In an era of tight public finances, should students be entitled to subsidized higher education no matter what they choose to study?

By Aurora Lee. Aurora lives in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.

Long-live the freedom of choice.

“It is by choice and not by chance that we change our circumstances.”

— Nadia Sahari, Breakaway: How I Survived Abuse

The question that follows would be: the type of education from which the students could choose from? Or how do we decide which education is more valuable than the other?

Is a doctor that is trained in saving physical life better than a designer who designed ergonomic furniture and pieces of devices which prevent physical aches and pain of thousands? An artist who created art penetrated deep into human soul and drew out from it more beauty? Or a teacher who inspires students to be their best, whom themselves turn out to serve and inspire the people around them?

Unless we could measure the effect of each choice with certain accuracy, a simple yes would create a limiting quota for student intakes, on a handful of choices of education provided, together with the risk of discrimination and therefore unequal distribution of skill to cater the diversity demand of the market.

We could nonetheless, reframe the question from “to provide or not to provide” to “HOW’ could we allocate the limited resources so as to maximize the benefit of the education being provided.

With the advancement of technology, Nicolas Negroponte, the founder and chairman of the One laptop per Child, a non profit association shows how a low cost, connected laptop enables children to engage in their own education, learn, share and create together. It is an example of how education does not have to be expensive. (Source:

A tiny reallocation of budget on the amount spends on weapon and defense would be more than enough to do so. Focus should then be on providing a good framework and infrastructure that educators could facilitate and guide students in how and where to source their learning. And a good platform could be set up to encourage sharing of knowledge among interested parties. A virtual reality where they could supply more information and thus aid the educator with the proliferation of knowledge.

Another issue that could be of interest to know is, as a human being, we possess an innate curiosity to explore and learn new things. Dr Sugata Mitra, best known for his “Hole in the Wall” experiment, demonstrates this inborn inquisitiveness by merely provide an enabling environment; kids would learn on their own through exploration, discovery and peer coaching, with minimal, or no, intervention by a teacher. (

Learning is a lifelong process. It is normal, upon leaving school, to perceive that there is more to learn in life. Thus it is therefore important to share the learning platform, not only with those in the field of education, but to all who are interested worldwide.

There are already some education institution and corporation which do this quite well, to anyone with access to internet. What could be done, to promote such deeds, is to create some international acknowledgement in terms of accolades, endorsement or awards to those who have made a mark in the area. By doing so, it serve as an exemplar, thus creates positive vicious cycle, and the ripples continue.

Society, made up of people and people, who get educated, serve the society in return. Education and society are so closely related that we cannot view one without the other.

Having said that, it is reasonable to call for the collaboration of education and the society. Society represents more than the labor market that is responsible for hiring the graduates. It includes all who live on this planet, or better still to view the definition made by Tagore Rabindranath, who said it well when he states “The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.”

It is therefore important for education to seek progress not only in the area of knowledge, but in individual as a whole, made of more than physical, mental, emotional and spiritual part. And strive to improve the well being of human being, to promote the harmony, sharing and corporative ways of life. In order to achieve that, it is necessary for all to learn to expect, accept and respect the differences that exist in each individual. By limiting the choice of the education being provided, we are in reality discerning some over the others, in places where we should uphold equality and reverence among all.

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