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Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Post Secondary Education: a purely politcal post

For those of you who read my blog you know about my increasingly sporadic posts. You've read my meandering theses on various topics relating to jazz education. You've been patient with me while I self-promoted, you've been open minded when I've ranted, you've been like a friend when I've gushed about my family. I'd now like to take the next step outside of the sphere of jazz education and write something briefly on education itself.

 Here in Quebe where I live and work we are witnessing the beginning of the end of state funded post secondary education. Up until now we've literally been the most enlightened society in North America by subsidizing the greatest portion of university tuition than any other province in Canada or State in the US. This is something that I am unflinchingly proud of and I will gumb you down if you try to argue with me about this. I simply can't believe those people who argue against the benefit of post secondary education to society at large. Their arguments seem trite to me, similar to those arguments people make against society's responsibilities towards the rearing of children and young adults. Simply because those making the argument themselves have no children they feel that this should absolve them from playing a role in the shaping of the human beings they share the planet with and whose future financial, emotional, and intellectual contributions will be of great benefit to them when they require care in their old age.

I would like to take 2 arguements that are being thrown out against subsidized post secondary education by everyone from my neighbours to high profile economists and argue against them. 

#1. is the argument that university education is primarily a personal choice that benefits the student only.

This is in essence a consumeristic attitude toward higher education and an argument recently articulated by an economist in the Montreal Gazette. There is more to highter education than mere personal choice or self-improvement. Nor is subsidizing tuition a mere investment in an individual's future income. Education does indeed improve the student, but it also produces graduates who are better able to contribute to the development of society at large. Society benefits from doctors, lawyers (supposed to, maybe I should say in Canada at least) engineers, philanthropist business leaders, theologans, ethicists, chemists, physicists, musicians, artists.....even economists!

#2 the argument that free education produces inferior education, citing the claim that "no German university is ranked among the best in the world," and suggesting that this is because most German states offer free university.

Setting aside the veracity of the claim, perhaps the authors of this argument could explain how Oxford and Cambridge managed to become such world reknowned universities in spite of the fact that, until recently, Britain also offered free higher education. McGill university itself is considered the top university in Canada and yet has one of the lowest tuitions.  A policy offering low-cost or free higher education is a choice that many enlightened societies have made because they understand that it is an investment, not just in the individuals who receive that education, but in the ongoing development of of society as a whole.

This is a choice that the Quebec society made years ago. The trouble is that successive governments have not lived up to their side of the bargain by funding the universities adequately.  And now the problem with Quebec universities is not that they charge such low fees, but that they receive inadequate support from the very governments that have set the low-fee policy. This paints an inaccurate picture of the issue for people. What is in the public's best interest is to push hard against the government to live up to the values and expectations of society, but instead people are adopting the values of cutting back on education. Cuts that themselves represent merely the values of a government who is doing everything it can to make up for bad policy and corruption in other sectors.

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