By Shubhangi Sood

The question whether higher education should be made free for all resounds in public debates, time and again. There have been various opinions recorded so far, and sometimes both the viewpoints seem legitimate enough.

Basically, when one talks of making higher education free, it pertains to universities or institutions run by the government, and not private education institutes. Also, free would be in the sense that the tuition fees should be wavered off. But is this actually possible and logical?

Supporters of free education state that a greater number of highly educated people will contribute more effectively to the economy, and that will help in recovering the expenses the state has to bear to impart free education. However, in actual terms, the money spent on providing free higher education to people is many times more than what the return on this investment might be. Not all highly educated people choose to work for example, certain women choose to get married and handle a household rather than working in the economy. Therefore, the returns earned from more people working in the economy would be affected. Free higher education means a higher expenditure by the government, and hence would directly imply higher taxes to be paid by citizens. A higher rate of tax comes with its own set of problems, as we all know.

Free higher education benefits even the people who have no need to be provided with such incentives. Rich people, who can easily afford higher education, will enjoy it at the expense of people who actually need the free education. Student loans are a big hassle for students, and cause a lot of disequilibrium in the economy when they are unable to find jobs matching their qualifications, and hence get trapped in debt. There exists an easier solution to solve this. The rate of interest can be as low as is possible and viable, hence ensuring that while students pay the interest for getting the loan, they are not burdened by it.

If people are not made to pay for what they are studying, they might take it for granted and not put their best efforts forward. When the government doesn’t receive any revenue because they are making education free, they would have to dole out money from their budget to maintain the condition of the education system, and in case they are unable to manage that, the quality of education will be tossed into the dustbin. So to maintain the quality of education, the quality of the teachers, good infrastructure, advanced technology and opportunities, it becomes essential to raise revenue in the form of tuition fees.

It’s a watertight argument that children shouldn’t be constrained to the socio-economic background they are born into, and should be allowed to experience quality free education. That is why I support free higher education for marginalised sections. People can argue that there are scholarship opportunities for those interested to study, but I feel that the opportunities are restricted to bright students.What about students who want to study, but are not bright enough to top the tests, and aren’t financially strong enough to pay the tuition fees? Aren’t they then being denied an opportunity to realise the benefits of education?

Nevertheless, free higher education for all is much more trouble than it’s worth for. If the state is forced to make higher education free for all, it would have to take enormous pain to fish out money from its budget, which could create a deficit in the economy. It will also impact the quality of education, as the upkeep to maintain the system would also be from the government’s pocket. Hence, I consider free higher education not to be the solution to raise the level of education in a country.

Shubhangi is currently pursuing Economics for undergraduation from Shri Ram College of Commerce. She has an insatiable desire for reading novels of all the genres world has to offer. Writing since she was a 12-year old, her ambition of life is to get published and share the stories that her mind can’t stop weaving. Primarily, her interest lies in foreign policies, culture, meeting new people from different cultures, and music.

Edited by Anjini Chandra

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind