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Understanding "Accessible Education" (Draft) One tool used by Qubec to lower the cost of accessing university is "price controls". Charest has triggered a hike of the price ceiling so that universities can extract more private funding. Students who do not want a raise in the cost of accessing university have two options: they can either (a) ask for a reversion in the decision to raise the price ceiling, or they can (b) ask for measures which will counterbalance the negative effects of raising the price ceiling. I find it obvious that (b) is strategically wiser Charest would be embarrassed to back now, and he doesn't need the student vote to maintain his position.1 But even if it's strategically wiser to go with (b), we have to ask if these alternatives are at least equal or better than re-lowering of the price ceiling. If not, then students can keep on ramming Charest. I have not bothered to think much about how powerful their ram is, for I believe that powerful or not, it is wiser to put down the ram. The red squares support price controls and direct subsidies, and often they think this to be the only way to ensure accessibility. In this essay, I argue that indirect subsidies are a superior tool. Another simplification that is common but not universal amongst red squares is that because lowering tuition favours equality in the cost of access, and such equality is valuable, we should bring tuition to zero. I offer an argument as to why some cost of access is beneficial to everyone, including the poor.
Equality in terms of... | / Power of Access
Ought: Universal [Whether enough funding can be secured]

\ Cost of Access
Ought: Equality-Efficiency compromise [As debt goes up, cost of access goes up; affects the poor more than the rich]

Step 1: A Universal Power of Access First, it's important to distinguish between two ways in which we can speak of "equal accessibility". There is equality in terms of the power of access. If every student that passes through the merit-based filters is sure to find enough funding to pursue their studies, then this condition is satisfied. This is a minimum that must be met. A minimum requirement is that every student must have access to loans that will cover all of tuition and living expenses. Preferably, these loans should be at subsidised rates. As things are now, this is almost achieved through the loans and bursaries program, but not quite. The poor are just fine it is parts of the middle-class that are left with no family support, and inadequate funding to enter full-time without outside work. Universal loans take care of that Step 2: Balancing the Cost of Access But a universal power of access is not enough. Using this power entails varying consequences depending on how much family support each person receives. I receive none, while some people have parents that give them food, shelter, and even pay for part of their studies. Is it fair that, because of factors outside my control, I should come out of university with far more debt than they? It seems not. That is why, beyond guaranteeing the power of access, we also want to limit the cost of access (CoA). Some claim that an unequal CoA disincentivises the poor from attending university. "If the prospect of high debts haunt me, I am less likely to go to university. If the poor are discouraged from going to university because of the CoA, tax money from the rich should be used to decrease the CoA for the poor, leading to an equalisation in the CoA." Because of the elasticity of demand for higher education, disproportionate attendance is not as high as people expect. 2 The main problem is higher debt after university rather than attendance itself. Not as bad, but still bad. Determining the Balance There is value in keeping the CoA low, but there is a cost to keeping it very low. Imagine that I want to study philosophy. McGill and Concordia, let us say, offer an education of comparable quality, but Concordia manages to deliver this quality while consuming 10% fewer resource. If the CoA is at zero, I only factor in the benefits associated
1 2

La Presse, "Prts et bourses: une mince ouverture" 27 Mars 2012. It is hard to explain international comparisons without reference to elasticity, but I recommend researching the topic. http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/Details/education/university-completion.aspx http://www.mels.gouv.qc.ca/STAT/indic01/indic01A/ia01509.pdf

with each university choice, so I might choose McGill just because it has a nicer campus. If, however, on top of the loans the government also pays 80% of tuition (tentative value), then I will factor both the benefits and the cost associated with each choice. I won't give the cost as much weight as if the government paid only 60% of tuition, but at least I'll factor it. It is only with some CoA that Concordia gets rewarded for efficiently using its resources. When the CoA is at zero, universities have little incentive to be efficient, and that ends up harming everyone, including the poor. So, there is a balance to be found. Note that this only works if the CoA is proportional to the cost of delivering tuition. Tools to Balance the Cost of Access So far, I have argued that the power of access must be absolute, while the cost of access must be balanced. Now, I consider different mechanisms by which the CoA can be balanced.
Tools to control the CoA
are not all born =

| / Price Controls < \ Subsidies


Fund tuition and/or living expenses.

Set the maximum universities can charge.

| / Direct Subsidies
Tax money goes to uni w/o student input.

<

\ Indirect Subsidies
Tax money goes to uni through students.

\ / Generalised I. S.
Allocated equally to all.

&

\ Progressive I. S.
More is allocated to poor, less to rich.

Sources of Funding There are different ways for universities to get funding: (a) student funding (b) direct subsidies and (c) indirect subsidies. I exclude (d) third-party funding from my analysis, though I note universities feel more pressure to find thirdparty funding when there are price controls. In Qubec, all four are used and now we're having a debate over where the emphasis ought to be placed. Emphasis on student funding increases the cost of access, which leads to inequality. So, subsidies are used to lower the cost access. But what kind of subsidies ought we to use (beyond the subsidised loans mentioned earlier)?

Direct vs. Indirect Subsidies Both kinds allow for a redistribution of wealth. The difference is that in one case, the redistributed money (the subsidies) goes directly to universities, while in the other case they go through the people who then apply the subsidies to universities of their choosing. This difference is important: indirect subsidies ensure that (a) students see all of the funding that goes in their education; (b) students effectively "vote" for a university to get that funding; and, in doing so, (c) universities compete to get "votes" from student. With direct subsidies, universities pay less attention to student demands because that's not where most of their funding comes from. Government can try to convey student demands, but it's bad at doing this. When we vote for a party, our opinions on various particular issues get filtered and all that is left is support for a package deal: particular demands get

diluted. Indirect subsidies do not have this problem, for it is students who decide who get the subsidies, and universities thus pay attention to student demands. Private Funding Should there be any private funding? As I stated earlier, some cost of access is worth the gain in efficiency at one point, the efficiency gain becomes so great that the poorest citizen draws more benefits from an unequal CoA than an equal one. 3 The question, then, is "How much private funding?" If students each receive 80% of tuition in indirect subsidies, then students absorb some of the benefits and some of the costs. This way, students act as a check on university efficiency (students compare universities in their capacity to deliver benefits at low cost). Moreover, because universities depend on student satisfaction, they provide benefits in tune to student demand rather than government demand. The problem, however, is that the cost of access is absolute. So, while general student demand may indicate that higher tuition is appropriate because of the benefits it will deliver, such an increase in tuition may be in tension with the demands of poorer students who will have to deal with a greater cost of access. Price Controls Price controls are used to create a fixed cost of access. If most students prefer a cost-benefits combination that entails higher tuition, then tuition goes up. Even if generalised indirect subsidies cover 80% of tuition, the absolute amount of debt will go up and the pressure on the poor disproportionally goes up. Government can deal with this by opposing itself to the general student demand by imposing a price ceiling. One problem with price controls is that they limit the capacity of universities to modulate their revenue, which in turn makes it difficult for universities to compete on the international level. Universities end up over-stretching their resources and falling into deficit when unexpected expenses hit. And they are pressured to seek direct subsidies and third-party funding, which both lead to a shift in emphasis away from student demand. Another problem is that price controls make government the judge of how much should be invested per student. I rather see student demand dictate this. And I see other ways of promoting equality: Structuring Indirect Subsidies (1) If tuition goes up, then the proportion of tuition that gets subsidised can also go up. This can be done in such a way that the CoA remains fixed even when tuition goes up. The problem with this is that, eventually, either the ideal CoA will have to be raised, or tuition will end up fully subsidised. So, it becomes self-defeating. (2) We can add progressive indirect subsidies on top of generalised indirect subsidies. So, for example, the poor get subsidised at 90%, the rich at 80%, and the middle at 85%. The problem with progressive indirect subsidies is that the progression curve from poor to rich does not come out smoothly in practice. As things are now, the loans and bursaries program is an example of progressive indirect subsidies. The problem is that the progression is based on a limited set of variables that does not capture the diversity of situations students find themselves in: sometimes their parents have a large salary, but they are in debt, neglectful or authoritarian. This is why we do not currently have an absolute power of access: we place too much weight on progressive indirect subsidies, and some people get screwed. Granted, it is possible to use special documents to account for these gaps, but either people get left out or it's easy to cheat the system. I prefer (2), but with only a modest progression curve. As long as indirect subsidised are high enough, debt only entails (a) that one must work after university; and (b) that, regardless of what job is found, paying back the debt will only entail a privation of luxury goods. If this is the case, then the problem goes back to inequality in people's access to luxury goods. It seems unfair that one's parents are a determining factor here we would like everyone to start at the same place , but inequalities in access to luxury goods are trivial. All approaches are problematic, but as far as I'm concerned, direct subsidies and price controls have little role to play. The debate should focus on the structure the indirect subsidies (loans and bursaries). As stated earlier, everyone should be guaranteed enough loans to cover all of tuition and living expenses. Then, generalised indirect subsidies should be pegged as a proportion of tuition so as to subsidise education while still promoting an efficient use of resources. Additional features can be implemented to keep the CoA low without sacrificing too much efficiency. Cost of Living So far, I have left cost of living out. As things are now, the loans and bursaries program provides progressive indirect subsides which account for both tuition and living expenses. I support a basic income guarantee, i.e. every
3

An critic's opening: "This creates an incentive for people to go to cheaper universities if they are poorer. Should this also be the case for primary education? If not, why?"

citizen should be guaranteed enough income to cover all basic living expenses. The value would be pegged to an index of necessities and a multiplier would be tuned by Parliament. I don't consider housing a necessity, but I concede that this opinion is unpopular.) If there was a basic income guarantee, then living expenses would not have to be accounted for by educational policy there would be a society-wide generalised indirect subsidy pegged to living expenses. However, as things are now, living costs need to be taken into account. I think that, in the current political climate, it would be hard to pass a generalised indirect subsidy to cover all of student living expenses. So, I think it's best to stick with the current scheme of progressive indirect subsidies. The main difference would be that, as indicated at the beginning of this essay, everyone would be guaranteed enough loans to cover living expenses. As things are now, those that fall in the blind spots of the calculation are forced to either get private loans or work during school. Appendix on the Right to Education (I will polish this essay and integrate this appendix when I am done with finals)
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Situation There are two prominent understandings of "right to education". One sees education as a way of cultivating a virtuous, critically-minded, freethinking people ("education as an end"), while another sees education not only as this end, but as a technical formation which will ready people to take jobs related to their education, such as academics, scientists, entrepreneurs, therapists, etc. ("education as both end and means") The distinction between education as end and as means is shorthand. Traditional universities are designed to produce education both as an end and a means. It takes more resources to produce education as both end and means, than just as an end. EG: They invest resources in various kinds of evaluations which are hardly pedagogical. Everyone must go at the same pace even if we don't all learn best at the same pace. Rare resources, such as one-on-one interaction with experts, should be reserved to those who pursue education as both end and means. Solution: Libraries 2.0 Invest more resources in libraries. Especially in communal spaces around libraries that people can use to especially in communal spaces. Invest in an online system for autonomous learning (see: KhanAcademy; AcademicEarth; iTunesU, etc.) Force universities to make their non-exclusive resources public: E.G., audio/visual lecture recordings; syllabi; data to build a smart (easily searched) database of student/professor question/answer. Result: This system can be 100% state-funded and accessible to everyone (though I believe that government should collaborate with the private organisations doing this rather than compete with them) This system will compete with traditional universities and perhaps be integrated into their system. In very large classes, teachers are pretty much as useful as recordings; recordings can come to replace this kind of teaching, and teachers can focus on smaller-scale interactions. This system makes redundant all arguments that universities should have no cost of access because education is an end in itself, not a means to some end. Perhaps universities should still have no cost of access, but such arguments will not be relevant. Final note I support a basic income guarantee whereby everyone is guaranteed an income that is pegged to a table of necessities and multiplied by a value tuned by parliament. I have spent the last 9 months without housing, so I am confident in claiming that housing is not a necessity for healthy adults. It will be much easier to (one day) pass a BIG if it does not need to include housing. The BIG would make redundant various programs, including copyright law and other subsidies to the arts, subsidies for student cost of living, minimum wage, etc.