Face off: Should university education be free?


Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

Joanne Ma |

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Teresa Kwok, 14, South Island School

Free university education would benefit the whole of society, not just the individual students who take advantage of it. Education that is open to all would lead to a more educated and productive workforce. At the same time, higher numbers of graduates and researchers would mean higher levels of innovation and productivity.

But aside from that, the simple reason higher education should be free is for the sake of equality. A lot of smart students who come from poor families may not be able to afford university tuition fees, which is unfair. We have seen cases where intelligent students cannot get into university because they are poor, while lazy students can because their parents are rich enough to afford to pay for their tuition. This is discriminatory against those capable students from low-income families. If university education was free, all students would have the opportunity to attend, and whether they earned a place would come down to merit, not wealth.

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Moreover, university gives young people the opportunity to grow in ways other than academically. It helps broaden their minds and gives them the skills to they need to succeed in life. University teaches people to think critically, helping them to make more well-informed decisions. More university graduates means a population that is more efficient in dealing with tasks like decision-making and problem solving, both at work and in society.

What’s more, in an age where many unskilled labour jobs are being taken over by AI technology, it is more important than ever that people go to university to learn the kind of skills that can’t be replaced by a robot. Society needs more creative, emotionally intelligent people to solve the problems of the future. Many jobs now require a lot of specific knowledge. If we make university education free, society will be much better equipped to meet the challenges of both today and tomorrow.

To summarise, free education would benefit everyone, not just the students who receive it. It is totally worth it.

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Karl Lam, 18, German Swiss International School

There’s no denying the benefits of a university education, especially in the 21st century. But I believe that university education shouldn’t be free.

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that in many instances, students don't have to bear the cost of university alone. There are merit and need-based scholarships, financial aid, work-study programmes and government funding to make university more financially attainable for young people. While I’m not saying that these financial grants are perfect by any means, I believe that the system we have in place rewards those who need the extra support or who demonstrate academic or extracurricular excellence.

More than anything, paying for everybody’s education is not only an incredible burden on the government and taxpayers, but also proves to be problematic for the funding of universities. How would professors and faculty members be paid? And how about resources and research? Universities of all calibre and ranking need a colossal amount of funding and it’s unfair to burden the government with free tertiary education, in addition to free primary and secondary schooling.

Face Off: is the subsidy for tertiary courses a good idea?

Right now, we have a means-adjusted system which means wealthier students tend to pay more than poorer students. If we get rid of this system, wealthy students will benefit from free education.

Let’s be honest: tertiary education is a luxury – to explore the world, to conduct higher-level research and academic study, and a gateway to highly selective industries and professions. A paid-for university education makes young people recognise the intrinsic value of a university degree, rather than viewing it as something they can take for granted. It can even motivate students to work harder, so as to make the most of their education.

Understandably, the cost of such an education will mean students from lower socio-economic statuses are left behind. That’s exactly why we need to work on uplifting, empowering and encouraging those students to apply for financial aid programmes, and continue to widen scholarship opportunities and other grants for those who actually need it.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge