Farrago: Against Free University Education
There is no such thing as a free education. In fact, universities are very expensive. Costs include buildings and land, books and computers, academic salaries and support staff, and much more.
The question is, who should have to pay these costs? The government, through everybody’s taxes, or the student, the person who receives an overwhelming benefit from education?
The current system is a mixture of both. The taxpayer subsidises about 59 per cent of our education. We pay about 41 per cent, usually through the HECS-HELP system, a no-interest loan that we only start repaying when we earn over $51,000 per year.
Analysis of census figures has found that the average male graduate receives an additional $1.4 million in lifetime earnings, compared to an individual who undertook no more education after Year 12. For women, the estimated lifetime earnings premium is just under $1 million.
Asking taxpayers to pay for our education is elitist middle class welfare at its worst. It is asking people who do not attend university—and who will likely earn a lower lifetime income—to subsidise our education, and higher income.
The simple reality is that we choose to go to university and we get substantial benefit from our education. Hence, we have an obligation to pay for it.
Furthermore, our governments face trade-offs for every spending decision. To put more into higher education they must hurt the economy and our job prospects by taxing more, increase debt on future generations or cut other services. Consequently there will always be a reluctance to put enough money into education.
When education was ‘free’ in the 1970s, a much lower proportion of the population undertook higher education. Spending a lot of money per student to make it free means there is no funding to increase higher education places or the quality of education.
Recent discussion following the Kemp-Norton education review has focused on the idea that universities need the ability to receive more revenue from students, not be hamstrung by inevitably limited government funding. The more money that is available to universities means a higher quality of education for students and the ability to teach more students.
Every university should be an intellectual mecca. The only way to achieve this outcome is if universities have a wide variety of revenue sources, and students must be willing to pay some of these costs.