Too Grown Up To Be Granted A Right To Education?

Medical students celebrate their graduation. By the time they get to this point, they may be carrying a lifetime burden of debt on their shoulders.

Does a Human Right to Adequate Housing include education? COVID-19 offered a meaningful perspective on this question when the pandemic schooling shifted away from the traditional ‘school-house’ approach. Thanks to the internet, for a great many the home itself became the temporary schoolroom1.

In fact, asking the right to education question raises a ‘chicken and egg’ issue. The interest of the United Nations began in 1948 with the declaration of a human right to an acceptable standard of living. As such it originated as a universal right to a broad framework of living conditions than just housing, or for that matter, just education.

Considering both together, which is to be judged as more important — shelter for a child, or providing an education? Most would be inclined to say ‘both.’ Even the USA, which is gun-shy of human rights that do not originate in the US Constitution, has passed the McKinneyVento Homeless Assistance Act, which makes support for education essential even when students experience homelessness.

There is, unfortunately, a sting at the end of this tale.

When and where do the two — shelter and education — disconnect from each other? Educational stepping stones are not necessarily synchronised with age.

High school leaving in the late teens may offer a convenient cutoff for one form of education — the military, for example2.

But what about the situation of an aspiring physician who is on track for a further half-lifetime of learning — well beyond the means of many families to support?

Families with children are more or less forced to financially intertwine housing and education, with even legislative gun-shy America prepared to offer support to both.

And afterwards? When this writer went to university, in first year, young women were required to live in residence for their safety. However patronizing this long dead rule appears, at least they had a guaranteed place to stay!

Consider a contrasting situation for students, which is occurring in many countries. Read more in The Big Issue: ‘I’m paying £9k a year to sofa surf’ The university students facing homelessness

The United Nations, with a great deal on its Human Rights plate, says that “the right to adequate housing should not be interpreted narrowly3” and that it consists of three characteristics:

    • freedoms4,
    • entitlements5 and
    • conditions6

With a concern for the training of highly educated workers, who may well be critical to a country’s future, is there more effort and investment to be promoted in this regard?

One significant contribution to the problem comes from the issue of student housing. Faced with their own burden of educational costs, schools of higher learning have increasingly been ceding student accommodation problems to the private sector. With many advanced students facing the payment of school debts for the better part of a lifetime, is reasonable, or sensible, to allow the financialization of student housing as a tasty profit centre for the booming business of landlording?

Read more in The Guardian: Student housing used to be affordable. Why has it become an ‘asset class’ to enrich the already wealthy?


  1. and not necessarily with the results that had were hoped for — here’s just one recent example from CNN: Student test scores plummeted in math and reading after the pandemic, new assessment finds
  2. although the military, too, is concerned about standards of education post-COVID. Read more in Task & Purpose: COVID-19 had an ‘appalling’ impact on American students’test scores. That’s bad news for the military
  3. Quoted from page 3 of UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights: The Right to Adequate Housing
  4. for example the right to choose one’s home
  5. which include security of tenure
  6. which include being able to access educational opportunities