Imagine all the people (getting higher education for free)

Some thoughts on education from a Dane who doesn’t pay tuition

Well, the headline doesn’t quite fit the John Lennon song, but almost, right? President Barack Obama recently imagined something quite daring - at least in the American context. He proposed free community college for “everyone who’s willing to work for it.” He emphasized the proposal as being a cultural shift and an idea he would like to see spread all across America.

As you would imagine, his idea wasn’t exactly greeted warmly by the Republican majority in the US Congress. However, let’s ignore that for a moment. Let’s take the idea a bit further. What about completely free university? This is where I bring in another perspective: A Scandinavian perspective.

As someone from Denmark, I am often met with surprised faces here in Canada when I tell people I don’t pay any tuition fees. People become even more surprised when I drop the bomb that I actually get money from the Danish government every month while studying. This financial support makes it possible to go through university without having to worry about student loans or being dependent on a job while studying.

It also means that getting a higher education is a possibility for everyone, no matter who you are or which family you are born into. This system is financed by our high tax rate. By paying high taxes, we all contribute to the larger community. It’s a natural part of being Danish citizens.

Because of differences in the welfare system in Scandinavia and Canada, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect that something similar could become a reality overnight. Still, I think it is worth reflecting on how free higher education could change this society. After all, strengthening the knowledge of young people is essential to the future.

I’m not saying that everyone should get a higher education or that it’s the only right thing to do. It’s obvious that society needs people in all kinds of job positions. There can be many reasons for people to forego a higher education. However, when money becomes one of those reasons, it makes me kind of depressed on behalf of society. There are people out there right now with the curiosity and willingness to learn, but because of financial barriers, it never becomes an option. 

They might have the will but there is no way.

 In my opinion, that is truly unfair and is a loss for all of us. Our society is diverse and how could it be anything but positive if this diversity was reflected in the higher education system as well, at least more than it is today?

At the end of the day, the willingness to learn should be what matters, not your bank balance.  ‘Where there is a will there is a way’ is kind of cliché, but I couldn’t help myself. Imagine if it was true when it came to access for all education systems in this world.

Signe Buchholtz is a second-year Sociology student at the University of Manitoba.

Published in Volume 69, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 11, 2015)

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