Traditionally education has been mostly funded by the governments, at least mass education. Things didn’t start out this way of course; education started out as some sort of pastime for the rich kids and subsequently became a tool to distinguish the aristocrats and peasants, serving the function of supporting what was eventually called ‘high culture’.
In fact, education wasn’t so focused on writing, reading and arithmetic in the beginning – it consists mostly of life-skills like archery, horse-riding, a little hand combat, a couple of classics. But then people realised that civilized behaviours helped cultivate deeper relationships between people and improved interactions between strangers whose education has resulted in some sort of informally synchronized norms. Crude traders therefore decided to become ‘educated’.
As technological advancement made education an economic necessity, government started to intervene in the market for education. Theoretically speaking it is because the rising external marginal benefit resulting from education so the good becomes more of a market failure as the potential positive spillover effects increase. Mass education became important as the educated bunch tend towards a critical bulk. When everyone around you are educated then the cost of not being educated rises. When all your trading partners consist of educated people who demand certain standard of conduct when doing business, then there’s more pressure to be educated. Government spending on education thus climbed, but in a good way.
It’s then a pity that budget deficits caused by the economy education have been helping to support all the while is causing funding for education to be slashed. Yet like what is mentioned The Economist article, this is an important opportunity for private sector education providers. For-profit education might sound like a bad idea since they have all the incentives to dish out qualifications to those with ‘financial quality’ and shun the poor smart ones; this is the moment for them to correct their image and raise their standards of education to those of public education; this selectivity will benefit them long after a boom in private-section education industry.