A Political Theory
A Political Theory
This book argues that all citizens have the right to higher education. Education should not be allocated only to some, but to all those who choose to take it up. Using concepts and ideas from liberal political philosophy, Christopher Martin shows that access to educational goods plays a key role in helping mature citizens realize self-determined goals.
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Many assume that a person's right to education terminates with high school, and that higher education is a luxury addition. The conversation about education changes in palpable ways once we focus on higher education rather than the education we ordinarily think that citizens are due when they are children and teenagers. We see more talk about competition for university places, standardized testing, and elite admissions. We parse out the differences between the
benefits of education for the individual and the burdens of public financial support for such an education. The move from educational provision for children to educational provision for adults marks a troubling transformation in this public conversation: from one about how it can improve the lives of all
individuals, to one preoccupied with fairness, competition, merit, personal responsibility, and the sharing of benefits and burdens. Problems of status, stratification, and selectivity capture as much, if not more, of our attention than the question of what higher education institutions should aim to achieve. But why should it be so different, when it is no less essential? Obtaining a higher education degree can change the course of a person's life, providing them with vast opportunities that
they could not access otherwise—in fact for many it is a prerequisite for fulfilling their personal and professional goals, or even being able to just make a living. Yet it is almost always framed as privilege, not a right—and a privilege many spend years or even decades paying for after their
studies have ended. Our higher education systems are built on the presumption that this is all as it should be: that pursuing higher education is a choice some people make, but not something to which all of us are entitled.
Christopher Martin turns this view on its head by arguing that higher education is in fact an unconditional, absolute right of all citizens in a free and open society. As he argues, a closer look at the value of education in a free and open society reveals that many of the challenges we see in higher education today can be attributed to the failure to recognize higher education as an individual right. Using concepts and ideas from liberal political philosophy, Martin shows that access to
educational goods play a key role in helping citizens realize their self-determined goals. Higher education should be understood as a basic social institution responsible for ensuring that all citizens can access these goods.
The necessary corrective, Martin argues, is simple: we need to stop allocating higher education to some, and allocate it to all who choose to pursue it. A readiness and willingness to learn should be the only qualification. Higher education should offer opportunities that benefit citizens with different interests and goals in life. Its foundational moral purpose should be to help citizens of all backgrounds to live better, freer lives.