Should we have free education?

I am wondering what the appetite for a free education policy is within the party.

Our current policy only slightly improves upon the status quo, but I think there is a strong argument that in order to have strong social, cultural and economic development in a modern society, we need to make education as accessible as possible, not just limited to the few who can afford it, or otherwise deter people from taking on further learning due to pending debt repayments.

I am looking for other perspectives and comments on this, so please, do contribute. :smile:

Education funding is a trade-off. Throw 50 grand into a system of free education and you might fund a complete degree course for one student. But throw the same funds into a system where students contribute 50% of costs and you can provide the same education to two students. That trade-off between accessibility and “free-ness” exists regardless of the funding level (ie, can’t be dodged by saying “let’s just spend more”).

A “free education” system will thus educate a smaller share of the population relative to what could be achieved at no extra taxpayer cost. It also amounts to reverse welfare (transfers from the poor to the rich). But turn the knob too far the other way and you undermine the accessibility aspect by raising the cost for education beyond what poorer people can pay.

How you “improve” on the status quo depends on what you think is important. There’s no obvious progressive happy place in the funding ratio but for my two cents:

  1. we’ve moved too far away from the Whitlam ideal of free education.
  2. we should spend more in absolute terms than we currently do (most studies suggest that every dollar of taxpayer investment in education ultimately pays itself back 2 or 3 times over).

MarkG: It looks to me like your comments there had two conflicting positions that resolve themselves on different time scales.
In the short term, with whatever money you have to spend as a government, you can have more education if students also pay some portion of the cost.
In the long term, you’ve pointed out that there is a 2 or 3 times payback, so it’s actually an investment.

At the convergence of these two perspective, the question is really just what time scale do we want to plan education over.

Who is we? Many countries internationally manage free education just fine, including Germany, France, Norway and Sweden. Even Scotland has free education.

You argue that it’s a transfer from the poor to the rich. We generally treat people as individuals in this party, and as such, a student is a student regardless of their upbringing. There is no guarantee that a wealthy parent is going to support their child’s education, but there is at least somewhat of a guarantee that they will pay their fair share of tax should they not be breaking the law.

It isn’t reverse welfare, it is an investment in the country’s future. Tertiary (at least for one degree) and vocational education, in my opinion, should both be free.

You also haven’t demonstrated how we’ve “moved too far away from […] free education”.

I’m a big fan.

Other countries’ rationales are a good copy and paste candidate. Or historical Australian phrasing, to suggest and/or sell it. I’m sure there is some sort of evidence out there to back it up.

People who complain about welfare can be countered by pointing out that education still has entrance requirements and limited places that can be adjusted to meet demand within the country.

People who complain about funding other people out of their tax, could just be told that they could go apply if they think it’s such a great deal.

There are so many questions here that I hardly know where to start.

What’s education?
What’s “free”?
What for?

Education will cost. The questions for me are who pays what and why?

There will always be costs to the student, if only in time and effort. Some will have difficulty with those alone, even without any financial impost.

Long ago, I worked in the CES in a disadvantaged regional area. Young people would come in to register as soon as they qualified for benefits. Their families needed them to bring in benefit income; they couldn’t afford to “waste time” at school. Unqualified and uneducated, their chances of employment were nil. Their career was life on benefits.

In an area where prospects for any meaningful occupation are limited to non-existent, what’s the reason for putting in the effort to educate yourself? “Free” education, by all means (once we’ve figured out what that really means) but where does it fit in the broader picture?

My position is that education should be absolutely free. Society benefits most by having those most qualified graduate into professionals.

Payment for education is simply tilting the scales towards rich idiots - a serious economic inefficiency if nothing else.

I recognise that there would be debate over whether the outlay in education subsidies would be recouped by reducing that inefficiency, but I think it would be.

Note that our current policy says

Regulate university fees such that no Commonwealth supported student pays more than 30% of the average cost for a degree.

That is, a student should pay between 0 and 30% of the cost of an average degree. As the person who proposed this part of the policy, my first concern was to draw a line in the sand against further fee increases. HECS started out as a minimal charge but over the years successive governments (especially LNP governments) have relentlessly shifted costs onto students. This to me is the strongest argument for free education: the political cost of increasing fees from 0 to something is much greater than the political costs of going from something to something more. So it is easier to hold the line at 0% than at (say) 30%. Having said that, some direct student contribution seems reasonable if it means better resourcing of tertiary education (so the student gets a direct benefit) and is not just making up for govt cutbacks.

Disclaimer: I’m probably out of my depth here, excuse me for my Naïvety with this first post.

My perspective is it’s definitely needed - perhaps this is opening a can of worms:
Extending on your point of not limiting education to the few who can afford it, should the policy question be broader, with more explicit platform support for social justice? Accessible education would result from the social justice platform.

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