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Civil Society in Support of University

“Only the educated are free”
Epictetus

That the importance of education increases further everyday is beyond dispute. Education is important not solely as a tool that enables one to work in high value added jobs, but also in order to have a say in critical social issues. One of the most notable advantages of our country is the high degree of sacrifice parents are willing to endure just to secure a good education for their children. The growth of an entire industry of preparation for high school and university entrance exams, the income level of private tutors, and the development of private schools attest to the depth of this sensitivity.

Yet, income distribution in our country is an impediment to attaining equality of opportunity, particularly in the period of preparation for college. As a result most of those who can make it to college tend to come from higher income families. On the other hand the majority of universities in our country are public and thus the state ends up subsidizing the relatively well off segment of the population by underwriting the financing of universities.

At the same time the high demand for college education compels the state to devote its scarce resources to found new universities instead of improving the quality of education in the existing ones. Thus, public universities that are on a tight budgetary leash are increasingly falling behind new universities funded by private foundations. Public universities can neither offer their faculty satisfactory salaries nor sufficient funding for research. Even their ability to send thier academic staff to participate in international seminars is limited.

A quick look around the world shows that there are four sources of funding for universities: 1) State funds, 2) Tuition paid by students, 3) Private donations, and 4) Revenue from research conducted on behalf of industry. We need to find extra funding for state universities to enable them to compete both with private foundation universities and the world. To accomplish this we need to increase the share of the last three revenue sources in university budgets.

There are several steps that can be taken. To start with, the fees can be raised to private university levels provided that only those who can will be asked to pay. Yet another step is to put aside a part of the state funds given to universities to cover the fees of needy students by creating scholarships. A new institutional arrangement that would facilitate the raising of funds from graduates and that would enable them to participate in supervising universities ought to be created. A board of trustees for instance is a mechanism widely utilized elsewhere. Offering incentives to the faculty to conduct research that could contribute to the technological development of the private sector and to publish in international journals will also help the scientific and technological development of our country.

The most important value for a country is its well-educated human capital. In order to compete on equal terms with the world we should benchmark with the successful examples and should not hesitate to adopt good practices. The reformation of our university system both in terms of its resource base and in terms of performance management will contribute significantly to the goal of making our educated human capital competitive with the rest of the world.