Douwe Osinga's Blog: The high cost of free education

Monday, November 7, 2005

I used to think that university education should be free. As luck would have it, for me it was. Better than that, our government back then even paid students a small wage to study, i.e. they paid us to increase our future wage potential. I don't think university education should be free anymore, which admitedly is easier to say after you've gotten one. But here's the thing. There is no such thing as a free lunch and there is no free university education either.

I mean this in two senses. First of all, it might be free to the student, but somebody is paying, because it costs money. That somebody is Joe Taxpayer of course and all things the same, he'd like to keep his money. Or to put it in a more liberal/left wing formulation, the same money could be spend on other things. Lower education for example. Lower education is for everybody, university education tends to end up with the people that will have lots of money later anyway.

The other sense I mean it in is that the whole thing distorts demand and supply for university graduates. We end up with too many people studying English because they like it and not enough engineers, because people tend not to like it. For a lot of this oversupply becoming a teacher is pretty much the only option, which drives down the paylevel for teachers and which makes teaching in general a less attractive option, i.e. if you have studies philosophy you will only become a teacher if Google does not offer you a job. Making students pay for university and then put this money in making the salaries for primary and secondary school teachers higher could break this cycle.