Free Tuition Means Equal Access to Higher Education? Think Twice.

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Many think that the access to higher education among prospect students is equal in Norway. In the last decade however, nationals with primary school education level has decreased by 20 percent, while those who fulfilled higher education level have increased by the same scale.

In a country where education is free, the students’ social and economic capacities that allow them to pursue higher education should be irrelevant of their parents’ accomplishments.

Now think twice. Research shows that the opportunities for higher education is by no means equal, according to a report by Mats Kirkebirkeland, consultant at Civita, a think tank run by Høyre.

While the total amount of students and the length of their educations are increasing steadily, it’s noticeable that students whose parents have received higher education, are more prone to pursue higher education themselves. Research shows that among Norwegians who pursue higher educations, there’s an increasing trend that their parents have received higher education, too.

According to the report, Kirkebirkeland argues that we are allocating more resource on students whose parents with higher social-economic status. If the parents have primary school education level, there’s less than 20 percent chance that their children will pursue higher education. On the contrary, if the parents have fulfilled the higher education level, their children have more than 60 percent of probability to follow their path.

Geographically, people from Oslo and Akershus have approximately 10 percent more likelihood to receive higher education than the other regions in Norway.

Although higher education is generally free in Norway, the report shows a clear trend that children follow their parents’ education footprints. The researcher reiterates the importance of the nation’s fundamental principle: lik rett til utdanning (equal rights to education), which reinforces equal access to higher education for all citizens regardless of their social and economic backgrounds. The majority believe that the best way to ensure equal access to education is to make public universities tuition-free. What’s more, a student’s living cost will be additionally subsidized by Lånekassen.

Positive effects
Kirkebirkeland argues that tuition fee, opposite to our assumption that it reinforces people’s social status quos, actually has positive effect in reducing educational inequalities in Norway. While the government spends over 180,000 per student who are completing their higher education, the allowance could be reallocated to close the gaps of quality differences among primary schools, secondary schools and public universities. Furthermore, it could be utilized to increase the mobility of prospect students.

The researcher believes that to realize equal access to education among nationals through eliminating tuition fee is built on the assumption that there are no other social-economic and geographical factors that influence the choices of a prospect student. Therefore, the over-abundant educational resources land increasingly on students with specific social backgrounds.

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