A poll of students about the Ontario Liberal government's plan to lift the freeze on tuition was conducted the other week at the University of Western Ontario. The results of the poll were predictably informative and representative,
The referendum was held by the Canadian Federation of Students, the Society of Graduate Students, the Women's Issues Network, and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group1 — all proponents of lowering tuition or continuing the tuition freeze. What they will not go out of their way to tell you is that each of these groups is funded by mandatory student levies — in other words, the financial interests of their paid employees and directors benefit directly from increased post-secondary enrolment. [For more "disinterested" groups on the subject of tuition, see also You know who's paying for this study….]
with 94.7 per cent of Western students voting for lower tuition fees, and 94.3 per cent saying they would support a continuation of the current tuition freeze.
Student activist groups such as these would like us all to pretend not only that these results are meaningful in any way but also that governmental subsidization of their constituents is not a matter of redistribution for their own exclusive benefit, although they count on the short-term pecuniary self-interest of university students to muster the soldiery. Instead, inadequate tuition welfare, the misdirection goes, would result in the diminution of "equal access to education" — as though the diminution of an unmeasureable and ultimately meaningless concept results in a demonstrable effect. The measureable and much less arbitrary effect these groups are refering to in the guise of social caring is the profit they stand to make from "unrestrained access to education."
The overwhelming response of students voting "yes" to the extension of their subsidized benefits is in one way as comical as asking welfare recipients if they think their disbursements should be increased. Yet it's equally frightening. If the question were posed to thieves whether laws protecting private property ought to be abolished, I doubt you'd find such an enthusiastically one-sided response. But students appear to consider it perfectly correct, even progressive, to appropriate money from all taxpayers for their own exclusive benefit as long as they can hide behind some meaningless socialist slogan. Do the students who vote "yes" consider the irony of crying out for "equal access to education" at the same time that they are actually attending these institutions? Their own access to education has apparently not been compromised — enrolment at Ontario universities increases every year. Low income is demonstrably not a barrier to post-secondary education — it's not even close — for anyone determined to obtain its benefits. But is access equal? As long as universities charge the same price to people without regard to their income, it most certainly is equal.
Of course, this is not what the student groups and socialists mean by "equal." "Equal" means instead unbridled opportunity to grab funds from a faceless public treasury. "Access" means instead that the only criterion for taking this opportunity is simply the desire to go to school. Like health care, education has long been considered one of those Motherland commodities that are supposed to benefit society at large. Education in particular supposes an economic benefit that justifies taking disposable income that would otherwise be spent according to the free preferences of its owners — education apparently "creates" additional wealth, regardless of the wealth it drains institutionalizing itself, a fictitious argument based on another supposition that wealth itself is a collective commodity acquired and measured by political means. Unlike health care, however, education is also understood as an investment towards future economic benefits for individuals — even to those who individuals who in the meantime obtain the benefits of collective investment in their education. This contradiction — this hypocrisy — of students can only be reconciled if they acquiesce to having their wealth appropriated for future generations when they become full-time taxpayers… which they all too often do, a perfect example of the perpetual rationalization of planned economies.
If post-secondary education access should be universal, the simple desire to attend university becomes the overriding admission criterion. In fact, with the Ontario government subsidizing 73% of university operating revenue on average, post-secondary education has almost become universal — an effect that is observed not only through increasing enrolment but also bald declarations of entitlement. Potential students recognize the financial benefits to themselves of acquiring a degree in a competitive economy, of course. When they demand access to the degree, however, when they require that admissions do not discriminate on any other criteria, they fail to realize is that they are generally competing against the standards of universal access — mediocrity. Mitchell Day put it well in a comment on a previous post:
When there are no discriminating criteria for admission to post-secondary education, the relative benefits of a degree in the job market deteriorate. Moreover, the absolute benefits of the degree must suffer as well. Post-secondary degrees, like high school diplomas, become in themselves an expectation — a right — and educational expectations must be lowered to appease the more intellectually diverse student population and the graduation rates. No one must be left behind! In my experience both taking and teaching undergraduate courses at Western, they have been dumbed down to the extent that they are little better than high school subjects, especially in the first couple of years. This is yet another reason that "a university degree is now as useless as a high school diploma." It makes one wonder what kind of "additional wealth" is being created.
Notice how nobody mentions that the government subsidzation of post-secondary education has resulted in a glut of university educated people, in the sense that most of these graduates are not taking degrees for disciplines in demand. This is part of the reason that a university degree is now as useless as a high school diploma. This glut now leads to people requiring post-graduate degrees for work that should only require a bachelors. It is also why you see so many university graduates waiting tables. Perhaps reducing the supply of superfluous degrees in the market by making people responsible for the costs will address this issue.
The traditional criteria for university admission were merit and the ability to pay. Neither compromised the relative and absolute benefits of obtaining a degree. Nor did they compromise access to post-secondary education. Interested individuals and groups have always, and still do, endow universities with scholarships to encourage the meritous to attend, regardless of personal income. Higher tuition fees would also, if they do indeed have the effect of reducing demand for disciplines that do not "pay off," would restore the relative and absolute benefits of a university degree, offsetting the costs of debt repayment. And, I might add, increased debt from higher tuitions would be easier to pay off without the added burden of subsidizing future students through taxation.
Inadvertently, one author of a letter to the UWO Gazette makes the case that there is already far too much access to education in Ontario:
Imagine that — it's not just the poor who lives and ambitions will be thwarted by the government's collusion with greedy capitalists, it's the "individuals working for social equity, awareness, environmental stability, justice, and the moral concepts our society claims to uphold" who will somehow be disadvantaged by the government's plans to remove the freeze. Are those individuals' access imperiled because they are "social sciences, arts and humanities" students or because they are more likely to come from "the lower income bracket," or both?
Many of us don’t have time to consider the debt we are accruing during our post-secondary studies. For some of us, especially those studying a skilled and technical field or one preferential to capitalist economy, there is a certain level of certainty that the initial cost of education is an investment on an eventual financial return.
The argument then is in effect for gratuitous subsidization by taxpayers of the educations of a particular class of people, the social activists. Of course, their future expectations include gratuitous subsidization of their employment opportunities, but there is no need to encourage them at this stage of their lives. The author already fails to see the irony of demanding a share of the proceeds from our capitalist economy to fund its academic demonization — what more can he hope to gain from this sort of subsidized education? Unless the social activists can come up with a university in which physical infrastructure and faculty's and staff's wages can sustain themselves by any means except for money, the social activist class might just show a little gratitude for the "social equity, awareness, environmental stability, justice, and the moral concepts" of the capitalism that generates the wealth that provides them with the opportunity to exercise their idle critiques.
1Fun facts: The Ontario Public Interest Research Group, co-sponsor of Western's tuition referendum, doesn't even have a chapter on the UWO campus. What were they doing here?
Another co-sponsor, the Women's Issues Network, is funded by the University Students Council, which in turn receives its funding from mandatory student levies. Their mission statement:
WIN is committed to providing a racist, sexist, and heterosexist [?] free space and also to provide an educational resource centre on issues that are important to women.What their mission has to do with tuition fees is inexplicable — presumably women are more likely to be denied access to eduction, despite the fact that there are more female undergraduate students at Western than male?
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Posted by MapMaster on Wednesday, November 30, 2005