Friday, 15 January 2010

Taxes are What We Pay for Civilized Society Department: Tuition Fees, UC Berkeley Budget Woes and Support for Public Education

The bill for my fees as an "étudiante libre" and my Portuguese classes at the Université de Montréal came yesterday with an error that made me gasp; I had been charged as a non-resident student. Not to worry, the registrar's office said when I enquired, there will be an adjustment since I've only lived in Quebec for four decades. But, on reflection, I realized that even if I'd had to pay the non-resident fees, I'd be better off than students in most other North American jurisidictions.

Quebec has kept tuition low since the higher education system here was expanded and reformed in the 1960s. The model was the California Master Plan for Higher Education, from which I, like hundreds of thousands if not millions, profited. Then, just as I was musing about all this meant in terms of economic growth and personal fulfillment, I picked up the January 4, 2010 New Yorker and its heart-breaking article about the plight of the University of California and, in particular, of my alma mater UC Berkeley.

To make a long story short, California's incredibly stupid refusal to tax itself has led to horrific budget problems. Many parts of the public sector are suffering, and $684 million have been slashed from the University's allocation. This has led to drastic staff cutbacks and the "privatizing" of research laboratories and--get this!--even some library services. At the same time tuition has climbed and climbed. Someone from a family of modest means like mine would have a much harder time paying tuition, fees and living expenses the way I did with summer jobs.

The great flowering of California's industry and innovation is rooted in the excellent university system, and in support for primary and secondary schools which, while not uniformly good, were rated near the top of the heap in the US. That is far from the case today--in 2005-2007 California ranked 29 out 50 states when it came to expenses per student, and the academic results are not much better. The state and the country are the losers for this.

Taxes are what we pay for civilized society: education on all levels must be supported and within the reach of all.


Martin Langeland said...

Education is key to prosperity as well. It is in a just and creative culture's best interest to fund education fully through post doctoral studies.
But then, as archy said: "if the shoe doesn't fit, you don't have to wear it." I don't notice any eagerness in the US to make general prosperity rather than lottery style winners with lots and lots of losers.

lagatta à montréal said...

Well, we haven't reached USian heights - or depths - but I disagree that university studies have remained accessible here in Québec. I'd love to return for minors in the languages I've been attempting to study, but I can't possibly afford the tuition fees nowadays. I'm too old to go into debt to study.

Mary Soderstrom said...

As my first German text said: alles ist relatif. I agree that it's not cheap to take classes. But it's better than elsewhere, and we should be careful that we don't make it worse.