Arguments for a Universal Access to Education

Education is the basis of a society: it allows the transmission of knowledge and culture, and it teaches critical thinking. Increasingly, this fundamental right has become a commodity that students can buy and income has become a major factor deciding the scope of studies or their continuation. Those who can afford it are spoiled for choice while others are being forced to forgo some options to enter the labour market as soon as possible. A long university education is supposed to result in a prestigious degree, yet often this degree does not guarantee a job, especially not a job that would pay off the debts that have become necessary.

It’s a fundamental right

Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.

UN, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,

article 13c. (Ratified by The Netherlands)

Above all, free education is necessary in respect to the right to education. Everyone should have access to higher education, regardless of their social origin. Tuition fees are forcing students from less affluent families to work harder in order to finance their education. The difficulty to combine work and study tends to interfere with academic success. As a result, students coming from poorer backgrounds are often penalized academically, while the privileged ones (mainly from white middle-class background) have the opportunity to put all their energies on studying. They will then be in a better position to gain grants based on academic results and to apply for post-graduate opportunities.

Free education would therefore:

  • Increase post-secondary attendance of young people from less affluent families and increasing the overall participation of young people to university;
  • Increase the chances of economically disadvantaged people to succeed in post-secondary education;
  • Restore the balance between people of all origins, as international students

Fight the knowledge economy by restoring the university’s mission

To us the university is meant to learn its students to be critical, to think for themselves and to question the status quo. To become ‘competente rebellen’ so to say, and emancipate themselves. This is necessary to make progress possible in any way, not only economically but also culturally. In the neoliberal system, this goal of the university has been (partially) lost. Now, the programs perceived as lucrative tends to receive more funds and students are encouraged to participate in those programs. Thereby reducing the popularity of fundamental research, humanities and art programs and creating another argument to reduce funding those programs which eventually leads to a stagnation in progress. We won’t be able to react to cultural changes, to invent new techniques, if there are no more people who can think beyond the immediate creation of things.

In the neoliberal market of education, tuition fees constitute a disciplinary integration of young citizens into market logic. By presenting education as a personal investment and asking young people to take up debt in order to increase the value of their labor power on the market, the students are forced to do a cost-benefit calculation in the choice for their programs. For the next semester the change is already noticeable, application-numbers for studies that are deemed to have a higher economic reward after graduation are relatively higher than in previous years.

For students, this vision of education creates a significant debt problem. Entering the labor market indebted in the tens of thousands of euros is an important incentive to work. Instead of prioritizing an interesting job or working fewer hours, young graduates are required to maximize their income, in order to pay off their student debt. Free education is a guarantee against the implementation of this neoliberal model of the knowledge economy.

What does free education mean?

Free education means that the full cost is contributed by the state. This policy therefore requires a major reinvestment in education from the state in question, which have often used tuition fee increases in order to reduce their participation. Not only for universities but also for educations teaching a profession (in the Netherlands: HBO and MBO educations). Governments need to realise that precisely because of education’s status as a fundamental right it is their duty to provide its citizens with uniform access to it. But just as much do we – the citizens, the students – need to realize that we can take this right, we can enforce our governments and universities to listen to us and to step out of our way towards a better education system.

Adapted from ASSÉ’s website

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