The Tuition Dilemma

As a theory wonk, I rarely comment on practical politics like policy or the progress of elections. However, this article brings up several interesting ethical and economic implications of increasing funding for university education. The value of a university degree in terms of finding a job worth your merits and acquired training is diminished by a market with a more than adequate supply and decreasing demand. The quality and intrinsic worth of the knowledge you gain no longer has the material payoffs that it should.

A philosophical point that this article misses is that there is a devaluation of higher learning and critique of current social orders; that is, engaging with theory and thought traditions. With the move to professional programs in university, students increasingly find it useless and unapplicable to read brilliant contributions to the richness of human thought processes that Nietzsche, Rousseau, Kant, Hayek, Foucault, and so many others provide. Therefore, they lack sufficient training in reflexive thought and therefore are ill-equipped to deal with the modern despair of having a 9-5 mechanistic office job and surviving in a competitive world with its own interests and fast-paced technological and commercial advances. Moral and creative progress stalls when university must churn out cookie-cutter students for the professional markets. The government and university bureaucracy profit the most from this, with the government taking taxes for spending on these institutions and the universities themselves trying to make a profit off the useless specialization of disciplines.

Nepotism (not meritocracy!) begins to replace the process of hiring of university graduates as well, with the increase of highly skilled labour supply. For the Ontario Liberals to assert that job creation will happen through increasing funding to education (thereby increasing access) and subsequently, increasing the number of highly trained individuals for the job market, appears suspect in light of this article. Diversification of job market training and increasing job demands through private sector initiatives and projects would be a better solution rather than throwing taxpayer money at the problem of underemployed university graduates.

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Taken from The Cord

Counter-point: McGuinty tuition plan is fiscally irresponsible, adds to Ontario’s debt unnecessarily

After eight years in office, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have announced a plan to cut tuition by 30 per cent by handing out $1600 to students who come from families earning incomes of less than $160,000. This accounts for roughly 86 per cent of students. The Liberals predict that this will cost the province $486 million per year. At first glance, this may seem like a great deal for the typical university student but after some more thought, it is apparent that this election bribe is not as beneficial as it may appear. This policy will add to Ontario’s staggering government debt, is fiscally irresponsible and will damage our post-secondary education.

The problem with such a promise, and all similar promises, is the question of where the money comes from. Obviously it comes from the province coffers, but before we plunder public funds out of our own self-interest, we must remember that those funds come from all people of this province, including your classmates from high school that chose to enter the workforce instead of pursuing post-secondary education.

I have a friend who decided against going to university. The thought that I should use the collective force of the state to harvest money from him and line my own pockets with his money seems immoral. I fully understand that the use of collective force will never disappear from our government but we should work towards limiting it.

Morals aside, the other problem we are about to encounter is the fact that the province is running out of money for new expenditures. Our province is in debt by $245 billion and has a deficit of over $16 billion. By not working towards fixing this problem by rebalancing the books and paying off Ontario’s debt, younger Ontarians like you and me will be left with the bill. Implementing this education plan, which will cost $486 million each year, will not help our situation.

Even if we only evaluate this Liberal plan for its impact on post-secondary education, it still has serious flaws. When a government implements a new policy, especially one that affects the pricing system, it very rarely fully understands what it is doing. As such, a number of negative side effects could develop. The first problem is if the supply is greater than the demand, the value of what is being supplied would decline. This includes undergraduate degrees.

Undergraduate degrees are certainly not as highly valued as they used to be due to government interference. If the government lowers the cost of tuition, another bad after-effect will take place: attracting people who have no serious interest in learning to campuses across Ontario, which will deteriorate the learning atmosphere.

Both of these bad effects are occurring right now because of government subsidization and will only be worsened by this Liberal policy. Another thing that could develop is that student tuition could rise at a faster rate to compensate for the government subsidy, making the policy useless.

There is a better option and that would be to let the market work. As more young Canadians demand undergraduate degrees, signals will be sent through the price system and will be met by an increase in openings as the university feels it can profit. Investors work to invest in new campuses to meet the increase in demand to maximize profit to satisfy their own self-interest. Students are free to choose universities based off of any criteria they choose and each university will attempt to meet the demands of those students so it can make a profit. The competition between universities could drive prices down and increase the quality of services. This policy was poorly conceived because of its cost and negative effects on our post-secondary education.

As such, the government of Ontario should not implement this policy. “Premier Dad” should cease harvesting burdensome amounts of money from people in Ontario through collective force and instead try a bit of individual freedom. He may be surprised at how well Ontarians can serve one another in a free society.

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