In an article in Higher Education Policy that winks at the well-known acronym TINSTAAFL, Boston College Ariane de Gayardon attempts to get some order into the muddled situation across the globe about what is understood by “free tuition”. Her article There is no such thing as free higher education shows that the broad concept of free higher education conceals many different financial realities, with only very few of them being actually really free. Many so-called free higher education systems are open only for just a fraction of students, others may be free from something called “tuition”, but might pay up to € 3000 for student services and examinations. So her bottom line message is to protesting students, in student-loan systems, who want their system to move to “free higher education without a clear understanding of what this may mean in practice.
I would like to add one notion that Ariane de Gayardon doesn’t seem to cover which may help to clarify the discussion a bit further. I would suggest that real free higher education entails that a student without any money and any access to cash, can enter and complete a full degree course in higher education. That means that all education costs, as well as all livelihood costs during full time study, are somehow covered without the student or his family having to foot the bill. Real free higher education can be measured by a) the proportion of students who are in this blissful situation and b) the average percentage of full costs (of education and livelihood) that students or that families have to shoulder themselves.