It is often asserted that an educated populace is a win-win societal investment for everybody. They are absolutely right, education is investment in human capital. I am in no way against an educated populace nor am I against restricting the number of degrees attainable if individuals in society truly are achieving higher than ever in academia. I am in no way against investment in education for the same reason why I am not against investment in any other industry or sector of the economy (whether it be in the stock market, housing, technology, automobile companies, etc.) The issue I have is not with investment but malinvestment. In this article, I will propose some simple questions to the Drop Student Fees Movement:
- In any industry, there is good investment and there is bad investment. Is it possible that there are some degrees that are not investing tax payer dollars in? On that note, is it possible that degrees are not made equal but some are more worthwhile than others?
- Should all degrees be subsidized equally? Should a degree in Arts History or Film Studies be subsidized to the same extent as a degree in Neurobiology, Physics, or Economics? A free market would undeniably be discriminatory as lenders would weigh the expected returns with the costs of education but when lending is done by bureaucrats who bear no cost of their risky investments and use tax payers money, there is not much incentive to discriminate especially when faced with political rather than economic pressures. This may be argued as a good thing but in China and India there is a surge of students majoring in the sciences, engineering, information technology, and finance while here in Canada there is arguably an oversupply of Arts students with very little to offer the skilled labour market. Do these distorted incentives end up making the Canadian student less competitive?
- A good investment is not judged solely by the returns. A good investment is judged by the returns in relation to what was sacrificed. Supporters of the Drop Student Fees movement seem to assert that education is an investment where costs shouldn’t matter. This implies that education is always worth it, period. If education is an invaluable asset, then spending $100,000 on an Arts History degree shouldn’t be a deterrent to interested students nor should it concern any tax payer. I don’t think any sane person who remotely understands scarcity would agree with this. The question I ask is: at what margins is the cost of education too high such that society is actually worse off? What is the conceivable limit where too much is too much?
- If student fees were completely dropped, student attendance is guaranteed at whatever price they charge. Prices offered would no longer be a competitive bargaining chip amongst universities. What would incentivize universities to lower costs? What would disincentives universities to raise costs to atrocious numbers?
While the left incessantly spouts policy solutions based solely on intention rather than critical reasoning or investigation, the burden of proof has largely fallen on free marketeers to disprove them. It should in fact be the opposite case as they are the ones proposing a larger more active role for the State to dictate how our money should be spent. Until these questions are sufficiently answered, the positions of the Drop Student Fees movement shouldn’t even be considered.