Who should pay for higher education?

14 October 2014

Source: Today (Singapore)
Source type: Newspaper
Published on: 05 Oct 2010
BRUSSELS - Even as costs for higher education increase, the onus lies on governments to ensure that funds are used efficiently and there is continued support for citizens to acquire tertiary qualifications.

This was the feedback given by students and education experts across Asia and Europe as they gathered for a two-day workshop that began Saturday in Belgium, organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation.

Over the years, universities' operating costs have risen sharply due to factors such as greater demand for higher education, inflation and rising salaries.

Participants shared that this has translated into cost-cutting measures such as staff reduction or students being asked to bear higher tuition fees.

Dr Brahm Prakash, adjunct professor at the Asian Institute of Management in Manila, said this has repercussions, as high-skilled workers are needed to grow the economy in Asia.

Accessibility to good quality higher education must hence be maintained, and this could be done through greater transparency of funds usage, suggested Dr Prakash.

"When they (universities) have to be accountable to the public, this will help to eradicate inefficiencies ... Students will also receive value-added education," he said, citing inefficiencies such as hiring unnecessary staff or not channelling funds to upgrade facilities.

In Europe, public funding is not catching up as fast as rising costs, and universities are turning to alternative sources such as the corporate sector.

Mr Thomas Estermann, head of governance, autonomy and funding at the European University Association, said these universities will have to deal with the conflict of interest between generating profits and ensuring education and research for society.

He recommended that autonomy could be a better solution for universities, which would then be incentivised to manage their organisational structure well and deal with issues such as staff hiring.

Since going autonomous also means many changes for the university, it must be accompanied with right leadership and administrators to handle the transition, said Mr Estermann.

The direct beneficiaries of higher education, however, believe governments still have a role in providing funding.

Romanian student Robert Santa, 24, said a highly-educated population benefits the society and the State should cover a bigger portion of the rising cost.

Increasing tuition fees could also lead to societal disparity, as not everyone will be able to afford a university education, added the fourth-year political science student.

Miss Tan Yock Theng, a final-year student at the National University of Singapore, said that students should bear a part of the rising costs but there must be a cap to it.

The 24-year-old, who majors in Economics and Communication and New Media, said this would reduce inefficiencies, as undergraduates would take greater responsibility for their education. They should not, however, be over-burdened by their school fees.

"As many students place high regard on tertiary education, the pricier fees will not turn them away. But the pressure will now be on universities to be more transparent in their spending," she added.