Realistic utopianism for 20-year olds (cross post from Crooked Timber)

Looking at the debate over UK protests over the tripling of tuition fees, it seems to me that this is an occasion where realistic utopianism (I’m paraphrasing Erik Olin Wright here) is needed, and is currently in short supply. The present ways in which modern societies determine the life choices available to 20 year olds are unsatisfactory and inequitable, and the British system is (or seems from a distance) to be more inequitable than many, perhaps most. So, defending that system against change, even change that will make things worse, is difficult and problematic. Rather than ask what incremental reforms might make things better, it seems like a good idea to ask how we might design a set of institutions from scratch, and then think about the implications for existing systems.

My starting point is that, in a modern society and economy, nearly everyone needs to finish high school and the great majority need further education (academic, professional/technical or vocational) beyond that, if they are to thrive and prosper. So, rather than thinking about universities as the destination of a select few, and then about various second-best alternatives for others, we should be starting from the view of post-secondary education as a universal service like school education or health services. That does not mean that everyone should get the same post-secondary education (any more than everyone should get the same health services), but it does mean a presumption that everyone should have access to educational resources of similar quality.

That’s radically different from a system where historically-determined differences in endowments and funding drive massive inequality in resources which in turn produce and perpetuate inequality in outcomes. This inequality is most evident in the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge graduates among the elite[1], but it is replicated all the way down the higher education hierarchy.

Producing a universal system would entail a substantial shift in resources over a long period towards social groups and regions that have been poorly served in the past. It would I think (though there are plenty of cultural subtleties here to which I’m not attuned) ultimately imply an end to the presumption that university is somewhere you go away to, and its replacement with a presumption that high-quality education at all levels is something that should be available wherever you live.

If we have a universal or near-universal system, it’s natural to start on the basis of funding through the tax system. Things aren’t quite so easy in the more realistic case where a majority get post-school education, but a minority do not. Here, there are various options for avoiding the inequitable outcome where the minority (probably poorer on average) pay for benefits they don’t receive. One is the set of ideas that have been canvassed in the current debate, including graduate taxes, income-contingent loans and so on.

The alternative is some version of the proposal put forward by Anne Alstott and Bruce Ackerman in the US a while back of making a universal grant, available to everyone at age 20. I’m inclined to a somewhat more paternalistic view than their suggestion of a no-strings grant (partly from considerations of political realism, to which utopians should pay attention, I think). I’d prefer to limit the use of the grant to a range of purposes that are likely to yield life benefits (education, buying a house, starting a small business) and, until it was used, invest it and give the beneficiaries the proceeds every year.

As in all my attempts along this line, the point is not so much to specify the policy-wonk details as to press the need for a renewed transformative vision on the left.

fn1. The UK system is notable, like the US (Ivy League) and France (Grandes Ecoles) for the existence of a set of elite institutions serving a tiny fraction of the population. Other systems (for example Australia’s) have a hierarchy, but without this top level. I’m not well-informed enough to say which pattern prevails elsewhere, but Wikipedia suggests that Germany may be trying to replace a relatively egalitarian system with one more focused on excellence. I hope German and other non-Anglo readers can give some better information.

62 thoughts on “Realistic utopianism for 20-year olds (cross post from Crooked Timber)

  1. Free tertiary education is possible. Australia had it when the country was less wealthy than it is today.The only way we can have or regain realistic uptopianism of this sort is to break the power of corporate capital. This is not the same as saying we should break capitalism. A controlled form of capitalism and a mixed economy is necessary. However, social democracy must wrest back the over-riding power to guide our society. This power has to be taken back from corporate capital which currently is the ruling power of our society.

    If you doubt that corporate capital rules Australia remember this. What happened to the previous Prime Minister when he tried to implement a new tax on corporate capital? He was forced from power. The corporate mining bosses, the Labor Party hierarchy and Julia Gillard essentially conspired to remove Rudd from office and take the mining tax off the table. At stake of course, were the mining company donations to Labor’s campaign coffers. Democracy has been subverted and taken over by corporate capital.

    Expensive tertiary education, unequal pay for women, inadequate social security, inadequate services and labour’s declining share of national income are all symptoms. The cause is the ruling power of corporate capital and the impotence of representative democracy in the face of the accomodation between the corporate capital and our major parties which also now behave like corporates. Lack of action on climate chage and resource depletion are also symptoms of a society ruled by corporate power.

    What I would like to imagine as realistic utopianism are a set of rules we need to implement to break corporate power.

    1. A bill of rights for human beings in Australia.
    2. Corporations shall have no rights in the sense of individual human rights.
    3. Only adult individuals may donate to political parties at the rate of $100 per year total.
    4. The highest salary possible shall be no more than 20 times the minimum adult wage.
    5. The board of every public company will comprise one third owners of its capital, one third labour representatives and one third community representives who neither own capital in the company nor work nor contract for the company. All board members shall be suitably qualified.

    Point 5 recognises the three major groups who have an interest in the corporation being both profitable and contributing to the overall good of society.

    The bottom line is this. Unless we reform (as in re-form) social democracy, we shall never cure the ills of corporate capital’s domination.

  2. Ikonoclast, the question is not whether we can have “free” (aka tax-funded) tertiary education. Clearly we can. The question is whether it’s a fair way to do so, given that it’s never going to be taken up by everybody.

  3. Is it possible that those with higher education on average earn more than without, and that if they do, they pay more in taxes than those without HE, so much more in fact that they contribute far more than the government ever spent on their HE, in which case a revenue maximising government might see its way to abolishing HECS? Dream on!

  4. @Robert

    Clearly, it is fairer (more equitable) to have free tertiary education. Otherwise, only the offspring of the rich can get a tertiary education without landing themselves in debt for many years.

    It is also a better utilisation of resources to ensure that all intelligent children, including children of the poor, get the full education that they are capable of and wish to have. Society as whole benefits greatly from this.

    The modus operandi of corporate capital is to get everyone into debt. Hence, they want everything privatised and to put consumers in the position of going into debt just to live, buy a house and educate their children. It is an unsustinable and unequitable way to run a society. The GFC was a direct result of corporate capital’s modus operandi.

  5. @Ikonoclast

    I see no reason in principle why HECS need be inequitable. Quality education is a life long benefit that costs a lot up front. It makes sense to offer people a chance to spread the upfront cost over the lifetimes that they will get the benefit. Indeed, I’d be inclined to allow students who could show that they had only modest means to draw down enough money to at least in part relieve them of the need to work while studying. Not the least challenge to poorer students’s success is the need to hold down a job while studying.

    Providing only people who have converted this benefit into above average income are repaying the debt, the interest is not excessive and the repayment schedules not onerous, I see no inequity in the system. If the education turns out to be purely of cultural benefit then the ex-student may never repay a cent. Effectively, the education was free. If they eventually get to average income they begin a modest repayment schedule but may never repay the loan. If they eventually get a very large income, then they can pay it all back but since they are wealthy this is fair.

    It sounds fair to me.

    None of this has anything to do with “getting everyone into debt”. The obsession with private housing is a far better exemplar of that, though I am not sure that’s a corporate plan either — more of a consequence of the desire of those in the system to underpin their assets.

  6. @Fran Barlow
    The fastest way I know to reduce the quality of tertiary education is exactly what has happened over the past fiftenn years – the applying of increasing hecs fees, followed by full fee paying prices with university heads not engaged in the pursuit of quality education excellence but in the base commodification of higher education facilities and services (shabby treatment of academic staff not being the least of the efficiences and cost savings to a profit seeking enterprise) by whatever means possible.
    Again, its the mixing of the public with the private that has done so much damage to our once sound and relatively uncommercial university system. Same as the CSIRO and many other public organisations

    Once the rot sets in…etc Tell me Fran how are our phds measuring on the international scene now in terms of quality. Anyone know?? I heard they have been slipping down the ranks.

    So speaking about “quality education” and a “price based education system” whether its Hecs or any other cost or pricing mechanism is a contradiction in terms and in outcomes and in equity where those who can afford to pay get to buy themselves a higher earning income whether they are among the best of our intelligentsia or not. It is they who will also become the academics of the future, entrusted to teach others, whether they have the intelligence or not.

    That is neither desirable nor equitable. Far from raising the status of our universities – further application of Clegg style prices will only diminish the quality of the output.

  7. @Alice

    The issues you raise bear little connection to the means by which the state funds universities. You’re doing cum hoc ergo propter hoc. One could easily have “free” education and do all of the things you rightly complain of. My partner is a lecturer and I can assure you, HECS is a non-issue in this. Poor management is a far more significant fact along with general underfunding.

    Your claim that HECS amounts to a “price-based education system” is simply silly as the fees lent are a but a small fraction of the actual cost of providing the service. If you are really bothered by people buying themselves a higher income, it seems to me that cutting the price of the purchase would be even more inequitable.

  8. I think it’s pretty pathetic, out parents paid for the education of anyone willing to put in the effort, we are not prepared to do the same for our children.

  9. @charles

    I think it’s pretty pathetic, out parents paid for the education of anyone willing to put in the effort, we are not prepared to do the same for our children.

    If tertiary education is uncharged, this means in practice that the sons and daughters of the upper middle class are subsidised by the parents of kids who are unlikely to ever get there. HECS can partially undermine that inequity.

  10. @Fran Barlow
    says “Your claim that HECS amounts to a “price-based education system” is simply silly”

    Its not silly at all Fran. Either you understand the philosophies and benefits to society behind free access to public tertiary education (funded by our collective taxes) or you do not.

    You do not. Hecs is a price bby any other name. A cost is part of a price – a large part. I dont agree with cposts or prices when it comes to access to teriary education. I think its a public good which society collectively should pay for, if they want the best that learning and research and education and skilled employees can deliver. Education policy should never have fallen into the hands of those who subscribe to “user pays” as you clearly do.

    Its not doing our uni system any good. Its doing great damage.

  11. @Fran Barlow
    And yes Fran – if the sons and daughters of the upper middle class, or the upper class for that matter, despite their means, have the intelligence to advance us as a nation then they should be subsidised along with the intelligence of the poor who may be disproportionately hindered by “hecs even”.

    First past the academic post Fran – no matter what their background. Its all a benefit to society and class doesnt matter. Merit and intelligence do. From this, we as a society advance and its for this, we collectively should all pay.

  12. @Alice

    we collectively should all pay

    Are you, as a general rule, in favour of relatively lower community contributions from wealthy people? That is the implication of your policy.

  13. The same goes for transport infrastructure Fran, which I have noted on prior occasions you favour private sector involvement and tolls hic “get the poor off the roads” and onto “public transport” yet I note you didnt specify who would pay for the “public transport to haul the poor so they dont congest the roads.”

    Some things are a benefit to all of us, to business, to growth, to the economy and we should be willing not to whinge but to contribute with our taxes. Its relaively simple but the noise from the baying low tax crowd and the baying “if they cant afford to pay user pays they dont get to use” is nothing but the market model currently failing all of us, rich and poor alike.

  14. @Fran Barlow
    In your simple question “as a general rule, in favour of relatively lower community contributions from wealthy people? That is the implication of your policy.”

    You completely fail to understand my meaning. I am not surprised.

  15. @Fran Barlow
    Further Fran – you should know that in any numbers game, the rich and the upper middle rich are a minority relative to the middle and poor. If more bright poor and middle are subsidised, it matters little if the rich and upper middle are also subsidised to attend tertairy education.

    Only this method, will deliver us the best quality education and the brightest students who will excel and with their knowledge lead us all to advancement and opportunity as a nation.

    I can pay for that. We all should pay for that. The short term, medium term and long term returns will ne greater than any woeful cost savings you endorse now with an exclusive and divise user pays system.

    We want the best of the best in the knowledge game of the nation. Not the best of those who can afford to buy a dgeree.

  16. @Alice

    The same goes for transport infrastructure Fran, which I have noted on prior occasions you favour private sector involvement and tolls hic “get the poor off the roads” and onto “public transport” yet I note you didnt specify who would pay for the “public transport to haul the poor so they dont congest the roads.”

    I favour private sector building of infrastructure but public sector finance raising and contracting. I said nothing about “getting the poor off the roads”. FTR I suggested that those paying the road usage charges would effectively cross subsidise public transport. Accordingly if the poor did disproportionately abandon the roads in favour of public transport, the scheme would eb equitable sionce those on the roads would be contributing more both to roads and to public transport.

    Some things are a benefit to all of us, to business, to growth, to the economy and we should be willing not to whinge but to contribute with our taxes.

    You’re happy for the wealthy to pay taxes (which they often avoid) but not repay loans. That sounds perverse. If there is HECS the sons and dauighters of the rich won’t be discouraged. So society still gets the benefit, whatever that is. They will just pay more back.

  17. @Fran Barlow
    says “You’re happy for the wealthy to pay taxes (which they often avoid) but not repay loans. That sounds perverse.”

    A construct entirely of your own making.

  18. @Fran Barlow
    and you say Fran “I favour private sector building of infrastructure but public sector finance raising and contracting.”

    I see. Socialise losses and privatise profits – just the very thing that is doing us all no favours, and I might add as is so very obvious, being followed by governmenst cuurently, both labour and liberal and failing miserably.

    Is there, at any stage, any post hoc navel gazing analysis of such policies as you suggest or must I continue to tolerate ineffective contract analysis committes of government??? (and I must pay for their analysis qith my taxes, with no effective resolution of problems). You can waste your own taxes on privately tendered ontract inspection committees Fran but please dont waste mine

    – especiallywhen every second public servant responsible for recruiting private sector tenderers, is engaging in secret commissions or at leasr theor families seem to be accruiubg wealth beyond any ministerial or senior public sector salary.

    At what point do we call a halt when the private sector deals eg to repair our roads or to provide “public transport” (thats a joke these days) dont work? When governments are bankrupt and we all have to endure austerity measures and tax hikes (not so unusual at all lately).???

  19. @Alice
    All these PPS deals and user pays models, and permitting governments to act as go betweens in the negotiating process is proving itself an abject failure (erosion from within,leaking out as individual profiteering by government oficials, undoing any gains.

    There is a bandwagon of profiteering on any PPS and the government officials involved are using my taxes to profiteer, along with private sector firm executives – ie insiders in the private sector, at my expense and yours Fran. You dream utopic dreams of market models that are not only unrealistic but very expensive, to us all.

    Name me one PPS that went well? Name me two? Then name all the failures.

    Taxes are not a pool for the select insider few to dip into and extract from, for their own private benefit. We are being herded so we can be ripped off, and we are being ripped off. There is enormous waste in PPS deals (more than any implied waste of the public sector v the private sector – another fallacy of neoliberalism)

    There is a line in the sand between what is public, what should be publicly provided (right down to the coal face jobs) and that line needs to be redrawn, firmly.

  20. @jquiggin

    Not to worry John … I’m insufficiently interested in fires to go to the sandpit merely to strike matches under Alice’s strawmen and cum hoc schtick.

    I’m proposing PPSs? Socialising losses? Good grief. I’m calling this one as a waste of my time.

    Alice! If you stop shouting for a minute it might occur to you to read.

  21. “If tertiary education is uncharged, this means in practice that the sons and daughters of the upper middle class are subsidised by the parents of kids who are unlikely to ever get there. HECS can partially undermine that inequity.”

    Fran the parents of kids unlikely to get there are also unlikely to be paying a lot of tax. This argument is about as pathetic as our inability to give the bright one’s a go no matter what their background.

    If you come from a middle class family a HECS dept is nothing,in fact I was paying my kids fees until I realised how cheap the money was, I then changed to helping put deposits on houses so they could take full advantage of the first home buyer grants without paying mortgage insurance. If the government wants to run middle class welfare who am I to turn it down.

    For a family earning a lot less (or a kid that doesn’t have family support) the debt means a lot more, and the education has to be justified to a family that is probable not used to seeing such things justified.

    In other words my view of the generation that had the option of free university education remains the same. Pathetic.

  22. @charles

    Fran the parents of kids unlikely to get there are also unlikely to be paying a lot of tax.

    That’s simply not so. Collectively, people on household incomes under about $50-60K pay a great deal of tax.

    This argument is about as pathetic as our inability to give the bright ones a go no matter what their background.

    HECS, as you yourself point out below, is not a constraint to the bright ones getting a go. Bright ones of modest socio-economic status commit to a notional debt that they may never actually be called upon to repay. How is that stopping them from having a go? In extremis it means that those who have overcome their poor start in life to achieve a place in the rather better off strata in the community eventually pay back some/all of a modest share of the community support that got them there. The two events are radically distant temporally and separated by a variable outcomes condition.

    If you come from a middle class family a HECS dept is nothing,in fact I was paying my kids fees until I realised how cheap the money was, I then changed to helping put deposits on houses so they could take full advantage of the first home buyer grants without paying mortgage insurance.

    Exactly. That is precisely my point. If anything, HECS as it stands is too generous to the middle class. One could argue that at a certain level of class privilege, people should be required to pay full fees directly up front, borrowing the money commercially if necessary, with discounted and HECS charges reserved for those who were socially disadvantaged. As a matter of practice though, I suspect such a system would be very hard to administer at low cost, would be rorted and would seriously disadvantage those on either side of the threshholds, so I don’t favour it.

    I do agree though that those first home owner schemes ought to be abandoned as middle class welfare on much the same basis that uncharged university courses are.

    If you want equity in tertiary education and really want all of the actual or potential bright ones to be given a go regardless of their socio-economic status then university entrance is much too late a venue to start tinkering. The money has to be invested at or near the start of life to ensure that every child has an adequate cognitive and socio-developmental context, and then in early childhood education and then in primary school and right through the period when they are deciding through experience what their possibilities are. You could spend your time advocating that as much is spent per child on public school kids as is spent on kids in private schools because right now there is a yawning gulf between the two.

    Inadvertently, you put your finger on the sources of liberal advocacy around HECS. University education, like home ownership, is one of those liberal populist dreams. In the liberal mind, these two things are social levellers and therefore to be treated as sacred cows in public policy. But of course, these slogans cannot hope to redistribute any significant proportion of these scarce and expensive resources (quality education and housing) to people on below average income, because the pool of funds simply isn’t big enough. At most, it can predispose some moderately comfortable people to be rather more comfortable. Excuse me if I regard this as insufficiently ambitious and almost certainly ethically dubious for anyone bothered about general equity.

  23. I am a beneficiary of Whitlam’s free university education policy, having commenced my undergraduate degree on the first semester it was free and completed my postgraduate degree in the last semester before HECS. There is no doubt in my mind the policy changed university education for the better. For one thing, there was an explosion in adult students, many of whom were women with families. Students chose courses on the basis of interest in the subject to a much greater degree, rather than on the basis of a calculus of earning potential. Surely, more appeal to interest and passion will deliver more human potential from the education system than earnings potential calculations can. I’d also argue on general principles that barriers to education should be removed rather than strengthened and that the whole society and economy are enriched by participation in education at any age.

    I fail to see how tertiary education now is different from high school education in the past. Attendance at school was a matter of choice beyond the mandatory school leaving age of between 12 and 15. On Fran’s arguments, past governments should never have provided free senior high schools, which predominantly benefited the children of the middle class. It is now abundantly clear that a young person leaving school at age 17 or 18 will be handicapped without a tertiary education.

    The progressive income taxation system should recognise the additional benefits enjoyed by high income earners whatever their educational background and should also take account of the additional benefits accruing to possessors of significant accumulations of capital. The Time magazine man of the year Mark Zuckerberg did not, so far as I am aware, complete his Harvard course and yet he owes his vast fortune to his short time as a tertiary student. Why should he be required to pay less than a graduate receiving an average income?

  24. Fran it may come as a surprise to you but we have a progressive income tax. Those that are on higher incomes pay a larger portion of their income as tax. If you have high income envy advocate a higher tax rate, don’t advocate a policy that discourages higher education. I think Hal9000 pretty much covered why that isn’t such a hot idea.

  25. In that we need more people to run a society than just university graduates and that plumbers, welders and others earn good money then the idea of supporting young people to gain skills and/ or education is surely the important matter.

    I have real problems with saddling young people with enormous debt early in life as many determine not to share those skills/education with the Australian public and pay HECS but to move overseas where they keep all of the money they earn. The Australian public has supported education at enormous cost with no net gain at all.

  26. @Fran Barlow
    says “I’m insufficiently interested in fires to go to the sandpit merely to strike matches under Alice’s strawmen and cum hoc schtick.”

    The mere use of the word “strawmen” belongs to certain breed of pro market solution types. Nice if they were working Fran in education or any other once more efficient public services (like NSW state electricity?).

    I am off to the sandpit but others should have been there before me. Despite threats Fran is still here pushing “user pays” education. I have big problems with saddling the younger generation with debt also – which is what is happening now; I am in agreement with both Jill, and Hal. Im not in agreement with Frans approach at all. Not an uncommon occurrence.

  27. What is the problem with Hecs? And just who is it disadvantaging?

    If you do a course which increases your earning power then I don’t see why you should not be required to reimburse the public purse for some of its expense in assisting you in gaining that increased income.

    If you do a course which does not give you an increased income but is rather one of personal development then that is a private matter and you should foot at least some of the bill.

    Not forgetting that you don’t actually have to begin paying the debt back until you are earning a certain level of income.

    I’m not sure how many students from lower income families are doing French Lit etc at uni anyway. That is surely the domain of the products of earners in the upper middle income bracket and above. Students from lower income families are more likely to view uni as a means of increasing their financial circumstances.

    By the way been there, done that, paid it.

  28. @Hal9000

    I fail to see how tertiary education now is different from high school education in the past.

    In that case you aren’t looking hard enough. School education covered the fundamentals not only of literacy and numeracy, but of social identity and community. The early years are formative ones.

    Attendance at school was a matter of choice beyond the mandatory school leaving age of between 12 and 15. On Fran’s arguments, past governments should never have provided free senior high schools, which predominantly benefited the children of the middle class.

    Hardly. We are discussing children here, and these in a context where child labour was the normal alternative to education. Moroever, the transaction costs of a HECS style scheme would have been very high and recovery very low. Given that education was seen as universal and mandatory higher taxes were the better option. Where it went wrong was in the direct subsidies to religious non-state schools.

    @charles

    Fran it may come as a surprise to you but we have a progressive income tax. Those that are on higher incomes pay a larger portion of their income as tax.

    Which they often evade and which even if they don’t is not very steeply progressive. That Australia continually becomes less equal a society with each passing year shows how silly your claim is.

    @Jill Rush

    I have real problems with saddling young people with enormous debt early in life as many determine not to share those skills/education with the Australian public and pay HECS but to move overseas where they keep all of the money they earn. The Australian public has supported education at enormous cost with no net gain at all.

    So perhaps that is an argument for up front fees? Seriously though, it is very doubtful if any of the people plying their skills overseas are driven there by the advantage of avoiding HECS repayment. A person on a near 7-figure salary is not going to be bothered by HECS.

  29. @Fran Barlow
    says re income tax “Which they (ie the rich) often evade and which even if they don’t is not very steeply progressive.”
    So why dont you advocate higher income taxes on the rich Fran, or for tighter controls on evasion? After all, Keating dropped the tax rate a whopping twenty percent in the 1980s at the stroke of a pen.
    Why not fund our education model by getting some of that generous Keating largesse to the wealthy back? Id rather put the money in students hands, than to keep funding the rich (which you dont seem to want to do)with lower income taxes.

    Im surprised you havent thought of it.

  30. HECs is part of the entire package of privatising education both tertiary and secondary. Privatisation of education has been a disaster. Education costs have soared and education standards have plummeted.

    My experience is indicative. I was educated in a standard public high school with no fees asnd university with no fees. My children are educated in a fee charging religious private school. (Our reasons were not religious but an awareness that public school standards had plummetted under economic rationalism. Our actions may now be part of the problem of course.) However, it is the case that this school is not as even good as my old State High school used to be.

    Net result is I pay taxes and fees and my kids get a poorer education than I got for free. Their education would be even poorer in most state schools. This is a disaster for Australia. We need to stop Americanising our system (note the USA is now in terminal decline) and return to free public education at all levels including tertiary.

    People who argue that this current system is better are simply not old enough to remember when public education was free AND excellent in the country. Privatisation has been a disaster in this country.

  31. @Ikonoclast
    Absolutely Ikono – people arguing for privatisation policies that arent old enough to recall public systems which ran better and produced better quality. User pays has proved a debilitating high cost to households which privatisation prononents continue to deny. These policies rob the poor and the middle and businesses en masse in many cases (as in electricity), to give to the rich and powerful.

    Note: the US is in terminal decline so why are we hosting their failed policies and why are we hosting yanks in our ranks to run subserviently bowing to U.S. ratings agencies and report to their US principals (Arbib, Roozendahl).

    Is Australia the U.S’s 2nd crash test dummy (after it crashed itself)?

  32. I am a beneficiary of Whitlam’s free university education policy

    I’m amazed how well the notion of Whitlam being the one to introduce free university education has been sold to the public. The vast majority of university eduction was already free (really free without student union fees) before Whitlam came along. It was Menzies who introduced scholarships that paid fees and living allowance. The only difference Whitlam made to me was that I had to start paying student union fees that the scholarship previously paid.

    Also, I’d say that government policy regarding how much students should contribute toward their education is pretty much bi-partisan. It changes with time but not much between Labor and Coalition.

  33. Fran, first, you seem to conflate secondary and primary education with your talk of ‘children’ and ‘formative years’. Primary school went to grade 8 until the late 1960s here in Queensland. Secondary school was divided into ‘junior’ (grades 9 and 10) and ‘senior’ (grades 11 and 12). Many left to pursue employment or apprenticeships after primary school, where they might have been as old as 15, what with repeat years. There were also technical high schools where pupils focused on manual trades skills and a more restricted range of academic subjects. The majority of pupils remaining in school until grade 10 left at that point. Grades 11 and 12 were dominated by private school and elite state school pupils – the children of the middle class. Why on your logic should they not have paid a special tax or fee for the privilege of being able to finish grade 12?

    Second, your repeated appeals to the status of grade 11 and 12 pupils as ‘children’ as though they were six year olds forced to labour in coal mines, is empty rhetoric. We are not in fact ‘discussing children here’, we are talking about young people with legal rights and responsibilities, some of them full voting citizens. Extension of expected schooling until 17, a recent innovation, was not done out of desire to crack down on exploitive child labour. The primary drivers were political and economic, enabling governments to point to productivity improvements while keeping youth unemployment statistics low.

    Many subjects offered at grade 11-12 level are prerequisites or substitutes for subjects offered by universities. Senior zoology, for example, is a course also offered as a first year university course. You demand, Fran, that we agree with you that this is apparently a universal social good whose free provision is a necessity when it’s delivered by a high school or college, and a personal matter for which the student must pay when it’s provided by a university. If that is a logically consistent argument, it’s of a kind hitherto unknown to science.

    Alice has pointed out the flaw in your argument about progressive taxation, so I won’t labour the obvious point.

    Your arguments overall remind me of some older women acquaintances of mine who oppose provision of accessible subsidised child care on the dog-in-the-manger grounds that ‘I didn’t get it when my children were young, nobody helped me out – why should I pay taxes to provide privileges to new mothers now?’

    Education is about enabling human growth and advancement. Reducing it to a mere economic factor and a personal asset has consequences for universities and society more broadly. These consequences include production of legions of law and business studies graduates and a catastrophic decline in the humanities and pure sciences.

  34. @Hal9000

    Fran, first, you seem to conflate secondary and primary education with your talk of ‘children’ and ‘formative years’.

    The conflation is warranted in developmental terms, IMO.

    Second, your repeated appeals to the status of grade 11 and 12 pupils as ‘children’ as though they were six year olds forced to labour in coal mines, is empty rhetoric. We are not in fact ‘discussing children here’, we are talking about young people with legal rights and responsibilities, some of them full voting citizens.

    I teach these people and let me tell you, they still are children (though I often refer to them as apprentice adults. None of mine was 18 last time I saw them.

    Many subjects offered at grade 11-12 level are prerequisites or substitutes for subjects offered by universities.

    That’s simply not so. While some universities have specific requirements for entrants involving maths for example, most universities impose no such requirements. Perhaps there are some that are offered as extensions in high school but that tells us little about the system as a whole.

    You demand, Fran, that we agree with you that this is apparently a universal social good whose free provision is a necessity when it’s delivered by a high school or college, and a personal matter for which the student must pay when it’s provided by a university.

    Not quite. Strictly speaking parents/carers are supposed to contribute fees at state high schools though this is rarely enforced and never when personal circumstances are raised. The current HECS contributions are a fraction of the cost of delivering courses and are not collected until such time as contributors have means, making them effectively quite similar.

    Alice has pointed out the flaw in your argument about progressive taxation, so I won’t labour the obvious point.

    The day when Alice points out a flaw, even an obvious one, in something I’ve said, I will salute her. Progressive taxation has neither secured equity nor even restrained it from further declining, as Australian stats on the division of income and assets attest. You do well to avoid the “obvious point” I raised above.

    Your arguments overall remind me of some older women acquaintances of mine who oppose provision of accessible subsidised child care on the dog-in-the-manger grounds that ‘I didn’t get it when my children were young, nobody helped me out – why should I pay taxes to provide privileges to new mothers now?’

    I suppose I could flatter you with a return round concerning of whom we remind each other, but that seems scarcely germane. Your “older women acquaintances” are nothing like me. I really do hope that people who are borne later than I come to have better life chances than I had. I call that progress.

    Nor do I begrudge paying taxes (or HECS, which I did and fully repaid) to support those who study but never pay for it because they don’t earn enough.

    Education is about enabling human growth and advancement.

    You don’t say? Well how about that?

    Reducing it to a mere economic factor and a personal asset has consequences for universities and society more broadly.

    That is not what I am doing — quite the reverse. I’m ensuring that those for whom it is an asset and income earner contribute modestly to the benefit of those for whom it is not.

    These consequences include production of legions of law and business studies graduates and a catastrophic decline in the humanities and pure sciences.

    Hardly. You are bundling things that should not be bundled. I absolutely agree that university-like institutions should be much better funded both in teaching and research than at present. That has nothing whatever to do with HECS arrangements.

    @sdfc

    If you do a course which does not give you an increased income but is rather one of personal development then that is a private matter and you should foot at least some of the bill.

    I disagree strongly with this. I very much doubt that there would be much of a difference between the proportions of those from business/vocational streams and those in the more esoteric arts in reaching the income threshholds for HECS repayments and in any event trying to decide which constituted general interest and which did not would be arbitrary. There is a general community interest in having a vibrant cultural life and there can be little doubt that strong humanities and arts teaching and research capacity underpins this, however it contributes to economic activity more generally.

  35. “Nothing is “free””.

    I’ll try and remember that next time I take a deep breath or enjoy a sunset.

  36. @Fran Barlow
    says “The day when Alice points out a flaw, even an obvious one, in something I’ve said, I will salute her.”

    That will be day Fran especially when you are deny the contradictions in your own arguments. You are happy to impose user pays fees on students for tertiary education on the spurious basis that providing public teriary education free to all with merit to enter is a method whereby the poor, in your words, are subsidising the rich.

    A nonsense. A greater number of poor and middle would be subsidised and it matters little if a few rich are as well. They are lesser in number. Simple arithmetic. The poor and middle will gain a net benefit – useful in addressing the rising inquality of your somewhat questionable “concern.”

    Yet you would never advocate reversing the excessively generous tax cuts that have been given to the rich since the 1980s as a method of funding public tertiary eduction, despite its obvious benefits and despite your own acknowledgement that inequality is a concern of yours. More than a tad hypocritical.

    Clearly the larger issue for you is a smaller government: a transparent libertarian ideologically driven approach.

    I completely agree with Hals observation on your reasoning

    “Your arguments overall remind me of some older women acquaintances of mine who oppose provision of accessible subsidised child care on the dog-in-the-manger grounds that ‘I didn’t get it when my children were young, nobody helped me out – why should I pay taxes to provide privileges to new mothers now?’

  37. Chris O’Neill said

    “It was Menzies who introduced scholarships that paid fees and living allowance. The only difference Whitlam made to me was that I had to start paying student union fees that the scholarship previously paid.”

    Were you under the illusion that pre Whitlam, every one was on a scholarship?

  38. @Alice

    You are happy to impose user pays fees on students for tertiary education

    How can it be user pays unless all users actually pay AND that what they pay is a fee commensurate with the private benefit?

    That’s laughably illiterate.

  39. @charles

    I’ll try and remember that next time I take a deep breath or enjoy a sunset.

    What a nice idea: education as an ecosystem service — a true renewable. What a shame human intervention spoils it all.

    I hear prayer is free too.

  40. “Which they often evade and which even if they don’t is not very steeply progressive. That Australia continually becomes less equal a society with each passing year shows how silly your claim is.”

    “Have I got this right? Because of a tax system failure our kids have to take on a debt to get a tertiary education.”

  41. Society is more than free Fran, it is the structure that has made us what we are, a species that learns from our ancestors, a species that has specialized to bring wealth to us all (even the poor live better that the apes). The question is, are we better off as a society if knowledge is available to all or just a privileged few.

    I suspect however, your politics doesn’t leave room for the advantages delivered by society and our past.

  42. @charles

    I suspect however, your politics doesn’t leave room for the advantages delivered by society and our past.

    You are

    a) new here, or

    b) completely disingenuous

    or

    c) have receptive literacy problems.

    Have I got this right? Because of a tax system failure our kids have to take on a debt to get a tertiary education

    I’m leaning towards (c) at least. The failure of the progressive tax system to in any substantial way improve equity shows that one can’t rely on progressive taxation to ensure that deal to address inequity in higher education.

    Hmmm …

  43. Fran as always on all topics is wrong when she says “The failure of the progressive tax system to in any substantial way improve equity shows that one can’t rely on progressive taxation to ensure that deal to address inequity in higher education.” Of course one realises that by “equity” she means “equality”, wihtout herself volunterrting to give away all her own income/wealth to at least some of thsoe with less than she has. If truth means anything here, the FACT is that the top 23.8% of taxable income recipients in 2003-2004 accounted for 62.7% of all net tax payable, and that pattern is as true now as it was then or before. So what happened to the net tax paid by those 23.8%? Well most of them educate their chikldren at private schools and have private health insurance, so they tend to make rather few calls on the public purses, far less in fact than the 76% who contributed only 37% of net tax and relied on public services very largely financed by the 23.8%.

    GST at 10% is not of course progressive but since the 23.8% have larger incomes than the rest of us they spend more than the rest of us on stuff that attracts GST, so that it becomes in effect progressive.

    Fran, you are exceptionally tedious, do stay away for a bit please.

  44. @charles

    Were you under the illusion that pre Whitlam, every one was on a scholarship?

    You must have missed the part where I said:

    The vast majority of university eduction was already free

  45. @Charlie
    Charlie says
    “so (the wealthier) they tend to make rather few calls on the public purses, far less in fact than the 76% who contributed only 37% of net tax and relied on public services very largely financed by the 23.8%.”
    Economic health of a nation overall relies on exactly the sort of redistribution Charlie mentions – and public education is a benefit to the nation and a benefit to youth, who we expect to carry the load of an ageing boomer population – oft stated to be a miserable costly burden as they age if you believe governments, then I fail to see the point of pricing youth out of a higher income earning capacity precisely when it is needed.

    I have no moral reservations about funding rich and poor students alike when it comes to tertiary education. The unemployment rate is apalling in uni entry age group.
    The current predilection of governments to run themselves profitability in each and every email shuffling department by imposing dubious and creative fees, charges, costs, prices, stamp duties (which were originally for the cost of stamps) and other creeping imposts in every corridor and at every desk visited by the public (including students at library reception, computer departments, photocopiers, and parking stations over and above fees or hecs) is as tiresome as Frans muddled and wrong headed arguments in support of them.

    All the while government departments continue to shrink their already neglible services further (lurching from one costly privatisation or outsourcing disaster to another – likely the morning teas are subcontracted out in most departments these days) whilst government still puts both their hands out for our taxes… pace unabated.

    I can assure you Fran – students are paying and many are not happy and as poor as churchmouses. Further, it is often their parents helping too (accommodation, petrol, etc) when they should be saving for retirement. It is yet another impost to add to rapidly rising electricity, water, council rates, insurances, groceries, petrol, registration fees, renewal fees, fines on households. The expectation that our youth will help corporate unis to make profits, by whatever means uni managments can come up with to cost shift to students, is very disturbing.

    It is precisely these silly user pays ideas fervently adopted by past and current governments that isnt progressive and is contributing to rising inequality.

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