August 12, 2023 opinion

Universal higher education should be free. Here’s why

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Jakub Hejka in Oxford, United Kingdom

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Education should not be privileged and only available to those that can afford it but to everyone.

The market structure has changed since the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) revolution and the increased automatization of physical labour-intensive jobs.

Nowadays, the demand requires workers to be highly skilled and good at problem-solving and entrepreneurship. This is why universal access to higher education is crucial if we want today’s and future generations to be able to find jobs and be competitive.

In the 21st-century labour market, more weight is put on the workers’ knowledge than their physical power. It is because of the growth of the so-called quaternary sector, a new economic concept that emerged from the tertiary sector and comprises information technology, research, and education.

There is a clear difference between the services that a CEO of a company and a salesperson in your local Tesco provides: the latter can be easily replaced by the self-service cash registers.

Meanwhile, I don’t think it can replace a CEO, at least for now (though ChatGPT is amazing, especially for helping with homework). This is why access to higher education is a necessity not only for people but also for our economy to continue developing.

With free access to higher education, more people would consider going to college, as seen in the survey done by The National Opinion Research Center in Chicago. 75% of respondents agreed that the most important reason for not pursuing higher education is the lack of funds.

This problem has become more apparent as tuition fees at private non-profit four-year institutions increased significantly over the last 30 years from $21,860 to $39,400, with a small drop after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most students can’t afford those costs and are forced to either take on a loan that will cost them more and limit their options after university, where they will have to find a job to begin repayments, or simply give up on the idea of going to university and immediately joining the workforce.

If the university were free and available to all, more students would allow themselves to follow their heart and choose what subject they want to study, as well as look for a job they would enjoy.

According to a survey, 62% of graduates said the job market influenced their choice of college major. I think if more people pursue higher education, they will meet the current requirements of the job market due to the development of the quaternary sector in the economy.

However, there are also some people that say that education should not be free and that people should be paying.

One of the popular arguments used by the supporters of paying for higher education is that it won’t be free as we’ll have to pay for it in taxes.

This statement is accurate, yet it leaves out a lot of crucial information. For instance, a wider range of people will shoulder the financial burden of higher education instead of living the entire cost on one individual. Also those who complete higher education will have access to more lucrative jobs. Better jobs will result in better pay, and thus, the tax burden will have no actual impact on most people.

I think one of possible solutions to the tax problem is moving the price of higher education from those who pursue it to those who gain from it, such as high earners and organisations that hire people with advanced degrees.

As a result of the entry of more highly qualified workers into the market, the cost of raising government expenditure to cover tuition costs would be offset by economic growth.

Written by:

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Jakub Hejka

Contributor

Warsaw, Poland

Born in 2004 in Warsaw, Jakub studied in Leysin, Switzerland. He is interested in economics and politics and plans to study economics in the future.

For Harbingers’ Magazine, he writes about economics and politics.

In his free time, Jakub plays Chess, board games, video games and won third place in an amateur bridge tournament.

Jakub speaks Polish and English.

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