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?