Higher Education Debate (event archive)

February 14, 2013 by  

higher ed debateCSS hosted a public debate on the resolution: “This House believes that higher education is a privilege, not a right.” For decades in Hungary, tuition-free higher education has been the normal experience for millions of students. At the same time universities are severely underfunded, professors are underpaid, and the quality of university education in most fields is barely competitive on the European level. What are the pros and cons of having tuition fees? Are students entitled to receive state-funded education or should they be expected to invest their own money in learning?


“This House believes that higher education is a privilege, not a right.”

Arguing the Affirmative:
Katka Cseh: International Coordinator at Association of Liberal Students (LiFE), medical student
Zoltán Kész: CSS Pannonius Fellow, co-founder of Free Market Foundation

Arguing Against:
Zsófia Murányi: Summer Leadership Academy alumna, Vice President of the Corvinus Debate Society
József Berács: Professor at Corvinus University and Executive Director of the Center for International Higher Education Studies

Dóra Polgár: Summer Leadership Academy alumna, student at Corvinus University

Proponents of the motion, who began the debate with a majority of votes, started by affirming that in a democratic system there is an obvious requirement for providing a minimum degree of primary and secondary education. But they drew a distinction between those social services and higher education, which belongs to the realm of private property rights so it has to be left to the market. Higher education should be made more accessible and affordable, supporters of the motion argued, through the competitive influences of the market.

The side arguing against the motion explained that the right to knowledge has been a powerful and steady force throughout history, resulting in great positive change. That right has steadily expanded, from primary school in the 19th century to secondary school in the 20th, and should include higher education in the 21st century.

How did the panelists treat the morality of the motion? The defenders of the motion reminded the audience that the world is unfair, and that an over-broad right to higher education cannot be justified simply with an appeal to emotion. Opponents of the motion decried the idea of denying anyone the ability to develop critical reasoning skills. Opponents of the motion also argued that the social mobility, ingenuity, and training that are so essential to a successful free market are all products of higher education. Defenders of the motion replied to this charge by pointing out that the state does not have to be the one to provide this service; free people can form and honor contracts to secure goods and services, of which higher education is a type. For the opponents of the motion, higher education belongs to the social contract as one of those essential duties of government.

Concerning the issue of financing, defenders of the motion argued that the existing system in many European countries is unsustainable and only a free market for higher education – one that includes mobility and autonomy – can avoid economic catastrophe. The opposition called to mind the huge problems of public management in most Western countries, either with a free higher education or with a liberal model; these policies are imperfect but must be tolerated until a more efficient system emerges. Still, the side against the motion said that it was a matter of public good and investing in a proactive policy is worth it for the state. Defenders of the motion counseled realism, saying that if the government cannot provide a service efficiently or affordably, it should not continue to try to provide that service.

The side defending the motion explained that in order to preserve the quality of education, the system must be assessable. A state-run higher education system fails to ensure the requisite performance standards, preserve teacher quality, or provide desired results. The side against the motion agreed that there is a discipline problem in the current system, but that this is not a principled reason to argue against state-run education per se. The affirmative side repeated its claim that more competition could ensure a higher quality of education, but the negative side replied that such a model would leave out many people, thus violating the purported right to education.

In conclusion, the side arguing in the affirmative said that the system needs essential changes and that during a crisis some rights can turn into  privileges. The side arguing in the negative concluded saying that there are some inalienable rights and that higher education – as a source of social mobility, citizenship and independency – is one of them.

After the debate the side arguing against the motion won the vote count.


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