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Transition Year Runner Up: Mati Karski, Coláiste Éanna, Co. Dublin

Transition Year Runner Up: Mati Karski, Coláiste Éanna, Co. Dublin

The debate over the best and fairest way to fund third-level education is a divisive and complicated one. The current student contributions system has some proponents, but most people believe that we should either introduce a student loan system or do away with fees and fund third level through tax. There are viable arguments for each of these solutions, but one clearly stands out as the most beneficial for students, namely free third-level education. However, is this option the best for all of society?

I think that funding third-level education through tax is best for everyone, not just the students. Some people are against this because they dislike the idea of paying for the education of others. This is understandable – why should we help strangers at a cost to us if we get nothing in return?

However, such a view is not fully correct. While there is no direct benefit to be gotten from funding other people’s education, doing so is not pointless as it still helps everyone involved, even if it is not immediately apparent how.

There are several indirect benefits to such an approach. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that graduates enjoy an average of 75% more income than those without a higher education and that there’s a 90% better chance of getting a job with a college qualification than without. This, of course, translates into graduates paying considerably more money in taxes than their less educated counterparts, and taxes are designed to help everyone in society fairly. Whether they successfully achieve this or not is debatable, but that is irrelevant as any issues with the way taxes are spent should be amended by changing government spending and not by lowering taxes. Because of this, funding third level through taxes should not be considered a form of aid for the poor, but simply a form of investment that brings a profit after an initial expense. Wanting to have the government guarantee everyone free third-level education should not be dismissed as an inherently left-wing standpoint by economic conservatives.

Not all of the benefits stemming from a more educated society are monetary, however. Any community needs people of many different professions to function correctly. Many of these jobs – doctors, lawyers, engineers – require a third-level education. If people who cannot afford to pay for their education up front don’t go to college, there will be correspondingly less people working in these professions, which would be detrimental to society.

Student loans are a proposed solution to this problem. Proponents argue that student loans would make third-level education affordable for all, as people with no money can take out a loan and pay it back only once they begin to earn money. Though providing students with the option of taking out a student loan would be an improvement over the current student contribution system, it is inferior to free education.

Student loans still deter people from going to college. Though they are better than having to pay all of the money up front, they constitute a considerable expense regardless and still deter would-be students. The bigger problem with student loans, however, is the considerable risk of students fleeing to other countries after graduation without paying off the loans.

When taking out a student loan you get all of the money up front and only begin to pay it back after you graduate and get a job. This means that you can easily graduate and move to a different country with your debt. It is then effectively impossible to force you to pay the money back. Although systems could be put in place to catch people doing this and have them extradited, it would cost much more than would be gained from having them pay the money back, as student loans are quite small compared to other types of loans like mortgages. This problem is apparent in Britain, where over 38,000 graduates have vanished without paying off their loans. The total money owed is over £367 million and the problem is only expected to get worse as the tuition fees increase.

Funding third-level education through tax also levels the playing field and allows poorer students to have an equal chance at getting a higher paid job. No longer will the rich get a better education, be more successful and keep getting rich while the poor have little chance of breaking out of the loop and making it big. Student loans try to do this and succeed to some degree, but they still disproportionately affect poor students. Tax is the fairest way to fund third level.

Student loans are a very bad idea for society, even worse than the current student contributions system. They will make graduates flee and discourage people from going to college. Face it – tax is the best and fairest way to fund third level.