Train- Discussions: Application vs. Entitlement

A joint posting from Uni Basel participants. Our discussion on the train down to Riva was brought together into this text by Sarah – not an easy task!:

On our train trip to Riva we decided to talk about the subject of Application to University (in the US) vs. Entitlement (in CH) because Mr. Loprieno mentioned in his speech in Basel that in this field we find one of the biggest differences between our two systems.

First, someone argued that the idea of giving something back to society is much more developed in the U.S. (at universities!) than in Switzerland. We think this might be the case because we trust in and rely on our state to whom we pay our taxes and who is responsible for all the basic needs of society like education but also health care etc. In short, for us HE is a kind of “human right” and we do not really feel priviledged if we can go to university or certainly not as much as the US- students do. So is education a right in Switzerland but a privilege in America? We probably have to differentiate here between “education” and “higher education” for going to school is as much a human right in the U.S. as in Switzerland. BUT: at the level of Higher Education there are many differences in access – as we will find out during this programme – and one of the results of higher costs etc. is that U.S. students feel more privileged and therefore have a stronger feeling they should give something back to society. In addition, if in Switzerland we want to contribute to society we can get involved in politics on a very basic (in the villages and cantons) or on a national level and “share our knowledge”. At this point, the discussion nearly turned into a fight because some of us think universities are not involved enough in public affairs. Maybe this topic of universities as “Elfenbeintürme” which is especially important for humanities could be discussed again because it has a lot to do with access to and in HE.

Education, we think, is as much a social right as a cultural issue and as a result there exists a huge variety in attitudes towards it. The fact that in most parts of Europe a lot of power is delegated to the state certainly influences our way of thinking about HE as an entitlement rather than a privilege. In Switzerland, we trust the state for caring about our education and other social issues – but of course we also rely on him in many aspects. We ended our discussion by asking when and why the shift from education as a priviledge to education as an entitlement (right) took place in Europe. It would be interesting to find out why the system in the U.S. developed in a different way and to observe the impact this has on the whole society.