Tertiary education should be universal, non-profit and free

Last week, I spoke at the Australian Conference of Economists in a panel on Higher Education Policy. My talk was covered by John Ross of The Australian Higher Education Section which, unlike much of the Oz, seems still to be more interested in accurate reporting than political pointscoring. I talked to Steve Austin of ABC Radio Brisbane http://www.abc.net.au/radio/brisbane/programs/mornings/mornings/8733698

To sum up my main points

* As a society we should set a goal of providing appropriate tertiary education (that is, post-school through university or TAFE) for all young people. Instead, policy is still heavily influenced by nostalgia for the days when working class kids (actually, just males) could leave school at Year 10 and be apprenticed to a trade, middle class kids could leave school at Year 12 and get a nice safe job in a bank, and universities were the preserve of an elite, either smart enough to jump the hoops to get in or with parents rich enough to pay

* The provision of a universal publicly funded service like this should not be entrusted to for-profit firms, as has been shown by the VET FEE-HELP disaster

* We should abandon the market liberal rhetoric of choice, competition and incentives and instead focus on professionalism and a service ethos.

* Once we get close enough to the goal of universal tertiary education, we might as well finance it through the tax system as we do with schools, and develop some special policies for those who, for one reason or another, miss out. I’ll post more on this sometime.

28 thoughts on “Tertiary education should be universal, non-profit and free

  1. @hc
    Are you arguing that primary and secondary education, where a near 0:1 split is almost universal, are wildly unfair to society?

  2. @zoot

    0:1 is only (sort of) true for public schools, who account for 84% of school enrolments. It’s a good question though. The answer might be that there are no private benefits to a public school education.

  3. I think primary and secondary education are a bit different. They are costly particular when, like me, you have 3 kids and put them all through private schools. It kept me poor for 20 years – taking almost 40% of my salary at my primary job and forcing me to do outside work – with many sleepless nights as well as I wondered how I would pay the massive 3-monthly bills. But very happy with the outcomes. No regrets though it might have taken a few years off my life.

    The public schools are not costless either but there is obviously a bigger subsidy element. I don’t object to this because, with some inconsistency, I am happy to see redistributions specifically directed towards young children.

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