Last week, as the Conservative party conference got under way, Lower Saxony announced the scrapping of tuition fees, making Germany fully tuition-fee free. The fact that two such similar countries – both relatively wealthy, both with conservative governments – have such different approaches to education funding is emblematic both of the political differences between the countries, and of the effectiveness of grassroots dissent in forcing the hand of governments. Tuition fees, and the privatisation of higher education that accompanies them, are not the inevitability that the current orthodoxy in Westminster would have us believe.
While Germany’s settlement is by no means entirely subsidised, it is a world away from the situation in England. Here, universities are on their road to full privatisation with most HE funding now coming from student tuition fees – an amount that is under constant scrutiny from university vice chancellors and which could be increased yet again in the near future.
After Lower Saxony’s announcement, the least generous states will now fund one undergraduate degree and a consecutive masters, with some offering more. Any notion of free higher education being unaffordable or unrealistic is absurd in light of this reality: for Germany, fees were a brief and unpopular experiment…
Universities have never been free in North America, as far as I know. It could accomplished: 1) Get rid of unproductive, highly politicized departments like Women’s and ethnic group studies 2) Restrict admittance to the best qualified.
But this would result is serious drop in student numbers — and far worse, laying staff off. And we cannot have that, never, ever. Nor can we offend those entrenched interest groups. So it is a dream.
Given the way the universities are now, I would never support tuition free. A ridiculous idea.
(Photo: UK students protest tuition fees in 2009).