Is Higher Education a Right or a Privilege?

2015-11-06 14:03

This is a question that has been debated time and time again, on and off campuses. With the recent riots and Universities coming to a near standstill over a proposed fee hike, there’s no question that education is important and people take it seriously.

It is a widespread belief amongst many students that the proposed fee increases will make tertiary education inaccessible. But even as they fight vehemently to keep that from happening, many others see things quite differently.

Basic Education is a right as embodied in Section 29 of the Constitution, but higher education—attending university—is a privilege. “This argument may not be politically correct, or even the mainstream way of thinking, but it’s the truth.”

When discussing access to education, one of the main arguments tirelessly and repeatedly brought up is University fees. It’s no secret that University fees are gradually increasing, thereby making access to Higher Education difficult for those wanting to further their education but cannot afford it, and this is the reason why so many students are up in arms over University fees.

“We are the future,” protestors cry out. “Students can’t possibly continue to pay these fees, and soon enough there won’t be that many students in university.” But is this even a sound argument?

If access to education is what they’re worried about, maybe these protestors should look at other arguably greater barriers to tertiary education. These other obstacles begin way before anyone sets foot on a university campus. The fact of the matter is that preparation and information about university while in high school is equally as important to how much a university, or college, education costs. Furthermore, your parents’ influence and education level affects your decision whether to enrol in university. These are all factors that aren’t controlled by University fees, but can be cited as barriers to tertiary education.

Universities are also selective by nature. They choose some applicants over others. Usually this choice boils down to academic excellence and your interest in investing in your education. No one has the “right” to be a scholar. What we do have the right to is to not be discriminated against by universities because of our race, religion, political beliefs, gender, or sexuality.

Furthermore, if you can’t afford these University fees, then you can turn to scholarships, bursaries, and loans. The government does dole out student aid through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (“NSFAS”), to which many students are guilty of not even applying for. What we need to do is make potential students more aware of this kind of assistance from a younger age, so more people can enrol in higher education. Don’t argue about your right to education when you’ve practically been handed one on a silver platter.

On the other hand, as students, juggling classes, a social life, and an adequate amount of sleep is difficult enough. Now imagine adding a part-time or even full-time job to the rotation. The fact is that financial aid barely covers university and book fees, much less living expenses. Students face enough stresses before struggling to make ends meet. Without the support of parents, or a large scholarship, it’s nearly impossible to attend university full time and obtain a degree in four years.

If higher education was recognized as a right, and university fees were drastically lowered, we would see more youth considering university or college.

That being said, the risk of higher education being recognized as a right and university fees drastically lowered is that some students may take advantage of this but not make the best of the opportunity. Students may not take studying as seriously as they would if they were funding their own education. Furthermore, we may risk seeing a decrease in the university pass rate as students may become neglectful of their studies after having been relieved of the burden of working and paying for their university fees.

In my view, higher education is certainly a privilege, however for a country that prides itself on equality, it seems unfair that tertiary education favours more affluent and academically inclined students. Everyone should have a chance at an education, regardless of how much money they have in their pocket.

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