Is Free Education At The Edge Of The Abyss?

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Can knowledge be bought? Are we facing a complete transformation of the term ”education”? Do we all deserve free access to knowledge?

Financial calculation is becoming an increasingly important factor impacting University administration, student enrollment, and the opinion people have about the value realized by completing degrees and obtaining diplomas. A major concern is the emergence of a number of universities that are for-profit only. These ”predatory” universities are not paying attention to whether their degrees are actually worth the price students will pay in tuition. Recent reports reveal many American universities that are facing this issue, and among them there is even one department at Harvard University. The A.R.T. Institute at Harvard University offers a full-time, two-year program that costs around $78,000, but after graduation, its students earn only around $36,000 per year.

The Nordic countries probably offer the best conditions for students from all over the world. Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland have great universities, and there are many courses that are free. Nordic cities are popular for their high living standards, and cities such as Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Stockholm are constantly ranked among the top cities for students. Finland has long been known as a Nordic paradise for education because of free, high-quality courses. However, starting with the autumn semester, a minimum fee of €1,500 per year will be required. An official statement from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture states: “The introduction of tuition fees puts greater emphasis on educational quality as a competitive factor.”

 

It is understandable that in order to deliver world-class education for students, universities need resources, and it is unfair to require taxpayers to pay for international students. On the other hand, the tuition-free system provides more opportunities for students from developing countries who cannot afford to pay for their studies. Introducing tuition fees could lead to a decrease in the number of international students.

Money often becomes a major concern for every student, and therefore it is difficult for them to concentrate on their studies. Recent surveys show the disturbing fact that the majority of students face problems such as the inability to afford to buy food and experience mental health issues because of the rising cost of living and high tuition fees. Over a quarter of students admitted they had missed rent payments, and one in seven had been chased by debt collectors because of it.

A positive example comes from Canada, where the Government’s strategy is to reshape Canadian demographics by having skilled and well-educated workers who will go through the university system. Problems such as a slowing birthrate and an aging population will be tackled with help from talented international students who will be educated. There are around 350,000 international students in Canada, and in the next ten years they are expected to increase to 500,000.

Another country that has been one of most popular destinations for international students is Germany. Ever since the news about the higher education deficit in Germany broke, it became clear that Germany would also reintroduce tuition fees. The deficit stands at €48 million, so tuition fees will have to be reintroduced for non-EU students. The overall aim is to limit the national debt, and for this reason, all state institutions in Baden-Württemberg will have to contribute to this cause. The state science and arts budgets need to have their costs reduced. The exact amount required for tuition fees starting in the autumn will be €1,500 Euros per semester and €650 for a second degree per semester. 

When asked to comment, a representative from the University of Konstanz said to Youth Time Magazine: “While the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Education and Research has to do its part in reducing costs, it also wants to avoid drastically damaging the reputation and growth of science and research at state universities along with their high student numbers. The coalition agreement between the ruling Grünen (Green) and CDU (Christian Democratic Union) parties in the state of Baden-Württemberg prohibits general tuition fees at universities.” 

She also added: “Students who will generally not be required to pay tuition fees include German students, students from the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA), and Erasmus member states. International students who have met their higher education entrance qualification in Germany (Bildungsinländer) are also exempt. A further exception will be made for students from non-member countries who enjoy permanent resident status in Europe. Refugees with a right to stay (Bleiberecht) also will not pay tuition fees.”

The rules are similar in every European country, but still they can vary in particular ways from one country to another. In Austria, Spain, and Greece, domestic and EU students study free of charge (or they pay low fees), and international students pay slightly more. In the Czech Republic, it all depends on your knowledge of the language: if you are fluent in Czech, your education is completely free regardless of your nationality. In France, domestic, EU and non-EU students pay the same tuition fees, and in Switzerland it is usually the same as in France, but in some cases, international students have to pay slightly more for their studies.

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