Today, the need for reforms in education is discussed not only in the US but throughout the world. Highlighting the accumulated problems, professionals speak about the quality of the educational process and, most importantly, its results. It is quite natural that special attention is paid to the ways of financing education, since in our material world, the monetary area (regardless of whether someone likes it or not) is the basis of any transformations.
The US, as is known, is a country of paradoxes. Our education system is no exception. On the one hand, both representatives of the Department of Education itself and most commentators say that a lot of money is spent on the development of schools and universities, even according to international standards.
On the other hand, each new initiative leads to attempts to dismiss teachers. The goals of dismissal are traditionally connected with the desire to improve the quality of training. But as soon as the teachers’ trade unions begin to protest, the tone changes, and another minister complains about the lack of money.
So where is the truth? What is really lacking: money, or, perhaps, the ability to spend it reasonably?
Optimization of financial mechanisms
The problem of optimizing the financial mechanisms of education is discussed very actively now. This is due to the growing need for vocational training of citizens and the shrinking of the financial resources.
To solve this problem, a gradual transition from supply-oriented funding (when the largest funds are transferred to the most popular or advertised educational institutions) to demand-oriented financing (when the largest funds go to the places where most students want to study) is needed. To organize such a distribution of money, the funds should be sent to educational institutions not directly, but through consumers, i.e. the students or their parents.
Thus, the spread of this method is directly related to the introduction of market principles in the education system and the free offering of relevant services. There are several forms based on the financial provision of the citizens’ right to training: individual accounts, grants, vouchers.
Of course, you can immediately get indignant and show a noble anger. Is it a privatization again? What were we fighting for? Did business get to education? But there is a second side of this issue. The fact is that the welfare of the whole country, each of us, depends on the level of education of citizens. And the benefits are direct, for everyone. Positive results can be reached only with one obligatory condition – education must be real, high-quality, modern. The market relationships (in short, competition) can play a significant role here.
What is an educational voucher?
Speaking strictly in scientific terms, an educational voucher is a monetary obligation of the state to fully or partially pay a certain amount of educational services, which materializes in the form of certificates (coupons). And in fact, such a voucher represents a kind of contract with the state, which guarantees the right to purchase a course of study without transferring real money.
The cost of the voucher is closely related to the average price of training. As a rule, students can pay for their education through vouchers in both state and non-state educational institutions that meet strictly defined educational standards, which guarantees both the quality of the training provided and the freedom of choice.
If, for example, we consider the secondary education system, then by issuing such a voucher to persons with a child of a certain age, the state thereby guarantees them free educational services of a certain level.
Vouchers can be issued selectively, only to separate categories of citizens who meet precisely specified requirements. For example, in the sphere of higher education, such requirements can be reduced to the established level of family income, a certain place of residence, the student’s obligation to work in the future in the specialty obtained.
Of course, changes in the financing system of any industry are far from simple. And before rushing headlong into the “voucherization of the whole country”, the responsible organizers of educational processes should clearly define both the scope of application of vouchers and their financial components.
Advantages of the educational voucher
To begin with, vouchers ensure transparency and openness of financial flows in the educational sphere, which leads to an increase in the efficiency of the funds invested in it and, at the same time, make various frauds almost inaccessible.
With the help of vouchers, providing targeted support to students from low-income families, a state can significantly increase economic equity in society.
In accordance with the nature of supply and demand, vouchers stimulate investment in promising areas of higher and vocational education. At the same time, it is up to consumers of services to determine which specialties are promising, not the Department of Education or any other authority and management body.
Vouchers promote the development of market relations in education. The student has the right to choose which university to include in his voucher. The entrant, giving preference to a certain higher educational institution, provides the latter with budgetary financing from the state: “money follows the consumer”. Such an approach results in the inevitable competition between schools and universities, which improves the quality of the knowledge they provide.
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Introducing vouchers, the state initiates a gradual transition to the administrative and financial-economic autonomy of universities, which, among other things, leads to a reduction in the cost of training.
Of course, the introduction of vouchers does not solve all the existing problems of education in general and its financing in particular. But such certificates undoubtedly help students to choose the worthy place of training. Educational institutions become competitors and attract the best people. Public funds allocated for education are used more effectively.
Many developed countries have introduced vouchers to their educational financing system – the United States (where this idea was born), the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, Denmark and Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden, and others, even including some countries of Eastern Europe.