College Costs - The International Perspective

June 11, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

American students grumble when their universities raise tuition fees.  But in France and the UK, students take to the streets.  The lesson, I suppose, is that we compare ourselves to what we know, and while students know what their tuition was last year, they have no idea about tuition in other countries. 

Business Insider has some data to correct that ignorance.  As in so many other the USA is number one in absolute terms, with an average cost of nearly $14,000.  Relative to median income, two countries – Japan and Mexico – have college costs that are less affordable.  (As Business Insider points out, there’s a huge difference in the US between public and private universities.)

In 2008, French students protested Sarkozy’s proposed cuts to education.  I’m not sure they framed the issue as a return on what they were paying – $585.

Of course, they did have to suffer the hardship of living in cities like Paris and eating French food.
The protests in the UK are more understandable.  When the Conservative government proposed a tuition increase, 50,000 demonstrators took to the streets of London.

The increase would have put UK costs on a par with the US average (though much less than the costs of private universities in the US ).  

For the Business Insider snapshots of education costs in sixteen countries, go here. No doubt, the simple numbers obscure some other variables that might be considered in assessing the real costs of college.   But the numbers do give a rough idea.


Tamar said...

You might be totally shocked*, but it is possible, that some student demonstrations, in some countries, are about the content of teaching, conditions in classroom and labs, or other such issues - and not necessarily only about tuition itself.

It should be also added, that societies have other mechanisms that exclude working class people from reaching university education, e.g. the structure of secondary education in countries like Germany.

Also - that graduates of institutions established especially in order to make education more accessible (e.g. community colleges in the US) suffer in many cases of discrimination when they seek work later and are bitterly disappointed that despite having "moved up" in education in comparison with parents/peers of the same socio-economic background, they are still condescended by upper-middle-class potential employers/colleagues. You have seen "My Cousin Vinnie", right? Even if you're a lawyer, there is law school and there is law school.

And one last note on this interesting feature in Business Insider. One also wants to rebel against the linkage there between "university ranking" and tuition/accessibility. First of all, because the methodology of university rankings is something very controversial. But on "ideological" grounds: is one of the least accessible countries (Mexico is before the US, but almost no other country) - also the one with the top institutes?


* As a regular here I know you're not, just a figure of speech

Uomo di Speranza said...

It's like we Americans only want the rich to get educated or something like that...hmm...

Jay Livingston said...

Tamar and Uomo, Nice to know you’re still reading this blog.

Educational systems are so different that it may be a bit misleading to compare them solely on a single measure of affordability. (In Mexico, the difference in cost between private and public is huge.) You’re right that social class plays a part. I’m just not familiar enough with other systems to know how and to what extent class intertwines with access to higher education.