Tuition cap not the solution

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Tuition cap not the solution

A legislative move to cap rises in college tuition fees has met strong protest from universities. A subcommittee of the Education and Science Committee of the National Assembly recently agreed to impose university-wide caps on tuition fees. The bipartisan agreement to contain hikes in tuition fees, however, stinks of an under-the-table deal.

The opposition Democratic Party has demanded the cap on tuition as a condition to go ahead with the new student loan pilot program. The ruling Grand National Party, which until now had opposed curbing operations at liberal arts colleges, agreed eagerly in order to secure the launch of the income-contingent repayment program before the new school year starts.

Enforcing a nationwide cap on university tuition goes against market principles and guarantees of freedom in university management. The current higher education law allows universities to set tuition freely to help sustain themselves and to manage their funds based on their development plans and goals. Funding is essential to raise the competitiveness of undergraduate education. Without stable finances, universities cannot attain excellence in faculty and facilities, and they cannot provide quality education and research. For private college foundations, which run 83 percent of local colleges, nearly 80 percent of their funding is dependent on student tuition. If the legislation goes through to restrict their funding, the quality of university education will be at stake.

It is an undeniable fact that paying for a college education is burdensome for many middle-class families. Campuses conduct ritual rallies against steep rises in tuition fees with every new school term. Still, a legal cap on tuition fees cannot be a sensible solution. As in every other advanced society, it would be best to expand scholarships to students experiencing difficulties while maintaining the usual inflation-contingent tuition rates for other students.

The government can also consider offering greater subsidies to colleges to ease rises in tuition. The government subsidy for higher education makes up a mere 0.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, falling shy of the average 1 percent of the member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. Colleges are forced to resort to tuition hikes to fund maintenance under the current financial structure. Universities also should ask themselves if they cannot do more. They should be open with their fund management and actively spend reserves to increase scholarships and develop their campus infrastructure. They must clarify estimations of tuition fees and spending. But again, capping tuition fees may turn out to be a blind alley.
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