Side Views

Northern Europe or North Korea? — Tay Tian Yan

April 23, 2012

APRIL 22 — There are two kinds of country offering free tertiary education in the world.

The first kind is wealthy countries like northern Europe countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

Another kind is impoverished or communist countries, like North Korea, Cuba, Sri Lanka, and Greece.

It is indeed interesting. It turned out that wealthy countries can do it, and so can impoverished countries. Therefore, some people shouted, “Why can’t Malaysia since even North Korea and Greece can?”

Malaysia can, of course, do it. However, cost must be taken into consideration.

Northern Europe countries are wealthy and strong, with US$40,000 to US$50,000 per capita income.

In addition to free education, they can also afford to give child allowances, paternity leave, free medical care and unemployment relief funds. Senior citizens enjoy even more benefits, like pensions and weekly visits from government social workers.

In short, if you are fortunate enough to be born in one of these countries, you would not have to worry about giving birth, ageing, illness and death.

However, there are always costs behind free services.

Tax rates in these countries hit as high as 60 per cent and, generally, half of the income of the middle class has contributed to the Treasury, in exchange for various benefits.

In fact, they pay for what they enjoy. Northern Europeans have the ability and are willing to pay the cost.

Some impoverished countries like North Korea, are also providing free tertiary education. North Korea is even able to launch rocket.

Of course, it also has to pay the cost.

The quality of life in North Korea is very low. People do not have enough food to eat and some have even starved to death. There is no national development and the land is barren.

Therefore, economists are asking, should the North Korea’s limited national budget be used in providing free but low-quality tertiary education or to feed the people and for economic development?

Apparently, the North Korean government prefers to provide free tertiary education and launch rockets. Thus, those who have starved to death are the cost they pay.

In comparison, Greece is not as poor as that. Its per capita income is more than double of Malaysia.

The Greek government’s budget provides the people with many benefits. In addition to various allowances, it also provides free tertiary education.

However, the deficit has been worsening over the past few years and the accumulated debt has surpassed its gross national product (GNP). It would surely have gone bankrupt if the European Union did not save it.

Until today, many people are still arguing why we cannot provide free tertiary education since it is a long-term investment.

If Malaysia were as wealthy as northern Europe countries and the people are willing to contribute half of their income for taxes, of course we can consider giving free education.

However, Malaysia is still a developing country. It is lagging very far behind developed countries and has even been sliding on the list of emerging countries.

Once we provide free tertiary education, would we be closer to northern Europe countries, or North Korea instead?

Of course, there are other reasons explaining why we should not provide free tertiary education:

• When all universities provide free education, students from poor families will certainly benefit. However, students from middle class and wealthy families will also enjoy this unearned benefit.

• Good universities will receive allowances, but so will the bad ones.

• Of course, distinguished students will be rewarded, but mediocre students will be rewarded, too.

Is it fair? — mysinchew.com

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.