Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tuition and Politics

I had a brief conversation on my latest post on tuition increases with a student.  The student linked to the student association's page on tuition and cited a bunch of research posted there along with the students' proposed ways to pay for higher education.  There is such a contrast between how professional the website is in terms of its presentation and the extremely naive idealism of the proposals that it is galling.

To be clear, I would love it if universities got more funding from their public sponsors (provinces or states).  And if they soak corporations to do so, wooo hooo!  But all political trends plus a dose of realism about the relative power of lobbying groups screams at me that the best the students can do is slow or stop tuition increases, as they have done in the past.  They are not a strong enough lobby to affect someone else's most important interests.  And taxes are the most important interest of any and all corporations (and rich people, for that matter).  So, it is unrealistic to expect that Quebec would raises taxes (ok, that part is realistic, believe me, the idea that Quebeckers are not highly taxed already, especially those over the median income, is a bit silly) and then send that money to universities.

There is at the core a real conflict of values.  The students seem to believe that higher education is a right and that it should be free.  They have an out of touch view of European higher education--not so free and far more exclusive than they would like to think.  Quebec and Canada are not Sweden with effective cradle to grave super-social welfare programs.  Quebec likes to think so, but it is not.  And the students are right that Quebec itself is a sieve--money goes in, not sure where it goes after that as we can see from the roads, schools, hospitals, etc.  In North America, where Quebec and Canada happen to be, there are these things called market forces--that people will move around to get higher wages, lower taxes, and better outcomes.  Corporations will do the same.  Ignoring them because one has a dream about higher education is not going to make them go away.

Again, I would love it if politicians would really get the concept that the best investment they could make would be in higher education since it produces multiplier effects.  I now kind of wish the students would get the same idea--that their investment now (actually, the next generation of students) has multiplier effects for them and their friends and their society.  Starving universities of cash by governments or by students (through tuition that never came close to keeping up with inflation) has been and will continue to be short-sighted. 

Demanding that governments do more does not mean that we should ask the folks who benefit from the education to do their share.

No comments: