Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Thousands more British students are applying to American universities as generous scholarships and top-quality facilities compete with British institutions. With the introduction of university top-up fees in 2006, the US Education Advisory Service (USEAS) says that inquiries from British students have risen sevenfold.

America has more world-class universities than any other country, with 17 in the top 20, according to the annual table compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong university. Britain has the next highest, with Oxford and Cambridge in the top 20. "We can't ignore the introduction of fees to British institutions because, regardless of how much they are, we hear students saying that if they are going to pay, they might as well look at all the options," Anthony Nemecek, director of the USEAS, said. "We've seen a significant rise in interest and we anticipate an astronomical growth next year. Normally we have around 1,800 students attending our open day, this year it was 3,500." Overall more than 350,000 have registered on the USEAS website or called for advice. Next autumn the Fulbright commission is holding fairs in Edinburgh and London to attract British school-leavers.

Although a year at an Ivy League university costs on average more than $40,000 (20,650 pounds), compared with 6,500 pounds in Britain at the moment, Mr Nemecek said that a US degree is great value for students from poorer families. "Everyone has to fill out financial aid forms and, using a formula, universities determine what they consider a family can contribute," he said. "If that is just 200 pounds, that will often be all they pay."

In the past year 8,439 British students attended America's 4,000 universities and colleges. Overseas applications dropped by 28 per cent overall last year, but those from Britain rose by 1.5 per cent. The reasons are simple, according to tutors and students. Three quarters of American universities are private, so the market is competitive and each is under pressure to offer the best facilities and tuition. Also, students have to choose which subjects they "major" in only at the end of the second year.

Chris Conway, a university adviser at Shrewsbury school, said that there is also a perception that standards are falling in Britain. "There is a lot of concern among parents about discrimination, even if we don't see it . . . and a distinct unease about the standards at British universities," he said. Above all, several top institutions offer means-tested scholarships to students who have achieved the academic entry requirements.

Oxford University will pay 6 million pounds annually in bursaries from 2006, but Harvard will distribute $80 million in "direct need-based scholarships" this year alone. Around half of Harvard's students receive some sort of financial aid, which on average amounts to $28,000. The standard cost of attending Harvard based on tuition fees, books and living expenses is estimated to be $42,450. Families earning less than $40,000 pay nothing towards college costs. That compares with Oxford, where students whose parents earn up to 22,499 pounds a year receive 3,000 pounds in their first year and 2,600 pounds in subsequent years.


There is an excellent cartoon here that sums up the curriculum at many American universities.


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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