The Politics of Access [E-Book]: Measuring the Social Returns on Post-Secondary Education / Michael Conlon
Conlon, Michael.
Paris : OECD Publishing, 2006
9 p.
Full Text
This article examines the most recent data on the cost and financing of a post-secondary education. It also examines the burgeoning debate in Canada about the relationship between tuition fees and access to post-secondary education. In recent years longitudinal data collection has improved and there is now a relatively wide body of research tracking the effect of higher tuition fees and student debt in Canada. After outlining this data landscape, the author interrogates the question of equity and access in light of what we now know. Recent discussions about access have focused on the constrained finances of national governments and the funding shortages experienced by universities. The outcome of these discussions has, more often than not, been the downloading of costs to students and their families.  That shift in the financing of an education from the state to the individual begs a series of questions about equity and access. Questions such as: Is the shift to individualized financing inevitable? If not, what are the politics of this shift? What is an acceptable level of student debt? At what point does debt become a prohibitive factor for low income families? Do "innovative" policy ideas like a graduate tax or savings schemes really cushion the blow of fee hikes? Is increased financial assistance (i.e. loans) an equitable answer? To what degree do other intersecting social and economic factors affect access? How does the prospect of increased debt and fees depress the participation rate of those already lacking social and financial capital?  Though it offers few definitive answers to these questions, hopefully the article will contribute to highlight some new dilemmas that are decidedly missing from the largely econometric analysis of fiscal reforms in higher education. Although the data are primarily Canadian, the article also makes the case that many of these dilemmas are at forefront of recent developments in European higher education policy. In particular, the recent and heated debate about "top up" fees in Britain closely mirrors the ongoing national debate in Canada about equity, access and the cost of post-secondary education.