Higher Education Strategy Associates

April 14

The Birth of the Canada Student Loans Program (III): The Deal

Pearson’s election manifestoes of 1958, 1962, and 1963 (mostly written by Englishman and former Winnipeg Free Press editor, Tom Kent) all contained proposals for both a loan scheme and a system of scholarships.  But upon coming to power in the last of those three elections, loans weren’t the new government’s first priority.  In fact, Pearson’s team quickly became bogged down in a completely different policy arena: namely, pensions.  The Liberals had promised a national contributory pension system, but were having an enormous problem getting buy-in, since both Ontario and Quebec had their own ideas about how a pension system should be run (for a real blow-by-blow of this, read P.E. Bryden’s, Planners and Politicians).

On March 31st, at a federal-provincial conference (remember those?  They used to be quite common) on the pension issue, Premier Lesage provided an outline for what would become the QPP.  It was widely judged to be a more advantageous plan than the one the feds were putting forward, and there was the prospect of the federal plan collapsing if some kind of arrangement could not be made (it seems ridiculous now, but at the time, the impasse over pensions was seen as being a threat to confederation itself – Peter C. Newman’s, The Distemper of Our Times does a good job of capturing this).

Over the course of the next two weekends, Kent and his Quebec counterpart held secret talks (so secret, in fact, that Pearson kept their existence hidden from the nominally-responsible minister, Judy La Marsh) to try to hammer out a deal.  As the talks wore on, it became clear that this discussion needed to be about more than just pensions: what Quebec was really after was a more general freedom to craft its own social programs.  What emerged on the 16th of April – 50 years ago this Wednesday – was a deal that cemented not only the CPP/QPP arrangement we have today, but also cemented the practice of “opting-out with compensation” from federal social programs.  The first program to which this applied?  The Canada Student Loans Program, which promptly started operation (oddly enough, under the auspices of the Minister of Finance) on August 1st of that year.

The CSLP was supposed to be complemented by a national scholarship system, but the plan never quite came to pass.  Kent’s idea was a radical one: he wanted to get rid of the institutional grants, and move all the money into the scholarship fund; institutions would be able to raise their fees, and students would be able to access a massive need-based aid fund.  The universities, predictably, thought this was a terrible idea.  Much as was the case in the US when Pell grants were introduced, institutions far preferred money in their hands rather than in students’.  But unlike the US, where grants were introduced by a Johnson administration at the height of its powers, by 1965 the Pearson minority government was an exhausted mess.  Eventually, this promise morphed into a commitment to provide greater support to funding institutions so they could expand.  It would not be until the 1990s that the Government of Canada would eventually fulfill the promise of non-repayable aid.

More tomorrow.

April 11

Happy 50th, CSLP (II): The Road not Taken

The Progressive Conservative Party under John Diefenbaker won a crushing majority in 1958, and his platform hadn’t contained anything with respect to education or universities.  Though he was known for his “Vision for Canada”, universities weren’t really a part of that vision.  He retained the Saint Laurent policy of paying money directly (via the AUCC) to individual universities on a more-or-less per capita basis.  The only change he made was to agree to a deal with the Duplessis government (which had forced its institutions to refuse the federal money) to use Quebec’s allotment to increase the provincial corporate tax abatement instead.  But student aid simply wasn’t on his radar.

But of course, not all Tories had the same view.  The younger ones in particular felt that they had to have some kind of policy to counter the “national scholarship” proposal the Liberals had swiped from the National Federation of Canadian University Students.  Ted Rogers (yes, that one) was the PC Youth Chair in the late 1950s, having played a major role in getting Diefenbaker elected in the first place.  And it was he who came up with a Tory policy on higher education: namely, tax deductions for tuition, usable either by the student or his/her parents.

This wasn’t a completely out-of-the-blue suggestion.  During passage of the National Defense Education Act in the US in 1958, Eisenhower had suggested using tax credits instead of loans on the grounds that it would provide greater benefits to the middle class, and required less government intervention (I should note that there’s no evidence this is where Rogers got the idea, but it’s a plausible scenario).

In any case, Rogers sold the Chief on the idea.  But, mindful of the views of his Quebec caucus and the deal he had struck with Duplessis on grants to universities, Diefenbaker wanted to make sure the new Lesage government would be onside with the proposal.  And so, he sent the one man he trusted in Quebec City to negotiate the deal with Lesage: a gregarious PC Youth Vice-President who was finishing his legal studies at Laval.  A young fellow by the name of Brian Mulroney.  By December 1960, the deal was done, and the tax deductions became law in 1961.

(The tax deductions stayed almost unaltered in form or value for 30 years, despite the 1971 Carter Commission having made the point that such deductions were regressive because they were worth more to high-income individuals than lower-income ones.  It wasn’t until the 1991 budget that Michael Wilson turned this – and a number of other deductions – into tax credits, which are fairer because they are worth an equal amount regardless of family income.)

This was a partisan move by the Tories – and an attempt to head-off Liberal demands for scholarships.  Since then, of course, tax measures have been adopted by both parties (Paul Martin was a noted enthusiast), such that the government of Canada now spends significantly more on education tax credits than on need-based student aid.  But in the shorter-run it was a failure: student groups weren’t impressed, and within two years, the Liberals were back in power, with plans to implement precisely the aid program the Tories had tried to forestall.

More tomorrow.

April 10

Happy 50th Birthday, Canada Student Loans Program

The Canada Student Loans Program, which over the years has helped upwards of 3 million Canadians obtain a post-secondary education, turns 50 this year.  And since the Government of Canada seems to be either too shy or too partisan (it was a Liberal creation after all) to celebrate this anniversary, I thought I’d do it here, by spending a few days giving you a bit of history about how the program came about.

(Why now?  Why not August 1st, the actual anniversary of the start of the program?  Patience grasshoppers.  There is a relevant anniversary coming up, but I don’t want to ruin the story).

The federal government was providing student assistance as early as 1919, when they offered loans of up to $500 to WWI veterans who were returning to complete their studies (the offer was only for those who had been enrolled prior to enlisting… everyone else was out of luck).  After that, the Government of Canada stayed out of the field until the late 1930s.  In 1937, they started a matching grant program with the provinces to develop facilities for vocational training; in 1939, they expanded that to a cost-sharing program for student aid, called the Dominion-Provincial Student Assistance Program (DPSAP).  PEI and the Western provinces joined in 1940 – everyone else was in by 1944 (Newfoundland joined the program shortly after entering confederation, Quebec withdrew for all the usual reasons in 1954).  Additional loan and scholarship programs  to support Science and Engineering students for the war effort began in 1941, but ended when the war did, in 1945.

DPSAP wasn’t in any sense a federal program – basically, the feds would match whatever the provinces were doing, subject to some fairly minor conditions.  Certainly, there were no national rules; basically, each province did their own thing and got some federal money to go along with it.  One or two provinces had loans, most provinces had “scholarships” (at the time English was like French, and didn’t have words to distinguish between need-and merit-based awards).  But they didn’t spend much – this matching program only cost the feds $5 million over 25 years, and rarely provided aid to more than about 4000 students in any given year.

After the war, both the Massey (1951) and Gordon (1957) commissions made it clear that they thought greater federal assistance to higher education was needed.  In short order, this led to St. Laurent’s efforts to give grants directly to Canadian universities (a move correctly and mercilessly ridiculed by Pierre Trudeau in his 1957 essay, Federal Grants to Universities); student aid wasn’t immediately forthcoming, but the main student group of the time, the National Federation of Canadian University Students (NFCUS) began pushing for a “national system of scholarships”.  In the United States, the examples of the GI Bill and the National Defense Education Act (1958) provided reformers in Canada with lots of ideas about how student aid might be run.  But by then, Canada was led by John Diefenbaker’s Tories, who had precious little interest in education as a policy field.  Nevertheless, what they ended up doing in higher education would have a huge long-run impact on higher education finance.

More tomorrow.

April 09

A *Tiny* Statscan Mistake on the National Graduates Survey (NGS)

OK, everyone. Gather ’round for a kind of mind-bending story, which totally invalidates much of what I was saying earlier this week about the NGS.

So, NGS is a two-year follow up of graduates, done every five years. So, the 2002 survey looked at the class of 2000, 2007 surveys looked at the class of 2005.  Now, as I noted yesterday, for reasons unknown, Statistics Canada chose to wait until 2013 to do its follow-up of 2010 graduates.  My strong suspicion is that it was because Employment and Skills Development Canada (ESDC) was yanking their chain on funding for so long that they missed their 2012 window, but I don’t know for sure (NGS, like many surveys, isn’t actually funded by Statscan – it’s paid for by an Ottawa line department.  Yes, it’s ridiculous, but that’s the way Ottawa works.)

Now, waiting a year creates a problem because it screws with the time-series.  If the 2010 class is interviewed  three years out, it’s basically useless because you can’t legitimately compare it with the 2005 or data.  But of course Statscan’s not stupid, I thought to myself: they’ll just ask the questions with respect to a period twelve months earlier and get comparable data that way.  Because who in their right mind would deliberately screw with a time-series that goes back 30 years?

And when I asked someone about this a few months ago, that was more or less the answer I got – the survey would be changed to adjust for the difference in timing.  So when the first NGS release tables appeared late last week from Statscan, and they were labelled “2012 labour force activity of 2010 graduates”, I naturally assumed – hey, Statscan’s done the right thing.  And so I published it.

Then, yesterday AM, we received an email from Statscan.  It contained a new set of tables, with a note saying that while the data they published April 4th was correct, some “mislabeling” had occurred, and that I should destroy the earlier data.

Turns out that what Statscan actually published was data from 2013 data – that is, three years after graduation, not two.  This made me review the 2013 NGS instrument and realize that their re-adjustment of the instrument to account for the gap in surveys was half-assed at best. With a little bit of fooling around with the data, it might be possible to get numbers on employment and income two years out – but since Statscan has declared that it’s not going to put out a Public Use Microdata File (PUMF) for NGS, that’s essentially impossible for anyone to do independently.  Meanwhile, the only data Statscan’s giving out for free is data that is completely non-comparable with any other data in the survey’s 30-year history.

Bra. Vo.

The upshot is: ignore anything you read about comparative-over-time graduate labour market outcomes from NGS from me or anyone else.  Thanks to Statscan (and possibly ESDC), it’s all worthless.

If there were ever a time to just cut funding to NGS and replace the whole thing with administrative data linkages, it’s now.  The argument for keeping it on the grounds of it being a great time-series just disappeared.

April 08

Early NGS Results: The Caveats

Yesterday, I showed you some charts on graduate outcomes indicating that the kids were – mostly – alright: employment steady, Full-time employment steady, graduate incomes steady, etc.  But there are three significant reasons to be cautious about over-interpreting these results.

The first is that this year’s NGS was conducted differently from previous iterations.  In previous years, the survey was conducted two years after graduation.  This year, the survey was done three years out, with graduates being interviewed in 2013 about what their situation was in 2012, to try to keep the 2-year time frame.  This creates an array of small biases in responses, though whether it creates over- or under-estimation of employment and income is hard to say.

The second caveat has to do with the survey response rate.  In 2000, the NGS response rate was 70%; this year’s response rate was 49%, which has to be one of the lowest ever seen in a Statscan survey.  Partly, this is probably an artefact of waiting an extra year to survey students, and partly it’s that students are getting harder to follow (when you survey on landlines, the caller eats the cost – on cell phones, part of the cost burden falls on the respondent, which can’t be good for response rates).

The third problem is the trickiest.  When Statscan reports income and employment figures, it does so only for those students who do not enrol in programs leading to further certification.  This eliminates some problematic data from people who are either still in school, or who have gained an additional credential (which is good), but at the same time it creates problems because the proportion excluded changes over the economic cycle.

Percentage of College and Bachelor’s Graduates Seeking Additional Certifications Within 2 Years of Graduation














The suspicious might look at this and say: “holy moley! The NGS data on income and employment ignores half of all university graduates – surely that’s where all the underemployed  barista sociology graduates are!  Skills Mismatch Bingo!”

But slow down a minute.  First, the rates at which college and university grads attempt to acquire extra credentials mirror one another; this is not clear evidence in favour of a “college-grads-have-it-better-than-university-grads”, or a “skills mismatch” proposition.

Second, it’s not at all clear that, among university grads, the phenomenon is disproportionately due to Arts grads.  Even in the best of economic times, 40% of university grads continue on to extra credentials, and they come from all across the university.  The proportions by field of study for 2005 (2010 numbers not yet available) actually showed that Science students (62%) were more likely to do so than humanities (56%) and social science (45%) grads (Fine arts was at 38%, engineering, math, and computer science grads were at 30%).

All of which is to say: while the employment and income data from NGS are technically apples-to-apples comparisons, the fact is that the basis of these comparisons varies slightly from survey to survey.  Some of the good news on graduate income and employment rates is probably due more to students choosing to take extra education rather than brave the job market.  It thus probably isn’t entirely fair to say that the 2012 data implies things are getting better for grads.

That said, you can’t twist this evidence to support the idea that there has been a radical change in the labour market for graduates.  It’s mostly as it’s always been, with a slight up-tick in people taking more than one credential.

So can we please ditch the “everything is different” narratives and get back to real issues now?


April 07

Early Results from the National Graduates Survey: The Good News

Some very early National Graduates Survey (NGS) results are out, and they’re mostly good news.  The NGS – for the uninitiated – surveys university and college graduates two years after graduation.  It’s closely watched for its numbers on graduate employment, income, and debt.  Statscan has been doing this now for a little over thirty years (the first one was on the class of 1982), and since 1990 it has been conducted every five years.

Usually, when Statscan does a major survey, it “launches” with an analytical report and the release of a public-use microdata file (PUMF).  This time, however, they chose to do neither, which is more than a bit weird.  It’s welcome in the sense that it gets data into the public domain more quickly, but unwelcome in the sense that the only data available is what you get via a set of highly truncated standard tables (no debt data this year, for a start) and what people can order via custom tables for hundreds – possibly thousands – of dollars.  I’ve ordered quite a bit of data, which I can hopefully share with all of you relatively soon, but for today we’re only going with what’s in the standard tables.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.

The picture on employment and immigration looks pretty good.  To be clear about what’s being shown here, NGS only releases data on graduates who finished a level of study but who did not take any further education.  In theory, this is a way of making comparisons more apples-to-apples: it avoids methodological problems of adding incomes of BA students who went on to do a 1-year Master’s degree in with students who just did a Bachelor’s degree.  It’s less than totally satisfactory, but it has the benefit of simplicity.  Anyways, here’s what the employment data looks like for college and Bachelor’s grads:

Full- and Part-time Employment Rates for College and Bachelor’s Graduates Two Years After Graduation, NGS 2005 (in 2007) and 2010 (in 2012)














Got that?  From the height of the boom to the middle of the current “recession”, there’s essentially no difference either in terms of overall employment or in terms of full-time employment.  To the extent that there are people struggling and having a hard time finding a job, it’s business as usual: the proportion has not changed since the height of the boom (for both college and university grads, unemployment rates in both periods were 5%, with another 5% not in the labour force).

Ok, you say, but what about income?  Surely the recession has done a real number on graduates’ salaries?  Well, no.  Adjusted for inflation, there’s been a rise in median salaries of 7% for Bachelor’s graduates and 8% for college graduates.

Median Salaries of College and Bachelor’s Graduates Two Years After Graduation, NGS 2005 (in 2007) and 2010 (in 2012), in $2012














My favourite crazy pieces of data from NGS, though, are the province-by-province figures.  Check out Newfoundland, which according to NGS now pumps out the country’s best-off college and university graduates:














These are all good stories, worth keeping in your armoury next time someone whines about skills gaps or spouts some nonsense about a lost generation.  But there are a few caveats to this story.  I’ll deal with them tomorrow.

March 28

A Reminder Why Education, Skills, and Training are Provincial Responsibilities

We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years talking about skills, skilled trades, skilled personnel, BAs vs. welders, jobs without people/people without jobs, and all kinds of other nonsense about education, training, and the labour market.  And to a large extent, when we argue about this stuff (and I’m including myself here), we’re arguing based on national-level data.

But the labor market isn’t national.

A recent paper by Kelly Foley and David Green made this point quite strongly.  This paper – delivered at an IRPP conference a few weeks ago – makes a number of important observations about education and the labour market, which I’ll have to save for another day.  But one of the most important points it makes is about returns to education in different parts of Canada.

The full paper isn’t available online, but I’d direct everyone’s attention the powerpoint, which is available here.   Slide 4 reminds us of the following:

1)      Among 25-34 year olds, return-on-investment for graduate degrees is much lower for men than for women.

2)      Among men, but not women in the same age group, the gap between the rate of return on bachelor’s degrees and college diplomas has narrowed sharply over the past decade or so.

3)      In fact, rates of return on all types of education are just a heck of a lot better for young women than men.  Startlingly so.

What’s all this gender stuff that got to do with regionalism in the labour market?  Well, take a look at slide 5, which breaks down male earnings by region.  In Ontario and Quebec, returns to education are what you’d expect: higher for graduate degrees than for Bachelors, which in turn are higher than for college diplomas.  But it turns out that both in the Atlantic and in the West, the returns to college education are actually higher than the returns to university.  Indeed, in western Canada they are even higher than they are for graduate studies.

I think it’s safe to assume this isn’t because universities outside Quebec and Ontario are uniquely bad or their colleges uniquely good.  Rather, it’s because labour markets in these regions are looking for fundamentally different sets of skills.  And as far as entry level workers are concerned, it’s pretty clear that they’re asking for more of the type produced by colleges, and less from universities.

And this brings us back to the national debate.  A lot of the rhetoric around skilled trades and the uselessness of Bachelor’s degrees (e.g. Ken Coates, much of the Conservative party) is coming from western Canada, where this actually fits the available data.  Equally, the firing back on the same issues (e.g. me, among others) is coming from central Canada, where this also fits the available data.  To a large extent we’re just talking past each other; both correct locally, but less so nationally (I’ll try to be more careful about this in the future).

But here’s the takeaway point: the fact that the labour market rewards different types of education differently in different parts of the country is exactly the reason the Feds’ involvement in education and training should be as minimal as possible.  We are simply too diverse a country for one-size fits-all policy tools.  Kudos to Foley and Green for reminding us of that.

March 27

Coursera Continues to Confuse

The big news Monday was that Coursera, MOOC provider extraordinaire, had a bit of a re-shuffle at the top.  Founders Daphne Koller and Andre Ng, and erstwhile President Laila Ibrahim, were joined by former Yale President Rick Levin, who is now the company’s CEO.  This, needless to say, got everyone quite excited.  A Big Name Has Joined Coursera!  It must mean… well, what does it mean, exactly?

Coursera is a company which – from a growth point-of-view – has two huge positives and two huge negatives.  The positives are an attractive portal that makes it easy to find and register in classes, and a set of partnership deals with many of the world’s top universities.  The latter is particularly important because quality in online education is often seen as pretty sketchy, and so having a ton of brand name schools as content providers is all to the good.

The first negative is Coursera’s partner universities don’t want to devalue their own brands by making their degrees, or even credits, widely available over the internet.  They don’t mind giving away content – MIT has had its entire curriculum up on the web for about a decade now – but they aren’t going to give away certification.  This leads to the second problem: it’s not clear how willing people are to pay for MOOCs without that kind of credit/certification.

Coursera’s whole business plan to date rests on testing the limits of that second negative.  Their bet is that lots of people are willing to pay $40 a pop for “certificates of completion” for individual courses. But it’s not clear how much money Coursera’s making from this.  In the first 9 months after certifications were issued, they earned a million dollars from them.  At about the same time, they completed a second round of venture capital funding, which in total has netted them about $65 million.  Since then, they’ve been very quiet about how much they are bringing in, and ed-tech journalists for some reason don’t ask tough questions about this.  I tend to view this as likely indicative of bad news for the company – Silicon Valley start-ups usually aren’t shy when it comes to talking about big revenue milestones.

And this is what makes this Levin deal so puzzling.  At this stage of the game, Coursera needs to be demonstrating it can actually earn its own income.  Why bring in a University President rather than someone with a background in business and technology (significantly, EdX also announced a new President on Monday: Wendy Cebula of Vistaprint )?  What does Levin bring Coursera other than closer relations with a group of partners who aren’t going to give you what you want in terms of granting credit anyway?

And what’s the logic behind the rest of the moves? Why demote the previous President – Ibrahim, who was hand-picked by Coursera investor Kleiner Perkins – to Chief Business Officer, when she was the only one in the place who has actual business experience?  Why give Andrew Ng a total grab-bag of titles and responsibilities (he’s now Board Chair, “Chief Evangelist”, and “in charge of pedagogy”, which could easily challenge for the biggest governance nightmare trifecta in history)?


March 26

Some Final Thoughts on German Apprenticeships

If you’ve been following our Minister of Employment and Social Development, Jason Kenney, lately, you’ll know that he’s taken a keen interest in German apprenticeships.  So much so that his office recently organized a study trip to Germany, to which various provincial education ministers and Ottawa association types were also invited.

There are, basically, eight major differences between our system of apprenticeships and theirs. To wit:

1)      Our apprenticeship system is post-secondary, and caters to people in their 20s.  Theirs is essentially part of the secondary system, and caters to 17-19 year-olds.

2)      As a corollary, German apprentices spend a higher proportion of in-class training on basic employability skills (reading and math) than on technical skills.  They also spend a greater proportion of their time in class, as opposed to in the workplace.

3)      German apprenticeships take 2-3 years, ours take 4-5 (I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer as to why this is the case).

4)      German apprentices mostly do day-release training, not block release, resulting in a better fit between training and work.

5)      The range of apprenticeable occupations is much wider in Germany. Ours are effectively restricted to skilled trades; theirs include banking, retail sales, international trade, etc.

6)      Germany has well-articulated paths from apprenticeships to degrees. In Canada, this only exists at a couple of polytechs (eg. NAIT/SAIT), though the situation is improving.

7)      Germany distinguishes between “journeypersons” and “journeypersons who are qualified to supervise apprentices”.  This professionalizes the learning that takes place on the worksite, which is to the good.

8)      The obvious one: you don’t have to beat German employers over the head with a shoe to get them to invest in training on their own.

Take what you want from numbers 2-8; in the Canadian context, number 1 is the one that matters for federal policy-making: if you want to ape the German model, the feds need to get out of the system.

There are lots of interesting things about this model, of course.  But as long-time readers will know, I’m pretty skeptical about the rhetorical uses to which the legendary German apprenticeships are put in the Canadian context.  They are almost always deployed as an argument for increasing investment in skilled trades (which is wrong – less than 30% of German apprenticeships are in the skilled trades), and/or as a solution to youth unemployment, which seems to me to be a serious case of confusing correlation with causation.  Over the past few months, Kenney has been guilty of both of these sins.

So it was interesting the week before last when Minister Kenney decided to take me to task for some of my skeptical tweeting on the subject.  After a brief and interesting exchange, he offered this insight into his thinking:











This is kind of a big deal.  If all of Kenney’s drum-banging about apprenticeships is actually about experiential learning, then that changes the debate enormously.  There are loads of people who could get on board with that.  When I pointed this out to him, he replied:

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 6.34.16 PM










Here’s hoping.  It would mark an important improvement in our policy debate if he does.

March 25

The Cost of Expanding Access in Poor Countries

I’ve been dealing a lot with issues of access in Africa (specifically, Senegal and Uganda) over the past couple of months.  And I think I’m coming to the conclusion that there are some situations where it flat-out doesn’t make any sense to expand access.

If you’re a producer of good and services, the main advantage of poor countries is that labour is cheap.  This is why manufacturing has, over the years, drifted to lower-wage countries – first Mexico, then China, and so on.  But universities don’t work that way.  Academics are significantly more mobile than other workers; If university pay falls behind in Ghana they’ll move to Nigeria or South Africa; if it falls behind in South Africa, they’ll move to the UK or Australia.  So to keep them, salaries have to be well above local norms.  Scientific equipment is sold at a global price, as are journals and periodicals (price reduction schemes do exist for Africa, but universities in places like the Balkans or the ‘Stans are pretty much out of luck on that), which is a huge burden for poorer countries.

As a result, the price differential between rich countries and poor countries for producing university graduates is substantially less than it is for producing widgets.  You can see this most easily if you express countries’ expenditures per student on higher education as a fraction of GDP/capita.  In advanced OECD countries, that number is usually in the region of 30%; in Africa, it is frequently over 100% (and even with that disparity, it’s not even close to buying a similar end-product).  It’s quite simply enormously expensive for governments in this situation to expand higher education.

The natural instinct of higher education policy wonks in this situation is always the same: pile on more resources.  If government can’t afford it, let fee-paying students (either in public or private universities) make up the difference.  And that works, up to a point.  But you still run up against the same problem: the cost structures of those institutions aren’t that different from those of public universities, and the troubles the government has in raising money for public services is mirrored by the troubles individuals have in finding well-paying jobs to pay for that education.

Student loans are sometimes mooted as a solution to the problem, but the repayment problems are enormous.  In Africa, for instance, it’s fairly typical that the cost of a year of study is equal to about 40-50% of an entry-level salary.  That means that even if a graduate does find a job right away, their outstanding debt will be on the order of 150%-200% of their income.  Not sustainable.

This isn’t a question of public vs. private.  It is simply a question of return on investment.  At certain levels of development, there are points beyond which you either have to radically reduce the cost of higher education (perhaps via intensive use of MOOCs, as the Kepler project in Rwanda is doing), or you have to say “enough is enough”, because the return isn’t there.  It’s politically difficult to do, but as with any good, one needs to acknowledge when marginal costs start exceeding marginal benefits.  This may be one of those cases.

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