Class War, by Patrick S. Roberts

Writing in The American Interest, Patrick Roberts explores the causes and consequences of changing public financing of higher education in Europe.

Class War, by Patrick S. Roberts

This is a hugely important issue as Europe struggles to find a way to do the seemingly impossible: marry mass higher education with retrenchment of the public sector. As Europe takes steps away from higher-education-as-complete-entitlement, national governments face the fundamental question; who should pay for higher education. Much of the benefit of advanced training goes to the individual, so there is a good rationale for expecting the individual who benefits to face a substantial portion of the cost. This is not particularly controversial in the US, but it is quite angst-producing on the other side of the pond.

Roberts cites Why does College Cost so Much as he explains the broader economic forces driving college cost on both sides of the Atlantic.

His final paragraph, which I quote in full, offers a very brief outline of a productive way out of Europe’s difficult transition.

There is a way that European governments can make a virtue out of the necessity of stinging students with new fees. The current troubles represent an opportunity to help forge a new social contract. As enrollments swell, an increasing percentage of society reaps the benefits of higher education, including skills to meet the demands of an information economy and the status imprimatur of a university degree. In return, students who benefit can be expected to contribute toward their education both while at university and later as taxpayers. This compromise neither robs European social democracy of its relative equality nor handicaps European universities relative to their peers around the world. Student protesters portray new fees as a break with the past, but in fact fees may be a bridge to a more equitable future in which university education is open to a wider swath of society.