Monday, October 20, 2008

Paying for Higher Ed

The Institut Montaigne has published a report by Nicolas Colin, who argues that higher education in France should not be free. He tries to make the case that higher ed paid for out of public funds primarily benefits the middle and upper classes, yet most of the return on the investment in education is privately appropriated by the beneficiaries. I think that the conclusions Colin draws are wrong, but his arguments are worth pondering and suggest the need for reforms in the allocation of educational resources. But this is too large a topic to tackle in a blog post.


Unknown said...

This argument is not new, it has been used by Xavier Darcos and others for some time, I guess it belongs to the "psychological preparation" to the creation of educational fees.
One problem is that the conclusion drawn by Darcos et cie (and here Colin) totally overshadows the real question (or at least, the one politicians should theoretically be preoccupied with) : how is it that people from poorer background do not have access to university anymore ?

Anonymous said...

Is that really a problem? I don't know the statistics on the issue but I know from my own experience that students come from all socio-economic categories. Perhaps the problem is that the number of students from ZEP or poorer backgrounds is declining at the universities, but perhaps there are factors to consider such as increased enrollment in the IUT (btw, I'm without stats on this issue, too).
If there is a persistant problem with French university education - sheesh, its like football, everybody has their own opinion (!) - it is that the students get their moneys worth when it comes to the education they receive in their first 3 years (Licence). Given that they pay only around 200 euros, that's not saying much unfortunately.

Chris P.

Mr Punch said...

The same argument has been prevalent for decades in the US, and it is in and of itself unexceptionable -- especially in a situation in which the student bodies of the more expensive-to-run institutions tend to be drawn from upper-income backgrounds (as at the grands ecoles).

Recognizing this does not necessarily lead to tuition charges. John Silber (among others) years ago proposed a plan under which college would be essentially free, but graduates would repay the public investment in their educations through a surcharge on income above a certain level.

Unknown said...

Regarding statistics, if I recall correctly, percentage of students of working class origin has droped over the last 30 years from 20% to 11%. On the other hand, one has to consider that a large part of today's poor population is of immigrant, often illiterate and not french-speaking background, a fact that can also explain, at least partially, an increased difficulty to access university, or, more exactly, to get hold of a university degree: students often drop out of university after a year or two, most often because they lack the (implicitely needed) cultural and linguistic background.

The idea of surcharging income of people benefiting from higher education is interesting, but isn't it, indirectly, already the case through progressive tax income?

Leo said...

I would suggest looking at the Science Po Paris experience where a combination of
- increased enrolment
- special entry track for the underprivileged
- increased fees for those who can afford them
- and bursaries for those who cannot

is leading to a reversal of the nefarious trend which saw an exclusion of the working class from higher education.