Education is a basic human right and all education can and should be free. Free university education has been adopted by nearly 20 variously rich or poor countries for their university students.
However the neoliberalism-dominated Anglosphere countries (the UK, the US, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand) ) are peculiar in imposing a huge and unjust Education Debt on university students as well as imposing a huge and inescapable Carbon Debt on young people through disproportionately huge greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. Free off-campus university education (Reading-Only Tertiary Education (ROTE), Distance Learning (DL) and Accredited Remote Learning (ARL)) and delivered by Free Universities (FUs) (e.g. a notional Australian Free University) can circumvent this pro-One Percenter, neoliberal perversion.
Education underpins science-based personal and societal changes to maximize personal and societal health, happiness, dignity and opportunity, and accordingly all education should be free, whether pre-school (kindergarten), primary education (elementary school), secondary education (high school), tertiary education (university, technical training) or life-long learning. Indeed all education can and should be free. Education is regarded as a basic human right, which is why all developed countries make basic primary and secondary education free (although Educational Apartheid in some countries determines differential access to good quality education depending upon parental wealth, race or home location).
Thus Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Further, Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states in part: “1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular: (a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all; (b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need; (c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means; (d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children”.
Nevertheless the world is currently dominated by a pro-One Percenter neoliberal philosophy that demands maximum freedom for the smart and otherwise advantaged to exploit natural and human resources for personal aggrandisement. This presently dominant neoliberal philosophy means that most governments charge obscenely over-priced fees to (mostly young) students who are bettering themselves and society by doing accredited university courses (e.g. science, engineering, medicine, arts, commerce, law etc.) or technical and further education (TAFE) courses (e.g. electrician, building, plumbing, hospitality, hair dressing etc.). This pro-One Percenter, neoliberal approach is not only unfair and anti-social; it is also profoundly dishonest because, as amplified below, top quality, accredited, lecture-based tuition can actually be provided for free (apart from a modest fee for accrediting examination).
However there is another approach to education, economics and societal organization in general that can be variously described as social humanism, socialism or the welfare state and which involves evolving social contracts at the local, national and global levels to maximize the health, happiness, dignity, and opportunity of all people. Scandinavian countries provide good examples of relatively conservative countries applying this social humanist philosophy to achieve a good social safety net as well as free university education.
At the outset the pro-One Percenter neoliberals assert that universities are expensive institutions and that students should accordingly pay for the tuition that will enhance their future earnings prospects. However a reduction ad absurdum here would be that all children should be heavily taxed from birth in direct proportion to the IQs, wealth and socio-economic status of their parents.
Further, all nations need to have a complement of expert scholars and scientists for variety of economic, health, national security and national prestige reasons - but one must ask why impoverished, circa 20 year old undergraduate students should have to pay for this expert complement that disproportionately and immediately benefits the mature adult population and the richer and older citizens in particular.
All education can and should be free. All university education can and should be free. All education can be free as empirically exampled by the dozen or so countries from rich to poor that have made it so. All education should be free to promote the social humanist goal of maximizing the health, happiness, dignity and opportunity of all people and the societies of which they are a part.
Many countries, both rich and poor, have made tertiary education free for their citizens, the list including (GDP per capita in US dollars in brackets; mostly UN data, 2014):
Argentina ($12,645), Brazil ($11,387), China ($7,617), Cuba ($7,274), Czech Republic ($19,470), Denmark ($61,294), Ecuador ($6,346), Estonia ($20,122), Finland ($49,678), France ($42, 802), Germany ($47,966), Greece ($21,414), Libya ($6,602), Mauritius ($9,945), Norway ($97,226), Scotland ($24,060) and Sweden ($58,856).
In addition, Chile ($14,528) gives free university education to students from its 50% poorest families and in Nigeria ($3,203), university education is free for Science, Education and Technology students. However in stark contrast, free university education is presently rejected by the rich, pro-One Percenter, neoliberal Anglosphere countries of Australia ($62,290), Canada ($50,169), Ireland ($53,648), New Zealand ($44,189), UK ($46,461) and the US ($54,306).
Australia had free university education when university fees were abolished by the reformist Whitlam Labor Government before it was removed in a CIA-backed Coup in 1975. Fees were re-introduced by the pro-US, neo-liberal Hawke Labor Government but with a Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) enabling students to repay their education debt in small instalments when able to do so through suitably rewarded future employment.
Australian students presently have an average HECS debt of $15,200 which is repaid over an average of 8.3 years but the present ultraconservative Coalition Government (with the support of nearly all vice-chancellors) wants to deregulate fees and increase the interest rate on the HECS debt with the prospect of $100,000 degrees under the extreme right wing, pro-war, war criminal, pro-coal, pro-gas, climate criminal Liberal Party-National Party Coalition Government now led by the charming and articulate but nevertheless “lipstick on a pig”, pro-war, pro-fossil fuels and anti-science Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The Australian university system has 43 accredited universities comprising 40 state-funded universities, two international universities, and a smaller private speciality university. The 8 top high quality state-funded universities (the Big Eight) have very competitive entry and garner most of the available research grants. The high-cost, corporatized, money-obsessed Australian university system is run by bean-counting career academic administrators who can be seen as parasitic, grossly over-paid refugees from scholarship who cravenly do the bidding of successive anti-intellectual, neoliberal governments. The Australian university system caters for 985,000 local, HECS-paying students and 329,000 full-fee overseas students (2014) and is characterized by unjustifiably high fees, declining academic standards, academic censorship, lowered entry standards, bullying of academics, academic downsizing, academic casualization, egregious corruption and extraordinary censorship that grossly violates the fundamental academic ethos.
Censorship is utterly anathema to traditional academics but is now entrenched in the corporatized Australian university system and elsewhere. Thus Western democracies have become pro-One Percenter Plutotocracies, Murdochracies, Lobbyocracies, Corporatocracies, Kleptocracies and Dollarocracies in which Big Money purchases people, politicians, parties, policies, public perception of reality, political power and hence more profit. Western universities and academics censor in deference to the One Percenter Establishment. As I concluded in a detailed analysis of academic censorship: “Finally, we should publicly insist that universities that constrain free speech are not fit for our children”. Why should student pay outrageously big bucks to learn at institutions with a censoring culture?
The rich Anglosphere countries that do not have free university education are imposing a huge Education Debt on their young citizens while permitting massive tax avoidance by national individuals, national corporations and multinational corporations. Further, Anglosphere countries, specifically the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia, are notable for having an increasing One Percenter and Ten Percenter share of annual national income. As revealed by Professor Thomas Piketty in his book “Capital in the Twenty First Century”, the share in total income of the top 1% in France, Germany, Sweden and Japan declined from about 20% in 1910 to about 8% in 1950 and thence remained low (Figure 9.3, p317). In contrast, in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia a similar decline occurred from about 20% in 1910 to 6-9% in 1970 but after 1980 the One Percenter share of total income variously increased to 10-18%. A similar pattern obtains with the top 10% in these countries, a phenomenon that Piketty describes as “the rise of the supermanager: an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon” (Figures 9.2-9.8, pp315-324).
The rich Anglosphere countries that refuse to provide free university education for their young citizens are also notably among the world’s worst greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters and impose a huge, inescapable and ever-increasing Carbon Debt on their young. Thus the annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution for all countries (in tonnes CO2-e per person per year; the world average being 63.80 billion tonnes CO2-e / 7.137 billion people in 2013 = 8.9 tonnes CO2-e per person per year) is as follows New Zealand (53.2), Australia (52.9; 116 if including its huge GHG-generating exports), Canada (50.1), Ireland (41.4), United States (41.0), and the UK (21.5) . Scotland is a notable exception – it has abolished university fees and is committed to 100% renewable energy by 2020. Assuming a damage-related Carbon Price of $200 per tonne CO2-e , the values of annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution for Anglosphere countries quoted above correspond to the following annual per capita increases in Carbon Debt (in brackets): New Zealand ($10,640), Australia ($10,580; $23,200 if including its huge GHG-generating exports), Canada ($10,020), Ireland ($8,280), United States ($8,200), and the UK ($4,300). Of course this huge and remorselessly increasing Carbon Debt will inescapably have to be paid by the young and future generations who are also burdened with a huge and dishonestly imposed Education Debt.
Here are 3 examples of how the present corporatized university system could rapidly transit from the present dishonest rip-off to much free-er tertiary education:
(1). All those running lecture-based courses in state-subsidized universities should place lectures notes, a book/chapter/page-based syllabus, sample answers to model exam questions and other teaching materials on the web for free access for all, and provide minimum cost accrediting examinations that anyone can sit for free or for a modest, real cost-based fee.
(2). Current on-campus undergraduate education can be provided at 10% of the current cost using part-time academic teaching staff (e.g. from other institutions, industry or from early retirement).
(3), Current on-campus undergraduate education can be provided at 1% of the current cost simply through provision by experts (e.g. from hospitals, other institutions, industry, public universities or private universities) of minimum-cost, accrediting examination of student understanding of the top quality courses (Massive Open Online Courses, MOOCs) put on the web for free by top universities like 157-Nobel-Laureate Harvard and 85-Nobel-Laureate Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Of course if existing institutions won't act decently as suggested above then collectives of currently employed academics, retired academics, scholars, scientists and other experts(e.g. in Australia, an Australian Free University or Free University of Australia) should simply place lectures notes, a book/chapter/page-based syllabus, sample answers to model exam questions and other teaching materials on the web for free access for all, and provide minimum cost accrediting examinations that anyone can sit for free or for a modest, real cost-based fee. I have set out such a scheme that I have variously described as Reading-Only Tertiary Education (ROTE), Distance Learning (DL) or Accredited Remote Learning (ARL). Such an off-campus system is not just honest and effective but potentially immensely empowering for the poor, the disabled (notably people who are deaf, blind or immobilized) , mature age students, life-long learners, geographically isolated people, refugees in refugee concentration camps, or other incarcerated people (e.g. people judicially sentenced to imprisonment ).
University academics, university administrators and apprised politicians resolutely lie by omission to the public over current academic realities in which on-campus, fee-paying students mostly do not attend lectures and their study is heavily based on reading downloaded lecture notes, other downloaded materials and prescribed texts (this approach is crucial for many overseas students in Australia with a much better reading comprehension than their aural comprehension of English and of the Australian accent in particular). Thus most of the 1.3 million students enrolled for expensive on-campus courses at Australian universities are in effect doing the off-campus learning I have described as Reading-Only Tertiary Education (ROTE), Distance Learning (DL) or Accredited Remote Learning (ARL) but paying a fortune for the privilege.
The progressive corporatizing of Western universities has meant that they are now dominated by ruthless academic administrators who can be seen as parasitic and grossly over-paid refugees from scholarship who do the bidding of dishonest, greedy, pro-One Percenter, neoliberal governments in perverting scholarly institutions, maltreating scholars, deceiving the public and ripping off students by imposing grossly excessive fees and consequent Education Debt. The gross deception of students, parents and society over the need for university fees is a good illustration of Polya’s 3 Laws that mirror the 3 Laws of Thermodynamics of science and are (1) Price minus COP (Cost of Production) equals profit; (2) Deception about COP strives to a maximum; and (3) No work, price or profit on a dead planet.
"Free university education" is actually a double entendre - we must implement free university education and in so doing free universities from the clutches of corporatist university administrators and anti-science, anti-scholarship, spin-driven and anti-truth neoliberal governments. The British Labor Party under its humane and progressive new leader Jeremy Corbyn now has a policy of free university education as do the similarly pro-peace, pro-equity and pro-human rights Australian Greens.
Students should not just be concerned about the immense cost of university education that should actually be provided for free. They should also be concerned about what they are getting for their money. Thus while science, engineering and medical courses present science-based perceptions of reality (albeit at different standards depending upon the institution), academic historiography is notoriously flawed as summarized by the aphorism “History is written by the victors” (for details see my book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”).
In a recent analysis about tackling Educational Apartheid and social inequity I concluded: “The adult world is failing to address the worsening climate crisis and it seems now inevitable that we will be bequeathing a severely damaged and threatened world to our children and grandchildren …
The least we could do is to educate the next generations to enable them to best deal with the mess we have left behind. Voters should insist that all education should be free and good.” Decent people who care for young people and future generations must reject the lying, Humanity-abusing neoliberal politicians and support the Greens and Socialists in their demand for free university education. Young people in particular should demand free university education and that all education should be free for all.
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