Monday, September 20, 2010

"If we had to pay fees, we'd take it more seriously"

In the sometimes heated disputes about the abolition of university fees & their possible re-introduction the focus is generally on the effect that it might have on progression to university and on the issue of educational inequality. There has been relatively little discussion about how student behaviour might change.
The Irish Times has an interesting article by Roisin Ingle based around interviews with students in UCC and one theme that emerges is that students might take their courses more seriously if they were paying fees. Another theme was that while some students saw the merits in the re-introduction of fees there were very strong social pressures not to reveal this.
Of course one cannot infer anything from a few interviews like this but the article is nonetheless worth reading.


Pidge said...

I never thought much of that argument. Not only do students pay fees (registration fees, which are higher than "full" fees in other countries), there's also a huge cost in simply living a student life for three/four/more years.

Arts students skipping lectures didn't start in Ireland in 1996, and I doubt they increased by much either.

Liam Delaney said...

1,500 euro is not far off what are paid in other countries Kevin so we should give some acknowledgment that students are paying partial fees as the registration frame is a bit silly. Though the full economic cost of a degree is about 8-10k per year so clearly it is worth thinking about what would happen.

(i) selection effect whereby people with less value of education would be less likely to apply

(ii) substitution effect toward non-college work as the student would need to raise the money

(iii) either that or no effect at all if students finance it through loans. young people tend to discount the future hypberbolically. if they were given a loan they may view the future repayments as being too far out to worry

(iv) the main argument seems to be some sort of behavioural one, namely that paying fees will remind people that this is an expensive investment and that they should exploit it and study more. This is a tricky argument. If studying yields high future returns then it shouldn't matter whether the student is paying fees or not, other things equal, other than through a framing effect the above substitution and selection effects.

If we are talking about these things it is worth starting to take all the different effects (only some of which are listed above) into consideration.

Liam Delaney said...

I think the other effect that people might see as operating is that most students would get the money from their parents. Given the parents are now the principle investor, this would give them more of a stake in monitoring their children and encouraging them to study. It would also give them the potential stick to wield of not funding subsequent years if performance is weaker. Again, not sure about this. Parents who have money already have the means to incentivise their children and the monitoring problems are going to similar in either case.

Kevin Denny said...

I am not taking a position on this issue one way or the other. But I think it is interesting that some students do. Despite my strong quantitative leanings, qualitative evidence should be looked at (& this is no worse than some qualitative "research" I have seen).
So the question is: will students behave differently if they are paying fees? Whether we have a theory to explain it is a secondary issue. It does not seem implausible to me.
One specific question not addressed here is the cost per module/course. At the moment there is no marginal cost. But if you had to pay per module you might think differently about failing it or dropping out half-way through.

Peter Carney said...

reintroducing fees makes perfect sense, whatever way you look at it.

`-- an honest approach would be to scrap the backdoor fee malarkey and do a 50/50 deal on the full economic cost - you pay half, society pays half (given that the benefits are not just individual returns and the issues of hyperbolic discounting of the investment by certain disadvantaged sections of society).

An additional scheme would offer a special student loan for the 50% fees at a 'reasonable APR': say ECB base rate + risk margin and would follow the UK style or repayment on employment, but, deferring repayment comes with a cost and early repayment with a benefit.

more resource conscious and personally invested students will lead to higher expectations and greater demand for higher quality education. universities would have to re-prioritise. teaching would feature more prominently in their objectives and incentive structures.

so with fees you get motivated students that actually want value from their education and universities that actively encourages it's staff to give greater attention to its students, and their future skill and knowledge needs.

With free fees you get wednesday morning hangovers and graduate unemployment.