Civil unrest (as this video shows) has reached the streets of London. Students organized to voice their concerns over the coming policy changes to higher education. Although the vast majority of the protestors were peaceful, a small handful did use violence to try and get their point across. One group disingenuously calls themselves the “Whitechapel Anarchist Group.” A quick look at their website betrays their true ideology as that of left-wing socialists (perhaps the exact opposite of anarchism, in the philosophical sense of the word). In practice, socialism has always had a violent element to it, as the 20th century suggests.
Back to the issue at hand. Students are clearly upset at the coming tuition rises (from £4,000 to £9,000 per year or so). To be fair, that is quite the jump. Whether tuition prices should rise or fall is surely worthy of debate, but it does not touch on the root issue. In my opinion, the role of government in society is the real issue needing to be discussed. By setting tuition prices, the government is placing itself between the provider (the universities) and the consumer (the students), of the service, causing market distortions. A much better solution would be to decouple universities from government control. No longer would universities be beholden to the political whims emanating from London, but would be free to cater directly to students. The students would then be able to determine what kind of an education, and at what cost, they want. Much like the endless choices of food, electronics or any other good allowed to be sold relatively freely, specialization would drive down costs while simultaneously increasing quality. If price-fixing (like setting the price of tuition) works, why doesn’t government set the price of cars, televisions, and food? In fact, price-fixing, whether it is tuition or healthcare, leads to a degradation of the quality of good or service. Furthermore, with the technological advancements (such as the internet) of the last several years, the cost of education should be coming down in many cases, and it would if market forces fully set the price of tuition.
Also, why should tuition be the same for every academic program? Surely someone who decides to do a journalism course should pay less than someone who received an engineering degree simply because journalists, generally, earn less than engineers. In a free-market, I imagine the earning potential for graduates would play at least some part in the pricing of degrees.
Another issue rarely discussed is what happens when £9,000 is no longer enough? At some point, it was believed £4,000 was enough, so it stands to reason a time will come when £9,000 will no longer suffice. What if £9,000 is not enough right now? Or if it is too much? The stake in the heart of all central planning is the inability of a group of politicians, bureaucrats or elites to know what price is suitable for what. They simply cannot have all of the information available in the market in order to make such a decision. Only individuals know what is the right price for them and when millions of individuals are free to determine the price they are willing to pay for a service rendered, we have a free-market.