Does Quality Education Have to be Expensive?

I am sure that you must have recently heard a lot of news reports, blog posts and personal views on the causes and deleterious effects of student debt on the economy of developed (but predominantly anglo-saxon) countries. Views on the “real” cause of this problem vary from mismatch in what universities teach to what the job ‘market’ requires, “too many” people in university, “too many” people studying humanities, easy access to credit for student and a host of other lies and half-truths. But very few ask the simple question-

Does Quality Education Have to be Expensive?

It is odd that the vast majority of people fail to ask this basic question. Why do we expect quality education to be restricted and expensive? If education is really about maximizing the potential of all people living in a country, isn’t it desirable to make it as inexpensive and high-quality as possible? What harm could come from more people learning more about what they are interested in studying? Hasn’t technology made it much more easier and cheaper to disseminate knowledge?

Many morons, such as right-wing bloggers, might mutter some bullshit about ‘real’ quality being expensive. But look around you.. is that really true? Consider important utilities and services such as clean drinking water, well maintained sewage disposal systems, garbage collection systems, food inspection systems, public electric grids, telecommunications, roads and highways etc. Are these not of a very high quality while being simultaneously inexpensive? But why?

If you think about it, all the above mentioned utilities and services are neither easy to build nor cheap to run and maintain. Their high quality and low-cost are due to a conscious decision by society that some things too important to entrust to “free market” capitalism. Therefore they are designed, built and run for the benefit of all members of that society, rather than a few shysters and CONMen.

Higher education was also once universally seen as an important utility. However, the attitude in some developed countries (especially anglo-saxon ones) has changed to the extent that many people now see quality higher education as a luxury. This change in attitude has a lot to do with the rampant financialization and resurgent ‘calvinization’ of the anglosphere since the early-1980s. Contrast this with non-anglo west European countries which still have accessible, excellent and very inexpensive higher education. How can they do it?

In my opinion, it comes down to who different societies care about. An inclusive society is interested in the well-being of all of its members strives to make their life easier, more fulfilling and better. In contrast, a plutocracy tries to collect increasing amounts of rent from most of its members to enrich a pre-selected few.

The ever-increasing costs of higher education in some countries are therefore just a symptom of a much deeper problem. Actions such as student loan jubilees and reducing the number of students who attend university are therefore the equivalent of simply bandaging severe wounds which in reality require surgery and antibiotic treatment. Ultimately these societies will have to choose between becoming more plutocratic and thus facilitating their own collapse through membership loss OR choosing to become less plutocratic and thereby increasing their loyal membership.

It is a choice, not destiny!

What do you think? Comments?

  1. hans
    May 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    It most definitely is “a utility”. A view that once was universal in Germany.

    But as the anglo-neo-con cancer spreads, the first steps to life long indebted servitude for the sake of gaining a “status badge” instead of real knowledge, have been taken over here too.

    A downright suicidal If not outright treasonous view of education in face of the growing engineers hordes from India and China.

  2. JamesFun
    May 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    It takes millions of college kids to pay for the salaries of the Head-Masters of Colleges, and the salaries of the “Teachers,” plus to form the appearance of a “Learning environment” for the huge revenue generating machine of college sports. To make myself sound stupid, even considering I “graduated” from a “Top 20 University,” I have learned much more from books I bought on my own initiative/my own thinking/and the internet than anything “taught” in high school (where I even obtained ABOVE a 100 GPA, now there’s accurate math) plus college combined.

  3. Matt Strictland
    May 6, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    My personal opinion here , inclusive societies are biologically impossible for the long term do the structure of the human neocortex. We can’t see any more people than a limited number (ala Dunbar’s number) of people as human and therefore cannot value them.

    We can with some effort breach this limit for some time but like redlining a car in the end the system falls apart.

    In order to accommodate various status and material interests people create various hacks in the form of political systems to try and work around that but in the end they all fail.

    This is why fuedalism and manorial systems as a general thing lasted for so long, most people never interacted long term with anyone outside the limit and were not exposed to novelty. For the bulk of humanity (save liberals) seeing the same people day after day, doing the same thing day after day so long as they don’t suffer materially and have some small novelty is not perdition at all. Its comforting.

    Liberals do not see it this way but actual novelty seekers are quite few in number. Some suggest they do have an evolutionary advantage in adaptation to change and being exciting. Heartiste suggest this here

    http://heartiste.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/the-psychology-of-liberals-and-conservatives/

    and I tend to agree with him.

    As for Europe in the event its brought up. Favoring Social Democracy is Conservative in the sense its an attempt to prevent social unrest. Its well enough entrenched (unlike the US) that attempts to end it would be too radical. Since it serves the Right and Left for different reasons (stability and perceived fairness) its well liked by both.

    Also in terms of social change and mobility (including immigration for the most part) Europe is less fluid and more conservative (small c) than the US is. The tend to live in a smaller area and have less change stress than Americans do. More tradition, less money chasing,

    Ironically the welfare state facilitates this

    How all this ties into the current system is you have both the Left and the Right in the US especially embracing a flawed model, the big fast moving state. The reasons are different but the net effect is the same, they destabilize human interactions . Don’t get me wrong I am not proposing feudalism or something. What I am suggesting is localism and the smallest most self contained community that provides a decent standard of living.

    Now as to higher education, university is not a utility at all. Its four or more years a good chunk of which is BS and wastes the time of a lot of people who’d rather get skills and get life started. Its supposed to be for small number of very smart people and the upper class legacy brats, not the gen-pop . However as the US has few science academies or good technical schools. we used the university system under the GI bill. It made sense but these days well, very y few people need any of the Marxist crud that colleges spew. They need trade skills and High Schools that work.

    I’d suggest that if we had jobs most people could be doing 30 hours at a decent wage with a year of training (or so) and some OJT if our society wasn’t stuck in a rut.

    This would fix much of the education issues. However we are too humped for that for a lot of reasons

    Hopefully from human technical innovation scale, other societies can pick up the slack instead.

  4. webe
    May 7, 2012 at 2:34 am

    There is little cost basis for good education (or good medical care). If necessary you can get 95% as effective results with 10% of the costs. Not only that, a lot of grade school and high school education in the third world with barely any costs is actually much more effective than schools in the West.

    Students in Montreal have been protesting for weeks about raising their $900/year tuition. How terrible is an education at McGill, really ?

    Of course government picks up a large part of the tab, but society as a whole benefits from better equipped employees, so you can see education as an investment in the future of society instead of as a giveaway to individuals. In societies which see education as a social investment the remuneration of professionals is likely to be more reasonable, since they don’t have to recoup their financial investment + interest. In truth, one of the problems of the Canadian system is that graduates leave the country for the tempting renumeration on the other side of the border, destroying the social investment.

  5. jackal
    May 7, 2012 at 6:26 am

    The one thing that determines price is supply. And when you have a monopoly, you control supply. If technology companies had monopolies to the extend that exist in education, health care, housing, law, and even entertainment, televisions and computers would cost $10,000 each. Intellectual property laws are the hallmark of free enterprise (lawful thievery). Monsanto earns a royalty every time you eat a taco because it has a patent on the DNA of corn. Aspirin would cost $5 a pill if a pharmaceutical company held a patent. No matter how you argue, everything about price boils down to supply — supply which is controlled by monopoly. Colleges limit degrees by holding students hostage to insane costs. Unions restrict right to work and, by extension, upset the free market apple cart. Law, medicine and education, etc. are monopolized/restricted by licenses. Housing is restricted by the supply of mortgage money. Government, by definition, is a monopoly, accounting for why it’s so expensive and wasteful. The US complains that China won’t buy more US products, yet the US refuses to import Chinese cars, which cost $2,000 a copy. You can thank the fascist monopolizes that force us to pay ten and twenty times as much for Western cars. It’s wonder that China buys anything at all from the US, given they can’t sell a single vehicle in the US. Going by historical precedence, it’s unlikely the population will ever succeed in throwing off the shackles that they so willing have stepped into. In this way, our financial freedom is continually compromised, in the same way our speed is always thwarted by asshole motorists who poke along in front of us.

  6. May 7, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    ironically, diablo, I thought you would like things the way they are…

    after all, aren’t all your beloved prostitutes “doing it for the tuition”?

    hahaha, they probably spend it all on liquor, weed and fast cars….

  7. May 7, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    this guy says that most degrees are worthless and says people should study STEM….

    http://captaincapitalism.blogspot.com/
    —-

    He is a delusional moron.

    • Matt Strictland
      May 8, 2012 at 9:15 am

      He is a delusional moron.

      I have to agree with our host here though maybe not in such harsh words . STEM fields are easily outsourced and chronically underfunded which is a double whammy.

      There really is no sure path these days.

      • P Ray
        May 10, 2012 at 12:19 am

        Yes, until the time comes to actually enhance the original system that was outsourced “since STEM is easy to find elsewhere”.
        Proper procedures and conventions not followed, means later maintenance is later either very costly/difficult/time consuming or impossible.
        There is a reason why things are cheaper in places where a cavalier attitude to standards, exist.
        Because no standards were followed, enhancements or adaptations for different situations become prohibitively costly.
        Consequences like that can easily send a company into a hole, when they become penny-wise and pound-foolish.

  8. Webe
    May 8, 2012 at 9:42 am

    There’s kind of a myth that STEM degrees insulate you from the vagaries of employement troubles. I know lots of people with physics PhD’s what have had huge problems getting a decent/secure job, and that was before this economic downturn; it’s not just anecdotal, because I also know the statistics for career chances and remuneration for various disciplines. Some of these guys have worked at different international labs like CERN and elsewhere. A lot of people in the computer/ programming business turn out to have graduate degrees in physics, chemistry, pharmacology, whatever before switching fields. In fact, I was once told by someone who tries to recruit students for a renowned research institute (of a multi-national), that a lot of students say to him: “Why should I break my head doing a really difficult discipline when I can more easily get a job that pays 4x as well by getting an MBA (etc) and being the manager of those scientists.” He foresees the corporate lab efforts picking up and going to Chindia.
    What is more, supply and demand in various fields is hard to predict, so it’s not always a matter of foreseeable consequences.

    • P Ray
      May 10, 2012 at 12:24 am

      If they can only think in terms of a job, they already have problems:
      1. no company is going to pay a (normal) new hire tonnes of money: it makes the old-timers jealous, and they have to rework the whole salary scale to keep other people from leaving.
      2. the problem with being paid well is that you have to find someone to pay you that amount: it may be that people stay in a company … not out of loyalty, but because they can’t find a better offer elsewhere.
      3. working in most companies is like playing survivor: the MBA students are very likely not experienced in the fields of those they manage, and in the process of trying to play politics will create a lot of bad blood between the managers and the managed.
      4. the name of the game is delivering a better product at a lower price: however, in situations of political patronage, that may either take a very long time, or be fatal to the guy offering the cheaper option
      5. bigger companies can always infringe on your creations and tire you out through endless lawsuits.

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