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Financial Aid and Tuition

Posted By Gina Eom On March 9, 2008 @ 12:33 pm In Editorial | Comments Disabled

I have been meaning to post about this for quite some time now, being heavily subsidized by a european government to study one of the most expensive programs in a college (medical) for a registration fee (covering a half year buspass as well as heavily discounted warm lunches) of 200 Euros (300 CAD) a semester.

See this NY Times article [2]which reports ivy league colleges (Brown, Harvard) and Stanford following a wider trend of waiving tuition for lower income students.

While relieving some of the financial load of lower income students solves part of the problem, cost of living is an unaccounted factor which seems at times deemphasized when talking about the whole issue surrounding tuition.

In Canada and North America in general, the trend is for lower income students to borrow money from the government or a private source, and pay it back afterwards with interest. The trend is similar here in Germany, but with some key differences.

By German law, parents who make over a certain amount are required to support their children’s cost of living (housing, food, school registration fees). Yes, children have the right to sue their parents, and some even do. Tuition has been a non-issue until two years ago, when some regions implemented tuition as high as 400 Euros (600 CAD) per semester.

If the parents’ income falls below a certain income bracket, the German Ministry of Education [3] (link in German) chips in, to be paid back post graduation, in chunks determined by how much the graduate makes entering the job market. In instances when the graduate is yet again below a certain income standard, they are waived these repayments and thus have their education paid for fully by the government.

By the way, the Ministry of Advanced Education in British Columbia has been mumbling about similar repayment policies for a while, and this has been regarded as controversial by some.

While Germany’s system is by no means perfect, it seems to allow for greater accessibility towards advanced education. I’ll follow up with some numbers and stats later, but it creates some interesting social attitudes.

For one, there is a very relaxed attitude about university. Whereas UBC felt like a factory that churned out one graduate at a time, colleges here seem like a stroll through the park, with time to smell the roses so to speak. In classes, there are almost never any assignments – only a final exam. There is much less pressure in general to finish on time. This take it or leave it atmosphere has its pros and cons.

The pro is that it seems like students that are self motivated are allowed to thrive. They are not bogged down by assignments which confine the degree to which they want to steer their learning within a semester. I have met the most brilliant people during my short stay here, who in the truest sense of the word are intellectuals.

Unfortunately, for the less motivated, it has been suggested that it takes them years and years to finish even their undergraduate degree. This was the social argument from the conservatives behind the introduction of tuition fees.

I am no economist, but I expect one to say something about Canada having the advantage of individuals entering the job market at an earlier age and thus spurting the economy.

I would argue that this might be true only because German men are still required by law to either receive military training or finish a year of civil service after high school.

While Germany’s education system is by no means perfect, its financial aid network seems to me much more equitable, allowing students to pursue the field of study of their interest, instead of having to worry about whether this degree will lead towards a job which will allow them to pay off their debts. Thus, it seems to me that over here, we enjoy a social safety net which better separates academic interest from the pressures of economy than in Canada.

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[1] Image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_dUAVi92tcKM/R9Qz6Igq4DI/AAAAAAAAACk/mxqsSLz8RHI/s1600-h/Humboldt_Universitaet.jpg

[2] this NY Times article : http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/25/education/25brown.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

[3] Ministry of Education: http://www.bafoeg.bmbf.de/

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