|Doz. Dr. Rumiana Stoilova|
|Role of Student Fees and Loans in Gaining Access to Higher Education Germany and Bulgaria in Comparison|
Objectives and methods of investigation
The article compares laws in the field of the funding of higher education in Bulgaria and in Germany. The comparison offers a sociological analysis of the cost-sharing schemes (involvement of tuition fees). Cost-sharing schemes have mostly been interpreted from economic, rational actor, and institutional perspectives, emphasising the financial autonomy of universities. Such a treatment is insufficient as it ignores social contexts of decision making. The sociological perspective analyses the obstacles to the individual’s choice (in the field of higher education) created by the limited resources of the individual and the family.
The method applied is case-oriented comparative research. Higher education reforms that are important for the issue of inequality and openness of education are being carried out in Bulgaria and Germany. The Student Loan Act was adopted in Bulgaria in 2008; the introduction of university tuition fees in Germany is a process that started in 2005 and is still continuing at present. Germany has been taken as an example in studying the legal steps to introducing general tuition fees. Specifically, comparisons have been made between the options for postponed payment. Also, an empirical survey was conducted regarding the attitudes of students, as dependent on origin, to the need for loans. Systematic research in Bulgaria on these topics does not exist; the present study is focused on producing comparative results. The comparison relies on criteria applied in Germany for the evaluation of German laws; the aim is to develop a methodology for evaluation of the public policy in higher education in Bulgaria.
There are different possible approaches to educational inequalities. Here the focus is on the obtainment of higher education as an individual resource. John Goldthorpe’s offers a critique of Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital. Using the concept of cultural resources, it is possible to make distinctions that cannot be made through the concept of cultural capital - for example, distinctions between cultural resources and cultural values, between cultural resources and academic ability. Contrary to this, the cultural capital theory is focused on the implications of the processes of the inter-generational cultural transmission that follow from Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and the “cultural arbitrary” (Goldthorpe 2007: 98).
The theoretical debate concerning the reproduction of the inequalities and the opportunities for individual prosperity through obtainment of cultural ressources has entered Germany’s public debate higher education reforms. Three preconditions exist for the success of the reforms in higher education - First: Reforms in higher education have to be accompanied with reforms in the secondary schools. Second: The openness of the tertiary education has to be guaranteed. Third: Higher education should be the central mechanism for social mobility. Access to labour market has to depend on educational performance, not on secondary criteria; on achievement, not on belonging to the habitués.
The theories used for explanation rely on methodological individualism and develop their arguments on the basis of rational choice theory and in political terms close to those of liberalism (see Boudon 1989, Colemann 1990, Goldthorpe 2007). In keeping with methodological individualism, a theoretical distinction is usually made between primary and secondary effects of social origin (Boudon 1974). Social origin is a factor in differential educational attainments, as measured by school grades and diploma grades, the primary affected outcomes. Under the conditions of equal academic achievement, secondary school leavers of different origins choose different types of post-secondary educational tracks/institutions – these are secondary effects. The existence of secondary effects is registered by comparing students with equal academic records.
The stratification research shows that young people with equal academic achievements have a different chance to continue into the third level of education according to their origin. In Germany the influence of the family background on higher education can be seen in differences of attendance at general universities, with higher prestige, and universities of applied sciences (Hochschule), with lower prestige. While 62% of the university students have a parent with an academic degree, at universities for applied sciences it is 47%. High school graduates of higher social origin more often choose a university and less often a professional education than do graduates of lower social origin. The difference between the two is nearly 20 percentage points. The social origin component is twice stronger than the grades factor (Müller et.al. 2008:23). Success in higher education is not only a question of academic excellence. The level of education of parents has an impact on success in higher education. People whose parents have a high educational level have better chances of accessing and completing tertiary education than others. In the EU-25, for every 100 persons whose parents have completed at most lower-secondary education, 17 have completed higher education themselves. This share rises to 32 % for those whose parents have upper-secondary education and reaches 63 % for those whose parents have completed tertiary education.
Data from a representative survey for Bulgaria shows that 3.9% of men aged 30 years with tertiary education, and 4.8% of women in the same age cohort, have a father with only a basic education (Tab. 1). The correlation between the education of the respondents and the education of the father is stronger for men than for women. At the same time the possession of tertiary education is very important for the access to a secure and well paid job.
Table 1 Cross tabulation education level of fathers and sons (born after 1974) %
Gender and Generations Survey, 2004, N=9000, Cramer's V 0,427, Institute of Sociology.
Cross tabulation education level fathers and daughters (born after 1974) %
Source: Gender and Generations Survey, 2004, N=9000, Cramer's V ,375, Institute of Sociology.
The strongest impact of social origin is observed with regard to the access to tertiary level of education (compared with secondary and basic) and among the cohort of people born in the period 1958-1967: this was the last socialist cohort that applied for university in a situation of administrative restrictions on the number of universities and students, and the existence of political quotas, which made it easier for young people of the ‘proper’ social origin (coming from families close to the ruling party) to be enrolled in university (Stoilova, Haralampiev 2009). All this indicates the importance of achieving openness of access to tertiary education by minimizing the dividing lines related to origin. One option for this is the opportunity for a postponed payment for education.
However, stratification research rarely has a policy focus. This analysis intends to fill the existing gap. Reforms aimed at equalizing educational opportunities contain three components - comprehensive schooling, free tertiary education, and a generous universal study loan system (Jonsson, Erikson 2007). Here the focus is on the reforms in tertiary education, which has ceased to be free of charge with the introduction of tuition fees for students, and on the legal solutions that enable students to access higher education independently of their social origin.