Should we pay for university fees?

Should we pay for university fees?

Normally, when I go out with friends, I get accused of being the crazy far-left nutbag, whose plans are way too idealistic and would never work in reality. It’s a refreshing change to be called Tony Abbott’s lickspittle – though not one that I would care to enjoy too often. After all, if you fling enough mud, some of it’s going to stick.

Anyway, that was the position that I was placed in after having a few drinks (and a few more) with a couple of friends. One individual, who shall remain nameless, couldn’t believe that I felt that university fees should be paid by students. Instead, he argued that tuition should be free for everybody – and how dare I suggest otherwise. Never one to shy away from a challenge – or an argument – I decided that this was a topic worthy of further thought.

For me, when I was much younger, I felt that your university fees should be free. After all, education is a fundamental human right, and in countries like Australia, why shouldn’t that education extend all the way to tertiary level? That’s right, primary school, high school, TAFE, university – all of it should be free, because to do otherwise is to limit the potential of society as a whole and individuals in general. It’s a model that works – have a look at most of the Scandinavian countries (and also Germany, now) – who all offer free tuition, though not, I think, accommodation, food, textbooks and so on.

And in Australia, public schools are free, too, at least at the point of delivery, though once again there are plenty of ‘hidden’ expenses – excursions, uniforms, iPads (a late arrival, but an expensive one, nonetheless), exercise books, textbooks and so forth.

As I got older, I realised that there were some issues of fairness here – not just to students but to others, as well. Here’s what I mean – there’s no such thing as free tuition, for two main reasons. Firstly, there are the hidden costs involved, and while it is true that the thought of student debt scares off a lot of uni students, then it is equally true that the thought of shitty jobs, shared accommodation and all those other debts incurred by being a student are just as frightening. So, on this case, if you’re going to have free university, it has to be completely free – and not just the cost of tuition, otherwise you are still creating a two-tiered system, even though you might call it a different name.

The second reason is slightly different. Like I mentioned earlier, free university isn’t really free; someone, somewhere has to pay the bill. And if that’s going to be the government, well that means that taxpayers are going to be coughing up their hard earned money. So, when Mrs Abbott, for example, decides to go back to university to get her degree in English Literature, then that means that she’s not going to be paying for it – well, not just here. No, in reality, the cost for her – regardless of how much she earns (or her husband earns), the cost is spread out across every taxpayer – including Mr and Mrs Chump, who are struggling to pay the bills – and the only the way that’s going to work is by raising the amount of money that they need to pay in tax.

The natural argument, of course, is that people who earn more will pay more in tax, and therefore offset the payment.

More to come about this topic.