Paying for education



High on the radar screen of most people who have children is the cost of education. People want to give their children the best possible education so that they are set up for a good life going forward. The cost of doing this is, however, in many places a major issue common to all levels of society, except the 1 percent of the world’s population who have more money than they could possibly ever spend.

Education is very important in the western world and is seen as the responsibility of the state, where in many places, very good quality education is free of charge—the Nordic countries, Germany, Brazil, the UK and Argentina and quite some others. Many countries also provide free university education for foreign students; Norway, Sweden, Finland and Belgium for example, or at exceptionally low cost, The Netherlands. Nowhere, though, is education so high on the priority list of parents as it is in Asia. Just look around your local mall to see the number of organisations offering additional tuition and the parental pressure to “study.”

The social safety nets that exist in developed western economies do not exist in most of Asia. No job, no money, no life, or at least a very hard life thanks to a lack of any real government support. Add to this, that there are also so many people competing for limited numbers of places at good secondary schools and universities. In China, there are over 2,000 universities and colleges with 6 million enrollments—less than 0.5 percent of the total population, or 6 percent of the 0-24 age group. In the USA, there are 20 million enrollments, representing 6 percent of the total population, or 20 percent of the 0-24 age group, and college education in the USA is comparatively very expensive. Competition for university places in China is fierce, particularly for those seen as high quality, but fees are lower compared with the West, running at between $2000-4000/year for a fairly average institution. One report says that it would cost a Chinese farmer 13 years’ income to send a child to university, four or five years’ income for an urban worker. It costs about one to two years’ income for the average US family to put their offspring through university and one year’s in UK or Canada. Going through the K-12 system at one of the top Philippine schools would consume about 8 or 9 years of an average Filipino income

In the UK, education in state schools that are generally of good quality is free of charge albeit the incidental costs in transport, meals, uniforms etc. add up to about US$2,000/year. Education in the public school sector of the USA is also free of charge but of poor to moderate quality, persuading most parents who can afford it to opt for private schools whose fees range from US$6,000-40,000 per year.

In the Philippines, the highest rated private schools will cost parents about US$3000-4,000/year, but there are only a small proportion who manage to afford fees at this level. Below this are a huge number of private schools of varying quality, which, even though their fees are low, still have parents struggling to pay them to avoid the public or state school system. Advancing to university or college is another big and expensive step and there are so many Filipinos around who have been forced to drop out due to an inability to continue to pay the fees. It surely involves a lot of sacrifice for many Filipinos to give their children the education that they are perceived to need in order to succeed.

On another level and for a different clientele are the local international schools with expatriate teachers and which follow foreign curriculums such as the General Certificate of Secondary Education and the International Baccalaureate. These are in a different fee league, with tuition charges being anything between US$10,000 and 25,000/year, mostly paid for by employers rather than the parents themselves and educating more than 7,000 international and Filipino students to a level which will readily gain them entry to universities in the advanced economies.

It’s all a question, unfortunately, of money and it really shouldn’t be. In the Philippines in particular, any lack of money at the time it is required for tuition fees, exam fees or any of the other numerous charges that the private schools levy will result in disruption or complete discontinuance of education. Interestingly in South Africa, no child shall be excluded from school by reason of the parent’s inability to pay the [state school]fees and they need not pay any fees at all if they exceed 10 percent of the family income.

So in much of the world, good quality state-provided education is free, in South Africa you have to pay but no more than a percentage of the family income. Schools as private sector businesses appear to be able to make good investment returns, as well as supporting high land prices. The Asian parent’s obsession with children’s education just allows the more rapacious members of the private sector leverage to force people to come up with money that they really cannot afford. No more than 10 percent of the family income sounds like a good criterion to me [Better not have too many children, though!]. To make the education of societies purely dependent on money and business is to severely restrict economic development.

Mike can be contacted at


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