As I mentioned last week, a major paper I’ve been working on for over a year with colleagues from DZHW on the subject of the effects of fees was published last Monday by the EC (available here). In my last post, I talked about how fees affected institutions – today, I want to talk about how they affect students.
In our report, we looked at case studies over 15 years (1995-2010) from nine countries – Austria, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, and South Korea. These countries represent very different experiences. Some have private higher education, others don’t. Some have public sectors that change fees, while others don’t (Hungary and Poland are in the middle, where public universities provide education free for some while charging for others). And looking across all the different cases, we found = the following:
1) Most tuition increases have no perceptible effect on enrolment. The only cases where clear-cut effects could be discerned was in England in 2012, where the increase was about $10,000 in a single year, and in the de-regulation of professional fees in Ontario in the mid-90s (where, bizarrely, low-income students were not affected, but middle-income students were).
2) That said, there are also some clear-cut cases where tuition has been a driver of increased access. In both Poland and South Korea, major increases in enrolments were driven by the existence of fee-supported places (mainly but not exclusively in private institutions).
3) Though this is partly a matter of many countries having education data-sets that make Canada’s look enviable, there is very little evidence that changes in fees have done much to change the composition of the student body. In every country where there is data, underrepresented groups have done better over time, regardless of the fee regime. Even in the extreme case of England 2012, under-represented groups (the poorest income quintile, black and Asian students) tended to be less affected by the tuition increase than richer, whiter students. (The one exception here is older students, who were disproportionately affected by the changes.) To the extent that late-entrants to higher education come from poorer backgrounds, this should be seen as a kind of hidden socio-economic effect of fees.
4) Changes in tuition fees seem to have had no discernible effects on students’ choice of major, and few discernible effects on students’ decisions about where to study (in Canada, for instance, rates of out-of-province study are actually up over the last decade).
5) It is not so much that fees themselves have no effect; rather, it is that in nearly all cases, fees are introduced with accompanying increases in student aid. Sometimes it is paltry compared to the size of the fees required (e.g. South Korea in the 90s), sometimes it is implemented in a fairly clunky way (Germany, mid-2000s). But it is always there to offset the worst effects of fees. And in the case of England 2012, it was there to ensure that students weren’t required to pay a single extra penny of costs up-front, which seems to have had a major factor in limiting the impact of the world’s largest-ever tuition increase (in the short-term at least).
The lesson here? Unless you’re planning on going England-style crazy, international evidence fee increases are unlikely to affect access in a measurable way.