Free College education in Europe
Europe’s first university, the University of Bologna, started with students hiring their own professors who would read and explain the classics and soon, it seems, we will be back to the same student-supported model, except that now the state is permanently there, regulating as if it was still paying for it.
Last year England decided it could no longer afford to subsidize higher education to the extent they had for the last 500 years. Things must be very bad in the realm for something like that to happen. Allowing higher education support to decline has traditionally been political dynamite in England. Conversely their American cousins across the pond were lowering their support of higher education every year and no one in the US noticed or protested very effectively. But when, in 2009, Tony Blair proposed a program whereby students would have to pay a higher proportion of the costs, the BBC reported “That move proved even more contentious in Parliament than Mr. Blair’s decision to wage war on Iraq.”
This year there are new cuts proposed that continue shifting the
cost of higher education from the taxpayer to the student, but they are modest in comparison. Compared to the U.S., England’s reform could be said to be negligible. In England, the entering student contributes approximately 47 percent (£3, 290 of an average tuition of £7, 000) towards their annual educational costs. In the U.S. the average student entering state supported institutions pay 72 percent of the costs. In England, the state partially subsidizes the gap, and also lends students the money to pay their fees and living expenses. These student loans are repaid once the graduate is employed at a job paying £15, 000 [about $25, 000] a year or more. In the U.S. interest accrues from day one and the borrowers must begin paying as soon as they leave school, whether or not they are employed. Nonetheless, the BBC predicts, “A new proposal for graduates to contribute more to their education could spark a rift in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.”
Demand for higher education is increasing rapidly around the world. In England of fifty years ago, only 5 percent of the 18 year olds went to college, now it is forty-five percent and rising. Other European governments have experienced similar increases and responded to this high demand in the same way, by forcing students to contribute a higher percentage of the costs. Germany, Spain, Ireland and England have already submitted proposals to their parliaments. Der Spiegel of Germany contends that the increase in higher education tuition is responsible for the ruling party’s decline, “… after forming a coalition with Chancellor Merkel, the Social Democratic Party (which was the guardian of free education) slipped to 23 percent of the vote.” In Spain the national newspaper El Pais documents an even longer history of free higher education (900 years) and asks the government whether they can afford not to continue with the investment. “In a time of unemployment when youth can either go to college or live on welfare, the government has chosen welfare.”