22 January, 2011

A Few Arguments for Market Competition in Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina

In one of my earlier posts under the name Public transportation for BiH students must be free. Really?, I had briefly touched upon the subject of education, by stating that the best way for the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to help students is to dismantle the government monopoly in education and allow for market competition to deliver students the best education possible.
In this blog post I wish to share a recent exchange I had with a collectivist minded highschool professor about this same subject. The whole thing started completely innocently, by me forwarding an interesting article talking about how the neoliberal education system would look like, if we had it.
Actually I must admit that I tried to make inroads about this subject with my friend a few times before, but without much progress. The very first attempt of reaching out with free market approach to education hit a brick wall, with him reasoning that education is a sacred profession, and that as such it is not suitable for market competition, because it would supposedly turn the teachers' focus away from teaching and towards the corrupt business. All my attempts to bring forward some explanations as to why that would not be the case landed on deaf ears.
But persistence sometimes pays off, and so was the case in our recent exchange. Another libertarian blogger later commented that it was a nice exchange, and suggested that I should share it with the World, and so here it is for the record, from start to finish.
Professor: Neoliberal education? Unsustainable system if you ask me.
Myself: Throw a few arguments in the ring for consideration :)
Professor: As far as the neoliberal education is concerned, I think that some of its positive ideas should be adopted, and that is freedom for teachers to create education plans and programs. But still, if you expect to be financed by the government then you have to accept their role in education. If you want freedom, ten you must ask for finances from students directly, which means that education isn't free. Honestly, if education in this country isn't free, I don't know how would I have completed my education. Except of course if neoliberals have a solution for that as well... maybe there should exist a category of people which would enjoy the free education in form of education loan, so that they would pay back at a later time. So we are still going back to the same old. Neoliberal education is not the solution for everyone. It is the solution for those that can afford it.
Myself: Neoliberal education implies market competition, where collectivism is still in place, but where students are given vouchers so that they can go to schools of their choosing. That would bring innovation and competition in providing the best quality and quantity education. Of course, the schools with poorest education programs will quickly lose students, and close down.
But a system in which everyone would pay for their own education would be the classical liberal (libertarian) education, and that is where what we should eventually strive for. Neoliberal education should be treated only as a transition (for the next 15 - 30 years), because the education is not a basic human right, it is a privilege. Rights that are made possible through robbing of the fruits of individual labor cannot be called human rights, they are privileges. Robbing fruits of individual labor to provide some right cannot be called human right, it is legalized plunder under the threat of a gun.
So the question which we should ask is whether our education unions would be willing to accept the market competition?
Professor: The main problem is the fact that you believe that the education is privilege, and I think that it is a basic human right... Glavni problem je što ti mislis da je obrazovanje privilegija, a ja da je to osnovno ljudsko pravo... You talk about improvement in quality through school competition, such as creating the best plans and programs and by hiring the best teachers, all for the purpose of attracting students. That is perfectly fine with me. However, quantity and quality are two different things, and we all know that it is difficult to maintain any kind of quality unless we make sure to maintain quantity as well.
The real truth is that there are higher chances to graduate from College if the student is paying for it than if the government is paying for it. The reason for this is simple: people running the private school feel obligated to 'allow' students to pass the exams in easier way, because students are paying for their education there. If those schools increase their criteria and make it more difficult for students to complete their education, fewer students will enroll next year. I believe that the desire for profit (quantity) is stronger, which means that the knowledge (quality) is put aside as secondary goal. It is sad to say that even students themselves know this, and that all they really care about is in the end is diploma. I think that it is better try and change people's mentality than the system of education in our country. These things that you talk about has slowly come to life in our country as well, but the people are using it to their own advantage and in a wrong way.
Myself: OK, I have already given my argument about the basic human right. It is clear to me that we cannot find common ground on this issue, so I'll stop trying. Lastly, I wish to repeat the same answer I offered few months ago, and that'll be my last.
When we talk about education in private sector, that also implies quantity as well - I would think of it as confidence in knowledge. Private school which exists for sole purpose of handing out false diplomas will not stay in market for long, because its potential customers will quickly realize that a diploma from such institution does not lead to employment, because it didn't produce confident knowledge. But a school that wants to stay in business long term will do its best to make sure its students gain the proper knowledge and self confidence before they are ready to step out in the job market. Why? Well, because its graduates are the image of the school they came out of, and as such it depends on producing as high knowledge as possible.
However, let's not leave untouched the earlier mentioned sense of guilt and obligation of schools to let their students pass, just because they paid for education themselves. From the earlier presented arguments, it is completely clear that such an outcome is possible only in institutions that only care about short term profit, because the free market will soon swallow them whole. And the reason as to why diplomas are commonly bought in our country, not only in private schools but also in those run by the government, is because we have a market for that kind of purchased knowledge. And that is of course the state labor market, where all that counts is a diploma and not the actual knowledge it is supposed to stand for. So with that in mind we can relate this problem to the problem of all problems, and that is too-big central government apparatus, which employs huge number of state employees for which there is no real need, and whose functions should be handled by the market, such as the holy education. Peace, out!
Professor: I agree with everything you said... especially with saying that diplomas are sold and bought because there is market for them. In some normal countries, it is perfectly normal to value diplomas according to where they were obtained from. In our country however, it is important that you have a proof of completed education on paper and that it has some seal of approval on it. Of course, the grades are important too, so that some student who graduated, say from Belgrade, has the same chances of finding a job as a student who graduated in a country village. (Of course, the student from the village university managed to have all perfect grades without any difficulties).

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