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Is the UK right to charge its students for higher education? Show more Show less

Just over twenty years ago, higher education was free in the UK for any student who secured a place on a university course. Flash forward to today and students graduate with an average debt of £50,000. Critics claim this is wildly unfair and inhibits social mobility. Others claim that high fees improve equality. With both sides aiming to reduce inequality, why do the positions on implementing fees and reducing grants contradict each other?
University education should be free for all to access. Education is a human right. The state has a duty to fund free higher education in its annual budget.
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We should keep higher education free because education is a 'public good'.

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Context

A public good is something which has positive externalities, or put simply, a good which brings benefits not only to the purchaser. As higher education has broader benefits for a country, it brings into question whether students should be the only ones who pay for it.

The Argument

This argument states that education should be free because it is not only the students who benefit from further education. Having a better-educated workforce improves the economy, improves public health and leads to higher democratic participation [1]. Furthermore, university facilities themselves are often re-purposed and used by local residents or nearby companies. Consequently, If students aren't the only people benefiting from higher education institutions, then it is unfair that they bear the full cost of funding them.

Counter arguments

In strict economic terms, a public good must be both non-excludable (everyone has access to it), and non-rival (everyone can access the good without depleting the resource itself) [2]. As a result, education does not fit these criteria because not everyone has access to higher education, and the resource is finite; a university can teach only so many students. As a result, many economists would argue against university being a public good.

Premises

P1. If higher education is a public good then everyone benefits from it. P2. If everyone benefits from higher education, it should not only be students who pay for it. P3. Therefore, if university is a public good it is only fair that everyone pays for it.

Rejecting the premises

Rejecting P1. University is NOT a public good.

References

  1. https://theconversation.com/education-is-a-public-good-not-a-private-commodity-31408
  2. https://www.learnliberty.org/blog/why-education-isnt-a-public-good-and-why-government-doesnt-have-to-provide-it/

Proponents

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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 4 Dec 2019 at 15:11 UTC