily best suited in order to get started on debt repayment immediately. Even still, repayment of loans can take many years, even decades, leaving individuals under the thumb of creditors for much of their working lives. With free university education, everyone can go to college without crushing debt burden, can study what they wish, and can leave with a qualification and no onerous debt obligations. Such a situation is certainly desirable, for it is better for citizens to be able to gain the career opportunities of a university education without being subjected to the torments of crushing debt.
 Kane, Thomas. 1999. The Price of Admission: Rethinking How Americans Pay for College. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
 Hill, Christine. 2007. “Still Paying Off that Student Loan”. National Public Radio. Available: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6915549
Every action has an opportunity cost. If people are willing to take loans to pay for the education that will likely allow them to earn far more than they would without one, then they should be willing to pay for the privilege. Furthermore, it can actually be quite beneficial to society at large that university graduates seek swift employment due to debt, since it forces them to become productive members of society more rapidly than they might have done. For example, in Ireland where higher education is free graduates often take a year or two to travel and “find themselves” while giving little or nothing back to the state that has financed their degrees. It is good that people begin contributing to the economic life of society after graduating from university, rather than frittering away their youths in unproductive pursuits.Improve this
In order to foster social equality, the state must actively encourage groups in society without cultures of university attendance to seek higher education
There are often sections of society, in many countries, that on average attend university with less frequency than even other groups with comparable economic means. For example, poorer white Americans are still more likely to attend university than similar poor African-Americans. The reason for this is that the cultural impetus to attend university has an impact on whether people attend, not simply financial means. In the case of the United States there is a perception within inner cities that university is principally for privileged white people
This sentiment is pernicious, as it causes people in such areas to not seek university education, even when they might find access to scholarships or loans. The state can ameliorate this problem by eliminating fees. In doing so, it can act to inculcate the notion of university education as a right for everyone, not just the privileged, which serves to break down cultural biases against higher education. The impetus to attend university will benefit these disadvantaged areas by creating an educated populace who can find work in careers other than unskilled labor and tradecraft that currently predominate. It will also aid in rebuilding social connections between these often-isolated groups and the rest of society. Clearly, free university education benefits societal harmony.
 Allen, Walter and Edgar Epps and Nesha Haniff. 1991. College in Black and White. Albany: State University of New York Press.(Allen et al., 1991).
Making university free will do little to foster social engagement from disenfranchised groups like inner city African-Americans. Rather, free university education does little other than benefit those who would already have attended; only without fees they can do so for free. Groups with an anti-education bias will not simply be convinced of its merits by its being made free. Spending taxpayers’ money on social outreach programs and other civic activities are the way to contact these groups and encourage them to enter university. Making university free is a pointless gesture.Improve this
The cost to the state is far too great to sustain universal free university education
The social-democratic model, most prevalent in Europe, is a failure. The system of paying for universal healthcare, education, pensions, etc. threatens to bankrupt the countries maintaining them; it is simply unsustainable. The cost of paying for free university education is ruinously high. The government money needed to be channeled into universities to provide for free education, as well as into various other generous social welfare benefits, has been a case of borrowing from future generations to finance current consumption. For these countries to survive, and lest other countries attempt to follow suit with similar models, they must rethink what they can afford to provide freely to citizens. In the case of education, it seems fair to say that all states should offer access to their citizens to primary and secondary education opportunities, since the skills acquired during such education are absolutely necessary for citizens to function effectively within society; reading, writing, basic civics, etc. are essential knowledge which the state is well-served in providing. University, on the other hand, is not essential to life in the same way. People can be functional and responsible citizens without it; it can be nice to attend, but one can live effectively without it. For this reason, the state must consider university in the same way it does any non-essential service; people may pay for it if they wish to partake, but they cannot view it as an entitlement owed by the state that will simply provide it to everyone. The cost is just too high, and the state must act from a utilitarian perspective in this case. Instituting fees will place the cost of education upon those wishing to reap the benefits of education, and not on the taxpayer.
 Ullman, Ben. 2007. “Should Higher Education Really Be Free For All?”. The New Statesman. Available: http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/campusradicals/2007/01/higher-educatio...
It is far from impossible to pay for free university education. States waste money in many activities, and if they were to cut back on other discretionary spending then the cost of free higher education would be entirely feasible. Cuts to defense spending in countries with overinflated militaries, or ending farm subsidies in many European states, are just some of things states can do. Furthermore, the benefits of higher education are to everyone, not just those who receive it directly. It is beneficial to all of society when there are educated professionals within it. It is thus absolutely essential for states to fund higher education, and to maximize the numbers who attend so as to reap the rewards of an educated populace.Improve this
Maintaining a system of free university education leads to an inefficient allocation of state resources
When the state offers a universal service, inefficiencies inevitably arise with its provision. There are four principal economic problems that arise from free university education. First, there is a major problem of resources being lost to bureaucracy. In a state-funded university system, tax money is wasted on paying civil servants to deal with procurement questions with regard to funding for universities, as well as in misallocation of funds due to bureaucrats’ lack of expertise and specialist knowledge necessary to know the correct funding decisions, which independent universities would be able to make on their own more efficiently. Second, when the state funds all university education for free, funding will be allocated to unprofitable courses. As there is no profit motive or price mechanism driving these decisions, there is no way of reaching an efficient decision except by guesswork. The funding of students who are not really interested in attending university or who are apathetic toward higher education creates the third problem. Such students only attend because it is free to do so, and it would be much better to enact a system whereby such students cannot claim a trip to university as an entitlement. A moral hazard problem emerges among such students. They are allowed to reap all the benefits of education, while needing to incur none of the costs. The student who goes to university to waste three or our years and study an easy arts course imposes an unjust cost on society, who has to pay for these students who are not in university to gain from it, but merely to waste time and not work hard. The fourth problem of free university education is saturation of degree-holders in the market . In order to have value, a degree must be a signal of quality. When everyone has a degree, the value of such a qualification plummets. The ability for employers to ascertain high quality potential employees is thus presented with greater difficulty in making a selection. The flipside of this is that graduates end up serving in jobs that do not require a degree-holding individual to do them. Thus, a system of fees is superior to free education because it allows for more efficient allocation of resources to universities and to individuals.
 Chapman, Bruce. 2001. “The Higher Education Finance Debate: Current Issues and Suggestions for Reform”. Australian Review of Public Affairs. Available: http://www.australianreview.net/digest/2001/10/chapman.html
While there will of course be people who do not try to get the most out of their university educations, what matters is that everyone has access to it. It is a fair trade between inefficiencies created by inattentive students and diligent students who would have lacked the facility to attend without it being free. As to signaling value, there will be other indicators of value, such as performance in university to show an individual’s worth. More degree-holders thus do not automatically diminish the value of having degrees.Improve this
The quality of education suffers when university education is free
Without university fees, universities become dependent on the state for funding. The problem with this is that the state’s aim is to increase university attendance levels for the sake of political gain, while at the same time striving not to increase spending on the universities. The result is an increase in attendance, without commensurate increase in funding from the state. This leads to larger class-sizes and less spending per student. Furthermore, these problems result in disconnected lecturers who, due to increased class sizes, cannot connect to their students or offer more than cursory assistance to struggling pupils. The decline in teaching quality is further exacerbated by their need to focus less on teaching and more on research, which is more profitable and thus encouraged by cash-strapped universities. With fees, on the other hand, the quality of universities increases for three reasons. First, funding improves, as university may charge in accordance with need rather than with making do with whatever the state gives them to fund teaching. The result is a consistent quality in education resources rather than it being dependent upon what the state happens to give universities, and on how many students it pushes to be accepted. Second, quality of teaching is improved. Because a university wants people to attend and to pay fees, the programs and degrees they offer have to be good signals of quality. Universities thus stay in business only so long as they remain purveyors of high quality educational goods. They must thus let in smart people, irrespective of their financial background, which will in part serve to admit and finance capable people from disadvantaged backgrounds through targeted financial aid programs. Third, the average quality of students attending university will improve. This is because students feel they need to get the most from their investment in education, which can be quite substantial. They will thus be more attentive and more interested in doing well. An example of higher quality education stemming from fee-paying higher education systems is that of the United States, which has twenty of the top fifty ranked universities in the world. Quality is clearly improved when university is not free.
 Quacquarelli Symonds. 2010. “World University Rankings 2010”. QS Top Universities. Available: http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rank...
State funding of higher education is actually beneficial to universities. It allows universities to get on with their research and teaching without worrying about competing and spending money on getting students to attend. The money wasted in pursuit of high numbers of students is thus saved, as the state can tend to the needs of universities. The idea that the state will simply neglect its universities is silly, because society relies on having capable professionals whose qualifications have value. It is always in the interest of the state to promote the success of its institutions of higher learning.
 Greatrix, Paul. 2011. “University Isn’t Just a Business—and the Student Isn’t Always Right”. The Guardian. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/higher-education-netw...
Free university education unjustly benefits one subset of society at the expense of everyone
Not everyone goes to university. Many do not go because they simply do not want to. Others feel they can do something more productive than continuing in education. Yet all taxpayers fund higher education when it is a state-funded enterprise. The state funds essential services, but higher education is not such a service. People do not need it to live. For this reason the state should not allow a subset of society to mooch on the taxpayer for its own benefit. Attendees already tend to make lots more money than non-graduates, and will, if they make good decisions, have the facility to pay back loans if they need them in a fee-paying system. Additionally, the specific subset free university education tends to benefit is not the disadvantaged, the group the state talks about helping when it institutes such policies, but rather the middle and upper classes who would have paid fees, but now can enjoy a free education courtesy of the taxpayer. This pattern has been seen in Ireland, for example, where poorer communities still view higher education as something for the rich even though it is free. These groups continue to enter the workforce in similar numbers as they had before the ending of fees, and they still tend to prefer trade schools to universities if they do seek qualifications beyond the secondary level. Clearly, the implementation of free university education does not open it up on an instrumental level to individuals who would not have attended otherwise due to being from poor areas. Higher education is a luxury not everyone chooses to partake of, and it certainly should not be purveyed of as a right, but should be paid for like any other service.
Many state services are furnished that benefit a few and are not used by others. That is often just the way such services operate. So long as everyone has access to the service, then it is just to provide it out of tax revenues. Every individual, when higher education is free, can attend university without cost. That is a right every taxpayer can enjoy. If some choose not to do so, that is fine, but it does not delegitimize the government outlay.Improve this
State control of acceptance/curriculum criteria has negative effects
When the state has control of the purse strings, it wields a great deal of power over universities. It can influence the acceptance criteria of institutions, forcing them to accept more and more students if it feels it will have a political benefit to do so. The state likewise can influence university governance and curriculum. In the case of Ireland, for example, the government has so much influence over higher education that it altered the governing structures of the major universities in 2000 through legislation and has representation on the Boards of each university. This degree of control is negative to the academic independence of universities. Universities operate best when they are independent of outside control and agendas, yet when education is free, they are entirely in thrall to the will of the state. This makes it far more difficult and dangerous for universities and their staffs to speak out against government policies they disagree with, meaning that states lose some of the value such institutions provide as independent commentators and analysts. For the sake of free scholarship, free university education should not be instituted.
 Government of Ireland. 1997. “Universities Act, 1997”. Available: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1997/en/act/pub/0024/index.html
Publicly funded universities in practice do not become parrots of the state’s agenda; far from it, in fact. Often it is public institutions that are the most outspoken against government activities. The University of California, Berkeley, for example, is one of the most politically active campuses in the United States and is a public institution. States tend to let universities govern themselves, accepting that they are generally better at self-governance.Improve this
Allen, Walter and Edgar Epps and Nesha Haniff. 1991. College in Black and White. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Department of the Taoiseach. 2008. “Building Ireland’s Smart Economy: A Framework
for Sustainable Economic Renewal”. Government of Ireland. Available:
Hill, Christine. 2007. “Still Paying Off that Student Loan”. National Public Radio.
Kane, Thomas. 1999. The Price of Admission: Rethinking How Americans Pay for
College. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Key Degree. 2010. “How to Reap the Benefits of College”. Keydegree.com. Available:
Longley, Robert. 2010. “Lifetime Earnings Soar With Education”. US Government Info.
Swift, Adam. 2001. Political Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide for Students and Politicians. Cambridge: Polity.
Tribune Opinion. 2005. “Education Paves Way Out of Poverty”. Greeley Tribune.
Wolf, Alison. 2003. Does Education Matter?: Myths About Education and Economic
Growth. London: Penguin Global.
Brady, Hugh. 2008. “We Must Invest Now in Our Universities or Pay Later”. University College Dublin News. Available: http://www.ucd.ie/news/2008/03MAR08/200308_stud ents.html
Chapman, Bruce. 2001. “The Higher Education Finance Debate: Current Issues and Suggestions for Reform”. Australian Review of Public Affairs. Available:
Government of Ireland. 1997. “Universities Act, 1997”. Available: http://www.irish
Greatrix, Paul. 2011. “University Isn’t Just a Business—and the Student Isn’t Always
Right”. The Guardian. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education
Quacquarelli Symonds. 2010. “World University Rankings 2010”. QS Top Universities.
Ullman, Ben. 2007. “Should Higher Education Really Be Free For All?”. The New
Statesman. Available: http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/campusradicals
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