Against the international trend, Germany has announced it will abolish tuition fees and higher education will once again be free for its citizens. Could the same happen in Australia?
In a shortlived experiment, Germany’s public universities – funded by state (Länder) governments – introduced fees in 2005. But as early as 2008, following public outcry, individual states started backtracking. The last two of the Länder still levying them will phase them out this year.
Fee-reversal could happen in Australia. We have only one government funding 37 public universities, compared to Germany’s 16 Länder funding more than 100. But perhaps the question for Australia is: should higher education be free?
The UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights supports the implementation of free higher education on the basis that higher education should be equally accessible to all. But free doesn’t necessarily mean equal.
What’s the point of having a free education if only a few can access it? Or if the quality of higher education is sub-standard? On the other hand, what if a country charges high student fees, but ensures that anybody needing financial support gets it?