The United Kingdom (and Northern Ireland) used to provide free higher education to all native Brits, but contemporary economic realities have forced UK and Northern Ireland colleges and universities to charge up to the approximate equivalent of $6,000 annually to offset the enormous cost of education. Unlike Canada, Britain provides higher education at the same price for students from Continental European nations but charges students from other nations more than the maximum allowed to be charged to UK students (Ciccone & Peri, 2006). Unlike in the U.S., there are few opportunities to earn scholarships to UK colleges and universities. Similarly, higher education in Southern Ireland costs only the approximate equivalent of $2,000 in the form of registration and related fees for students from Ireland and the European Union.
France provides (essentially) free education that is paid for by public funds and only imposes a nominal annual enrollment fee that is often waived for low-income students who qualify for those exemptions (Ciccone & Peri, 2006). Naturally, this is an ideal situation for students but its feasibility is obviously predicated on the availability of sufficient public funds to make it possible. Unfortunately, that is hardly the case in the U.S. today at a time when federal, state, and local governments are all under enormous pressure to reduce expenses.
Germany also provides higher education services that are, at least in comparison to the U.S., essentially free (Dur & Glazer, 2008). In Germany, college tuition fees are regulated by the government, but on a state rather than a national level. While those fees may vary by as much as a factor of ten from state to state, even the states with the highest tuition fees charge only the approximate equivalent of $1,000 annually. Typically, German students also pay various other charges such as student union fees and surcharges for certain academic programs, but in comparison to typical U.S. college tuition, those fees are also nominal (Hout, 2011). Finally, the cost of higher education in Sweden is roughly comparable to the U.S. (Ciccone & Peri, 2006) but it is provided at no charge by the state to both Swedish and foreign students (Ciccone & Peri, 2006). Naturally, that would be ideal in the U.S. But the U.S. maintains many very significant obligations both domestically and internationally that make such an idealistic plan extremely impractical, unfortunately.
On one hand, the opportunity to obtain an education in the U.S. is an affirmative right of all persons that cannot be abridged by others, especially by virtue of discrimination. On the other hand, there is no affirmative right to free education any more than there is a comparable right to any other goods or services. That does not mean that it would not be in the nation's best future interests to devise some way to provide more financial assistance to students to enable them to pursue the highest education of which they are capable. The U.S. is increasingly at risk of losing business and other opportunities to other nations with better educational systems and that provide cost-free or nearly cost-free higher education to students. Unfortunately, the current economic climate in the U.S. will not likely support significant changes in that regard, notwithstanding the obvious long-term benefits of adopting some of the financial aid practices of other Western nations.
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Dur, R. And Glazer, A. "Subsidizing enjoyable education" Labour Economics, Vol 15, No.
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