Hypothetical Insurance and Higher Education

Journal of Philosophy of Education 50 (4):587-604 (2016)
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What level of government subsidy of higher education is justified, in what form, and for what reasons? We answer these questions by applying the hypothetical insurance approach, originally developed by Ronald Dworkin in his work on distributive justice. On this approach, when asking how to fund and deliver public services in a particular domain, we should seek to model what would be the outcome of a hypothetical insurance market: we stipulate that participants lack knowledge about their specific resources and risks, and ask what insurance contracts they would take out to secure different types of benefit and protection in the domain in question. The great benefit of the hypothetical insurance approach is that it allows us to take apparently intractable questions about interpersonal distribution and transform them into questions about intrapersonal distributions: that is, questions about how an individual would choose to distribute risks and resources across the various lives that they might end up living, in light of their individual ambitions and preferences. Applying this approach to higher education, we argue that the UK model of higher education funding in which the costs of an individual's higher education are shared between general taxation and the individual herself, with the latter element to be paid retrospectively through an income-contingent state-backed loan, is vindicated as just. In particular, we argue that it is more just than alternatives such as a graduate tax, full funding through general taxation, and full privatisation.
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