The expansion of quality education can be sustained only as a public service and as a responsibility of governments, says EI in reaction to the OECD's report, released today, Education at a Glance 2008.
Education at a Glance 2008 provides evidence of the expansion of education within OECD and partner countries, with a special focus on expansion of education at the tertiary level. Throughout the report, the OECD argues that the current expansion rates of access to tertiary education are unlikely to be sustained if it is predominantly publicly funded. To sustain this welcome growth of access to education, the report argues for increased private investments in education, particularly at the tertiary level. Because higher education brings private economic benefits to individuals, people are generally more willing to pay for it. However, not all students are equally able to pay. Although the OECD concedes the importance of equal access to quality education, the report nevertheless stresses the relationship between the cost of education and social returns: private returns in the form of individual earnings and public returns in terms of taxes.
EI asserts that the continued focus on privatisation of education undermines the principle of education as a basic human right accessible to all for the purpose of lifelong learning, and as a tool to enhance social cohesion. "Universal access to quality education, at all levels, should remain a primary responsibility of governments, and should not be subjected to the rules of the market," said Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary of Education International. "Moreover, we believe that quality education implies access on equal terms and should not be based on one’s ability to pay fees."
Despite the relevance of the report's warnings about the increasing difficulties governments face in financing the expanding education needs of their societies, EI does not agree with the proposed alternatives; such as downloading the costs onto students and their families. The argument made by the OECD that private contribution to the costs of education "is fair because there are private returns to it," challenges the basic notion of education as a public good that is equal for, and accessible to, all. This line of reasoning fails to consider the larger social and cultural benefits of free quality education to societies in the future.
"It is particularly regrettable that the report fails to address teacher education and training, despite placing such an emphasis on the role of education for the labour market, and highlighting the decreasing number of entrants to the teaching profession," van Leeuwen said.
EI considers it imperative to meet the growing need for teacher education and training. With an estimated 5 million more teachers needed by 2015 in the industrialised world, clearly the need is urgent. However, van Leeuwen cautioned, the issue is not only of quantity but the quality of professional training provided. Meeting this need will inevitably require consistent policies and additional funding from governments. Increasing student fees is not the way forward, van Leeuwen said.