The "Case" (For Free Education)

It’s not often that I read “junk” e-mail. When I get a message, if it’s not from a sender I recognize, I am very cautious about opening it. This precaution I redouble when I am dealing with any sent to the e-mail for the Trent Christian Fellowship — and address I manage as a part of my role as the group’s communication coordinator.

So, the fact that I’m doing a post about one such e-mail is droll, to say the least. Still, when the e-mail is longer than any I’ve ever received from a fellow member, it’s worth a few brownie points — just so long as it has no attachments!

Of course, the subject had plenty to do with it as well. A well-used subject box can change a great deal. When I look through my spam box (which captures most unwanted e-mail), I’m always graced by such titles as “imp0ve the s1ze of your masculini1y”. Why on earth anyone would actually open something labeled as such, I don’t know, but apparently they are convinced someone will — and trigger the oh-so-subtle attachment they have included, designated by a mere paperclip symbol that stands out on the page.

So when you see “The case for free education”, you start to muse, particularly since it didn’t make it as far as your junk box. It doesn’t look school-ordained, and neither does it seem to be from one of the TCF members. Still, no attachment and a good subject means I may as well flip it open anyhow to check it out. Sometimes these things actually are important.

And by the end of it, I had read what must have been close to 2000 words!

And it brought up some interesting points. Points which are not entirely valid, by me, but points nonetheless — and from a different perspective, to boot!

I won’t post the entire article here, but if you wish to go over it, I’ve uploaded a Word document you can check out here. For the sake of the post, I will pull out some quotes and give some context.

Firstly, the author doesn’t simply push for free education because it will benefit students (and herself, as is often the case). She begins by making clear that she is a teacher, and admits her slight bias — while also shooting down the possibility that she herself is a student! Then she sets in on the real argument, stating that the government has good goals in aiming to increase productivity and employment, but needs to shoot from a different perspective.

The first thing she takes down is the idea that funding childcare is a good way to boost the economy:

The goal of high tax income for government is also not really being met because even though a lot of adults are now earning full time, it is costing a lot to get them there.

When governments fund daycare at $32 a day while the parent pays only $7 as in Quebec, every child in daycare is costing the state a massive amount of money.  Daycare lobby groups are making the case that we need full-time daycare spots paid for for every single child in the country, and this would cost an amount they are reluctant to admit. But for 2 million children at $10,000 a space per year, the bill is $20 billion, per year.  An unthinkable amount just to ensure that women can earn.  What is more ironic is that the state by such a policy is actually right now funding the daycare of a family of two or three children at $30,000 a  year so that the mother can earn maybe $17,000 a year. The state is losing money on such arrangements.

And as the population ages, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg because eldercare is going to be very very costly. Taking care of your aging parent used to be private, personal and a household cost. Pressuring all adults out of the home to earn takes away the caregiver and the elderly will have to be put into state-funded care. Just imagine the bill and it is  a bill for government – because government wants women to work outside the home not to be home providing this care.

A solid blow, by me. Because many working mothers end up at a service-sector position, it really doesn’t matter how much more able they are to work, they are losing money on the deal. If you could get mothers into $100 000 jobs, that may be different, but statistically working mothers have it the hardest for wage-earning — probably partly because of university education limitations!

Her proposed solution? Funding towards child-rearing:

Yes I am talking about huge, massive investments in unheard of proportions. I am talking about a universal baby bonus of $2,000 and a universal children’s care allowance of $4,000 per child per year till age 18.  The cost is phenomenal, yes, but then let’s look at that. It is not any MORE than the daycare bill would have been. In fact per year it is less than the daycare will would have been for any given preschooler.

She follows this up with the points that this would also yield more children to stave our dwindling population, as well as far less child poverty, which tends to cause great harm to the economy.

Then she gets the the part that presumably is supposed to be relevant to me, as a student:

And here is the second suggestion- fund education massively. All public school education and the first post-secondary degree or certificate should be free.  Yes free. France has had such a system for some time and it is for sure very costly to government. Initially

Her case? That it would guarantee a well-paid population, it would help keep the population motivated and innovative rather than stagnating in jobs they didn’t want in the first place, and it would allow them to contribute to the economy immediately instead of fighting to get out of debt. These smile-inducing factors would combine with the first request in order to create happy people raising happy kids, perpetuating the situation for following generations!

My response? Ideally, it would work, and flawlessly. However, in reality she has a couple gaping holes in her logic.

The first is that everything the government does is to increase productivity. Though it is true that that is part of their motivation, movements like the push towards childcare have as much to do with women wanting to compete in the job-force as any real benefits. The government likely sees it as a lost-leader — something to put to rest the feminists that claim the opportunity isn’t equal, in order that people in “real” jobs can stop paying heed to the claims. And that way they seem to be supporting women’s rights; If the market forces women to work in low-salary jobs, hey, that’s the problem of the market, not the government, right?

Also, she points out that the cost for the child benefits would be cheaper than pre-school childcare… but that’s only per year. The cost of funding such a benefit until the children are adults would be phenomenal. Perhaps positive and well worth the cost in the end… but still a lot more than funding daycare for 4 years.

As for the free education, her biggest miss is in the assumption that a university education guarantees a high-paying job. The market doesn’t work that way — as can be seen today. We don’t need to look any further than our own neighbourhood McDonald’s to see that degrees don’t guarantee anything.

This is a common misapprehension on the part of students. The truth is, increasing qualifications doesn’t increase the number of jobs. Now that 70% of people go on to get a bachelor’s, it is being said that you need a master’s or doctorate to have a real edge. The result isn’t more high-paying jobs, it’s more people who never use their qualifications. And why not? When you have to pick someone to do a given job and you have 10 different people with degrees to choose from, clearly you’re not just going to open up a new spot for the 9 who fail the interview!

So, instead of funding free post-secondary education, the government needs to be focusing on discouraging people from getting university degrees — and subsequently helping them attain something like a college diploma in a field that is lacking workers! That way students won’t go into debt needlessly, since they will actually use their qualifications! Also, tuition will drop in price, so there’s no need to worry that everyone will simultaneously stop aspiring for a university education. After all, part of the reason the schools can charge so much is that they have students begging to get in. Less demand means lower prices to entice those who are considering it to come!

So, IMO, there cannot be a case for free education — or at least, not if you consider “education” to be synonymous with “university”, which most people (including the author) clearly do!

And thus ends a whopper post, generated entirely from a junk e-mail!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Juggling mother
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 07:43:59

    Your argument is not against a free university education (I assume Canada has free education up to 16years? 18 years? anyway) but against funding your current education policy/system.

    The UK has finally stopped banging on about getting more people to uni (and therefore no longer paying for them, as used to be the case) and started talking about how to educate people differently. Only approx 1/3 population exzcel at academic subjects – they should be funded to attend universities. The other 2/3 learn better in practical situations (even if the practise is academic, such as law or accounting, it’s the practical relevance that counts) so they should be encouraged and funded to gain further education in vocational courses or work placements.

    Sadly, we have only got as far as talking about it at the moment, but it seems pretty obvious to me that a better educated & busy population is both happier and richer and more useful to it’s government than a bored, uneducated one. I lose money by going to work, but gain uncounted knock on effects – not least the option of earning some real money one day – when the kids are older:-)


  2. nebcanuck
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 14:17:33

    Your argument is not against a free university education (I assume Canada has free education up to 16years? 18 years? anyway) but against funding your current education policy/system.

    Thanks for the point, Juggling mother! You’re right — we get it free until 18 years of age. And you’re also right that I wouldn’t be against funding a free post-secondary education, with one small note: Keep the emphasis on the practical end.

    It’s not really that our university system is lacking in options for practically-minded people. It’s that there’s a societal pressure to be successful academically. Instead of saying I’m against funding the current system, I’d say I’m against funding the current mindset… that is, don’t make university free until you’ve changed the fact that most people would choose university over college (in Canada, colloeges refer to more practical-end education facilities, while university is a substitute for the American term “College.”)

    Right now, the majority of the population attends university despite the fact that it costs more than double the price. If you were to eliminate the cost of both, I can’t imagine too many people would “lower themselves” to the level of college. As such, for now at least, I would propose that the universities remain expensive while subsidies are made for alternative educations!

    Still, it’s good to note that I’m not against free university. It would be wonderful, if only people wouldn’t abuse it!


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