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Topic - The Value of Education

Jon Stewart - on 28 Apr 2013
What ever it is, it's wasted on the young.

Anyway, this is from another thread that went wildly off-topic:

>Jimbo W in reply to Jon Stewart:

Before you said:
> And a mature economy is not only good at creating wealth for the sake of it, it generates value from that wealth: money alone does not advance humanity, but art, science, technology and medicine do.

And I was very pleased to see the inclusion of "art" in your list, and for the same reason I disagree with your view on uni:

> Certainly require education, but I'm not that convinced it's fair to fund university education from general taxation. That means that poor people's VAT gets spent on rich people's pointless degrees in classics and so forth. So long as people don't have to pay up front (so that only the rich can afford it) I think it's OK that the people who benefit from higher earnings pay for the qualifications that got them there.

My brother is an architect who works for a large well renowned firm who has spent the last few years working on a large project housing 200 or so condominiums that will retail for >1million each with an estimated building life usage of approximately 2000 couples/families. These of course will only be available to a very small subset of society. In contrast, he would like to move into furniture design because he realises that making 1 chair can be affordable to almost anyone within society, is more directly creative and so is more valuable for him, and could be utilised by tens of thousands of bums. He wouldn't earn much money doing it, but he'd create what he feels would be much more value for himself and others. My other brother is a professional musician who earns very little and survives by virtue of family and friends, and a small footprint in life. He loves what he does, producing art / music, being in touch with composers throughout history, and being able to translate that knowledge into something that can be appreciable by 100s to 1000s or through media many more people, not just now, but also well into the future.

My point is that there is a tacit appeal to the requirement of any education (or even more basic activity within society) to always have technical and capitol value within society. I disagree fundamentally with that. There should be equal value in those things that produce intrinsic value quite separate from technical or capitol value, and which earn those who engage those non-vocational, non export productive value subjects, next to nothing . For that reason, it cannot be right that people be expected to fund their education, because it imposes fundamental biases in what subjects are actually psychologically feasible to undertake. Worse, the reality is also that we cannot expect the young to read the future sufficiently to know what the society will require from them in expertise.

I agree with a lot of this. A system which boiled down the value of education only to its financial return to the 'educatee' would destroy a lot of stuff, which you rightly point out has intrinsic value but little pay-back into the economy. But it doesn't follow from there that all education must be funded from general taxation.

Education has to be paid for by someone. I'm currently doing a vocational degree which will give me very specific skills that I will then 'sell' in the market. They're also skills which benefit society more generally (it's healthcare stuff that I'll use in the private sector). So who's best to fund my education? I would say me. I want the skills, I'll get the return (as will my employer) and no one has to bribe me to choose this career (and thus get the wider benefits from society). So me taking tax-payers' money for it would be dead-weight: I'd have done the degree anyway (so long as I could borrow the money).

In the case of many non-vocational degrees, we want our society enriched with this knowledge, but the 'educatees' probably can't fund it themselves. So there should be public money going into them. One possible way is through the money that gets loaned to students but never paid back - there you go, a public-funded arts degree. And if the 'educatee' happens to make a load of money, then us taxpayers can have our money back - winner!
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