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"University students are twice as likely to come from the top income quartile than from the lowest income quartile - which means that twice as much public money will go to tuition subsidies for students from high-income families."

Why is that, do you think? Likely the lion's share is simple role modelling and passing on of values. But is a perceived financial barrier a contributing factor and would lower tuition fees reduce the impact of that? At what point would the benefit of a policy with regressive characteristics be worthwhile in enhancing overall equality?

And wouldn't an overall progressive tax system undo some of the harm of an individual policy that has a regressive characteristic but achieves a goal of enhancing access to education?

I'm not sure "the policy is regressive" answers all the questions about the desirability of the policy.

I don't know what the distribution of quartiles attending college/university in countries where tuition is free is. This would seem to be worthwhile in order to confirm or rebut dingus' notion of a false "perceived financial barrier", especially in a country that has a good primary and secondary education system.

Nice piece. I made a very similar point to Hugh McKenzie and his various sponsors (CFS/OCUFA) not so long ago: I pointed out that even the hated Canada Education Savings Grants were progressive by this measure. They chose not to respond, the cowards.

Dingus: you may want to look at EPI's Global Higher Education Rankings, which looks at affordability and accessibility in international context. It's not easy to do quartile-to-quartile comparisons across countries (because very few countries report things this way). Using parental education as a measure, though, most countries have roughly similar student bodies in terms of their socio-economic composition. If anything, countries with tuition fees have slightly more equal compositions because no-tuition fee countries tend to have smaller numbers, and hence low-income people get driven out on merit-rationing grounds. Also, with respect to the contribution of finaancial factors to barriers to education, read Marc Frenette's recent statscan piece on why low-income youth don't go to PSE - multinomial logit analsis suggests that financial barriers *might* account for 12% of the variation in attendance rates between high and low-income (and personally, I think that's generous considering the way the variable was constructed).


Thanks Alex:

I find this interesting:

"If anything, countries with tuition fees have slightly more equal compositions because no-tuition fee countries tend to have smaller numbers, and hence low-income people get driven out on merit-rationing grounds."

Fits with my comment about role models and valorising education -- that low income folks are less represented may or may not be a function of dollars and cents strictly speaking, but it may about such squirmy stuff as culture and the instilled sense of entitlement or even obligation to obtain PSE that higher income folks would have more of than low income. The dollar figure attached to education may be a symbolic barrier as much as an actual one.

The political question is how hard do you work to break down the barrier? How much do we care about issues of class and economic mobility? What are the benefits (other than the obvious pc justice values) of pushing for greater mobility?

How is this different from an income-contingent repayment setup?

Ah. I didn't know that the income-contigent proposals only had the effect of increasing the payment period, not of reducing the debt load itself. Not a particularly inviting situation if you're afraid of debt.

But I don't quite know what to make of the idea of education-contingent tax rates. Instead of reducing the costs of PSE, this would (in effect) reduce its benefits, making PSE a less attractive proposition. Moreover, it reduces the benefits for everyone, and not just those from upper-income families. It might be more progressive than free tuition, but I don't see how this would increase PSE attainment rates for kids from low-income families.

Well, both: my other complaint about free tuition is that its effect on accessibility is vanishingly small. Funds that are now being used to subsidise tuition for high-income students would be better spent on targeted programs to encourage low-income participation.

The questions of the best way to generate tax revenues and the best way to allocate PSE funding are two separate issues. Once the taxes are paid, they go into the general fund; they aren't earmarked for PSE. And once the PSE budget is set, it doesn't matter where the money had come from when deciding how it should be spent.

I think I've made it pretty clear: reduce the emphasis on tuition subsidies (which largely benefit rich kids who don't need it), and redirect those funds to lower-income students for whom financial barriers are the main reason for not attending PSE.

As to the recipe for generating the necessary tax revenues, I've blogged on this several times (eg: here).

i love to continue my education in ur country but am single and needd sponsorship to study. please let me know the adimission date andt times.

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