Private vs. public education - start the discussion!

Prior to joining Quest, I had a few qualms with private education

Looking at this blog’s history, I note that four out of the five entries were made by Quest University instructors. Since I agreed to contribute to this blog as a chance to start a dialogue between people interested in higher education in Canada, I thought I might try to shake things up by making an entry that’s bound to stir strong opinions. This is my challenge to the other blog writers, as well as to anyone who might be reading these lines – please participate in this discussion – as that’s the way to make this blog useful to all.

Here’s the controversial topic I would like to discuss to start this dialogue:
Is there room for private universities in Canada? Are there benefits? Should it be allowed?

I must confess that prior to joining Quest, I had a few qualms with private education. Like many academics, my ideals lie somewhat left of the middle, so the idea of joining an institution with high tuition fees seemed contrary to my values. However, having been at Quest for 3 years now, and having seen how the system works, my views have changed.

The level of scholarship and financial support offered to students in a private setting is much more developed than at public institutions. Indeed, I would argue that the private setting is more of a social system, where the level of tuition that a student is expected to pay is more in line with the ability to pay. Students from more wealthy backgrounds tend to pay higher tuition, and this money is used to offset the cost of tuition for students coming from more modest circumstances. This tuition adjustment is at the core of a social system. At public institutions, everyone pays a set tuition sum. Historically, this worked well because tuition was low, but tuition fees have been on the rise, and education is increasingly becoming inaccessible to a larger segment of the population.

The other issue often quoted in opposition to a private system is the quality of the programs offered. In B.C. at least, the degree programs offered by private institutions are annually reviewed by the provincial Ministry of Education. This keeps private institutions on their toes and ensures that they are consistently delivering a quality education, one that meets the advertised educational objectives. My understanding is that public institutions do not have to undergo such a rigorous annual review process. This is not to say that public institution programs are bad (clearly many are excellent), but just to point out that in a private setting, there seems to be more outside scrutiny to ensure program quality.

I realize I have written a somewhat one-sided opinion, but remember, my goal was to make this entry provocative so it would make some of the writers’ and readers’ blood boil, and would stimulate discussion on this blog! Please contribute your thoughts – privatization is very much on the Canadian list of most argued topics, and I would be delighted to read all sides of the story!