“Education should be free!” Why? What do you have against money and prices? Ruthless Criticism

Students demand: “Education should be free!”
Why? What do you have against money and prices?

The demand is meant as a polemic against the increase of tuition fees. These fees appear to them as the price for a commodity named education or training. For them, “economic thinking” would enter a sphere where it has no business being – the sphere of university education. Education cannot be given a price and has nothing to do with “economic uses.” In addition, a high price for education would constitute another hurdle which must be overcome before “working class and minority students” can study.

This criticism of tuition fees is annoying: on the one hand, it is unclear what the protesters actually have to complain about in the commodity character of goods and services if they find fault with it in education. Do they want to say that the exchange of commodities for money is okay if it takes place where it belongs, in the economy? Do they want to endorse the opinion that money plays a useful role for supplying people with goods? One learns, namely in school, that exchange without money would be incredibly complicated; that money fulfills an “allocation function” and, as the universal means of exchange, allows access to the whole diverse world of commodities. So it says in the social studies books which prepare kids for the rules of life: a private lack of money only happens when daddy has not saved enough.

On the other hand, however, do the students infer from the increase of tuition fees what needs to be criticized in money and commodities? Namely, that with any price a hurdle has been established before one can satisfy this or that need with a good – whether this good is called a meal or an education. And they know that among their competitors for student enrollment there are those who lack the money to overcome this hurdle to university studies; that they – together with their kin – can't first save up enough because they don't earn enough and because they also cannot choose their earnings opportunities themselves; which incidentally makes them a whole social class of “socially disadvantaged.”

But now shouldn't all this, which can be noticed in the increase of tuition fees – namely that for many the demanded price means exclusion from studying – not pertain to the rest of the world of commodities? All students know from their own experience that access to an appealing use value is only all too often denied because of the not very appealing circumstances of their pocketbook. In this country, it is simply the businessman's demand for money that stands before the use of goods. And he does not want the money for bread and socks, for an iPod or a cell phone, but he thoroughly calculates the demanded price exactly so that the money yielded gives him a profit. When this price cannot be paid, one goes without food and drink, clothes and housing, fun and games – no matter how urgent the need or punchy the argument. The completely basic exclusionary character of every demand for money, which is responsible for all the world's poverty, one could thus definitely also see in the study fees.

It remains unclear what the students want with their complaint: if they are against the cost of education because it is determined that the satisfaction of needs in this country requires the rip off of purchasing power or doesn't happen – and indeed doesn't take into consideration financial resources and earning opportunities. Or if they want the world only in a slightly different way, namely in a quite elitist separation between the rather dreary and calculating world of commerce and their world, the demanding world of education. But if then they discover in the collection of tuition fees less the poor people who also want to study rather than an inappropriate intrusion into the sphere of the mind, they should unite immediately with the clerics who also only want to save the birth of baby Jesus from its commercialization.

This sort of rejection of tuition fees would not only be quite out of touch with reality, it would also be inaccurate. Education is part of a commodity, it always was and always will be – at least as long as people with no other “property” than an intact body, a more or less educated mind and a good will have to search for an opportunity to earn money. Then they have to offer themselves, with everything that they have to show in learning and useful education, as a commodity on a market specific to them. In this respect, academics are also no exception. Even if the production costs of their university (occupational) training – including tuition and all the other fees – may be somewhat higher than that of those they have left behind in the course of their education career, and there may also be somewhat better earnings opportunities and their professional activities somewhat more pleasant, all this changes nothing in the fact that they must offer themselves with their education as commodities on the market for graduates to the buyers in the state and business world. Whether or not they recoup the production costs of their education in the form of their earnings is another story.

Maybe that escapes some of the students in their aloof point of view that education should not have a price like any other commodity; but maybe it also occurs to them only when they notice that as graduates they have to compete on labor markets for income opportunities with those people from whom they wanted to set themselves apart as students, precisely in matters of intellect and money.