Thursday, December 27, 2007

Harvard's deep pockets lure bright Brits

A record number of talented British teenagers are snubbing Oxbridge and applying to Ivy League universities, lured by more substantial American bursaries. Students from families whose household income is 90,000 pounds qualify for financial assistance at Harvard. It also recently raised its threshold for free tuition and board for the poorest students.

Leading British schools say that some of their highest-achieving pupils no longer see Oxford and Cambridge as the pinnacle. Instead they are attracted by the broader curriculum and supposedly superior facilities at Ivy League universities - an elite group of eight in the northeast of the United States. It raises fears that the cream of British students will increasingly look abroad, potentially undermining the global standing of our top universities.

The number of British students applying to Harvard was 197 five years ago. By last year it had risen to 290. Applications to Yale from British teenagers have more than trebled from 74 in 1997 to 234 last year. Harvard students whose parents' income is less than 30,000 pounds have all tuition fees, accommodation, living expenses and flights home paid by the university - a package worth almost 25,000. Those with household earnings of between 30,000 and 90,000 pounds have to contribute only between 4 and 10 per cent of their income. Even families earning more than 100,000 can be entitled to assistance if they have dependants such as elderly relatives, or more than one child at university. William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, said: "We just take the best people wherever they apply from, and we fly to the UK every year to talk to schools about it."

Leading independent schools said that an increasing number of pupils had set their sights on the Ivy League. Clarissa Farr, High Mistress of St Paul's Girls' School in London, said that about 15 sixth-formers were applying to American universities this year, a big increase on previous years. She said: "They see themselves operating on a worldwide stage. Our students still see Oxbridge as very desirable, but other pinnacles are appearing beyond those mountains." For many, she said, the attraction was that students did not need to choose their specialist subject until their second year. Ms Farr added: "The American universities are very well resourced and their facilities are much bigger. There is also a huge range of scholarships and bursary programmes."

Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College in Berkshire, said that about 10 per cent of his pupils were applying to American universities this year. He said: "I think British universities have had it too easy for too long, with students queueing up to join them. It's a stimulus to British universities and good for them to have some com-petitition. US univerities offer a great deal that UK universities don't: far broader courses, much greater recognition of all-round achievement and richer extracurricular life. They have a more generous student/teacher ratio."

Vicky Tuck, Principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College, said that more than a dozen of her pupils had applied for American universities this year. "There has certainly been an increase over the past two or three years," she said. "Some of the girls see their life prospects being enhanced by going to a good US university. "American universities are so well funded through philanthropic donations, it's just astonishing. I had one pupil from Poland who was offered places at Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT had a huge bursary and she couldn't afford to go to Cambridge, so she went to America instead." Mrs Tuck said that in such a competitive markent Oxbridge could start to lose some of its best candidates. "People who want the best will go overseas if they think they're not getting it here."

Students at British universities are now an average of 30,000 pounds in debt when they graduate. But the brightest applicants can emerge debt-free from an American education because at some Ivy League universities admissions tutors have no idea whether applicants can afford their fees and are determined to attract elite students from around the world, regardless of cost. They can easily afford to do so with alumni donations creating huge endowments. Harvard's is worth $35 billion which is more than the combined annual funding for all English universities.


Israel: Knesset panels vote to extend mandatory schooling to age 18

The Knesset's Finance and Education Committees decided Monday morning at a joint meeting to exclude a clause from the Economic Arrangements Law which cancels a law calling for mandatory schooling until the 12th grade. The law was initially filed by the Education Committee's chair, MK Michael Melchior (Labor Meimad).

The Economic Arrangements Law is a hodgepodge of treasury proposals that accompanies the budget every year. It is designed to bypass the regular legislative process to implement reforms and other changes that the Finance Ministry wants to push through quickly and usually without much debate.

In recent days, Melchior held long hearings with the Finance Ministry, concluding with the ministry agreeing to implement the law in exchange for a longer time period for its implementation.

Following Monday's meeting, Melchior said, "The law is underway, with the government committed to its implementation. This is a law that will save thousands of children, including new immigrants and children from rural areas, who will not be able to be expelled from their studies."

The new law, which was passed earlier this year, requires mandatory schooling until the age of 18, instead of the current age 16, enforcing that every child in Israel would have 12 years of schooling. At the time, Education Minister Yuli Tamir opposed the law, as did the coalition, out of concern it would take away from other factors in the ministry's general budget.


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