Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Why British students are heading to America for an elite education

At this time of year my Instagram feed fills up with pictures of tearful parents dropping their kids off at university. This would seem normal – if the location didn’t say USA. When my youngest headed to Yale four years ago, he was considered an adventurer. Since then, there has been a 31 per cent increase in British students applying to US colleges: 11,600 British students are now there, according to the Fulbright Commission, which fosters educational exchange between the UK and US.

Up to half of students at Westminster and St Paul’s apply – 41 students from the latter received offers this year. That number is growing thanks to the 600 American universities that offer generous financial scholarships to international students, covering not only the fees, room and board in full but also flights home, laptops and even phone bills. This would be worth in excess of £220,000 per student, says Rowena Boddington, director of advising and marketing at the Fulbright Commission. Its USA College Day – where 150 American universities, including Ivy League institutions, are represented – is held in London on Sept 29 and 30.

Last year queues formed around the corner.  My son’s interest in America was the result of spending summers there – not to mention reading The Great Gatsby. He didn’t want to limit himself to one subject, as the English system stipulates; he wanted to try something new. He is due to graduate next summer with a creative writing major.  “I see our children as the new colonials,” says journalist Deirdre Fernand, whose son Ben won a Hesburgh-Yusko scholarship worth several hundreds of thousands of pounds to Notre Dame, a second-tier college in Indiana with a top ranked football team and hefty endowment. “We used to put them on boats. Now we put them on planes and wave goodbye.”

Having spent a few years in the US herself as the daughter of an academic, Fernand knew that American universities were generous. “Notre Dame has $10 billion to spend. That’s more than some of the Ivys,” she says. Ben is due to graduate next summer with a degree in finance and Spanish.  American universities are gaining ground rapidly among British students for two reasons. The first is financial: though Ivy League fees are eye-watering – Harvard costs $63,000 (£46,000) per year including room and board – they travel the world looking for talented students (whom they lure with lucrative offers).

The Sutton Trust US programme founded by Sir Peter Lampl has, over the past five years, sent more than 270 bright, British state school students on full financial scholarships to institutions including Yale, Harvard, MIT and Princeton. The other reason is level playing fields. Sir Lampl’s decision to promote US university education is based partly on what he believes is an unfair system at Oxbridge (40-45 per cent of the student intake still comes from private schools despite the fact that 93 per cent of British students attend state schools).

However, ironically the most privileged pupils in the country are drawn to the American system for exactly the reverse reason. With growing talk of positive discrimination against privately educated pupils hoping to secure a place at the top UK institutions many from the most elite establishments are thinking about applying to a top university across the Atlantic, assuming, rightly or wrongly that it will be give them better odds than a place at Oxbridge. So, for both disadvantaged students and privately educated ones, then, an American degree is becoming an increasingly attractive prospect. The less rigid structure of US undergraduate courses also appeals. “I like the flexibility of the four-year American programme,” Lampl says.

“In Britain, [students] often end up getting degrees they don’t want because they can’t change”. The American degree system is a bit like a supermarket: after sampling some of the goods, you go to the till with your final selection. It’s this ability to try things (at no great risk) that allows students to either discover their true calling or change their minds.  Allie Hexley, 22, a British student from Birmingham, studied at MIT with a double major in brain and cognitive sciences and physics, and is now beginning graduate studies in neuroscience at Harvard as part of the Sutton Trust US programme.

“It may seem like you know what you want to study, and ultimately do with your life when you are 18 and have been forced to pick subjects to pursue at A-level, but in reality no 18-year-old knows. Having the opportunity to change your major as you go and try things you never would have otherwise tried is incredible,” she says.

American college education is also full-on. “My daughter has been astonished not just at the quality but also at the quantity of teaching at USC [University of Southern California],” says Neil Mendoza, chairman of the Landmark Trust, whose half-American children both study in the US. “She has 14-15 hours of class a week as well as after-hours help.”

Recent research suggests that in the UK, economics students can receive as little as 26 hours’ one-to-one tuition over a three-year course – not a problem across the pond. “If they don’t show up for class, they get an email. In the UK students are left to their own devices,” Fernand says.

Phil Mooney, a 25-year-old banker from Belfast, turned down a place to study German at Oxford to go to Princeton. He wanted to “replicate the adventure” of his gap year, and Princeton also offered diversity: while majoring in German and politics, he also took classes in statistics, Middle Eastern history, and still-life painting. “American college gives you a much broader view of the world,” he says.

Another draw is the tight-knit college community. “Princeton has an extremely strong network,” says Mooney. “My life would have been much easier if I stayed at home: you can keep close to family and close to friends, and you are less likely to lose love over long distance.

But you never explore, never push your own limits, and you’re emptier if you stay.” There is a risk all parents take when their children choose to study abroad, however – they may not return. “It’s the first thing mothers ask,” says Fernand. “‘Are you worried he’ll settle in America?’ Not at all. Why would I be that selfish?”  I worry too, but having seen so many of my husband’s Oxbridge friends transferred to New York, Singapore and Hong Kong for jobs, I think this new “cognitive elite” of globally educated students will ultimately have the upper hand.


Comey convocation address derailed by angry protesters at Howard University

A singularly dumb protest

Noisy protesters shouted and chanted over James Comey on Friday as he attempted to deliver a convocation address at Howard University, forcing him to delay his remarks and then practically drowning out the rest of his speech.

The protest started as soon as the former FBI director took the podium at the historically black college in Washington, D.C.

Protesters raised their right fists in the air and chanted, “We shall not be moved.” They also said, “F--- James Comey” and “No justice, no peace.”

Comey was unable to speak at first due to the disruption. After several minutes, Comey tried to begin. “I hope you’ll stay and listen to what I have to say. ... I listened to you for five minutes,” he said, before pausing again.

After several more minutes of protests, Comey launched into his prepared speech – which, ironically, was about how the rest of the world is often “too noisy” to take time to reflect, whereas Howard University represents an “island.”

Comey had to raise his voice throughout the address as the chanting persisted. The protesters later said they were with the group HU Resist and were protesting “state-sanctioned violence.”

In his remarks, Comey said he appreciated the demonstrators’ “enthusiasm” but wishes they could understand “what a conversation is.”

“At the end of a conversation, we’re both smarter. I am here at Howard to try to get smarter, to try to be useful,” Comey said.

The rowdy scene marked a rough start for Comey at Howard, where he’s joined the faculty as a lecturer.

Comey, who was fired by President Trump earlier this year amid tensions over the Russia probe, has also been in the headlines lately – as Hillary Clinton criticizes him in her newly released campaign memoir, and Republicans on Capitol Hill look to drag him back to Capitol Hill amid concerns over possible discrepancies in his testimony concerning the Clinton email case.

The speech Friday, though, touched on none of the 2016 campaign controversies or the Russia probe he used to oversee.

Instead, he was trying to deliver a message about listening to one another – as he was drowned out by protesters. The irony was not lost on him.

“The rest of the real world is a place where it’s hard sometimes to find people who will listen with an attitude that they might actually be convinced of something. Instead what happens in most of the real world, and… in this auditorium, is that people don’t listen at all,” he said.

He closed his speech by saying: “I look forward to adult conversation about what is right and what is true.”


Anti-School Choice Activist (and Hypocrite) Matt Damon Sends His Kids to Private School

I won't lie, I'm a Matt Damon fan. For the most part, I have really enjoyed his body of work as an actor, particularly the Jason Bourne movies. However, throughout his career, I've also known that he was a rabid leftist, so I kept that in mind while watching his work.

It wasn't until recently that I learned he was also a grade "A" hypocrite.

You see, Damon is the son of a public school teacher and a major proponent of public schools. However, as RedState notes, he's not sending his kids to public school.

According to the  Boston Globe, Damon attended a screening of his film “Backpacks Full of Cash” at Wheelock College in Boston to “a capacity crowd of teachers, activists, and students.” The film was created by documentarian Sarah Mondale, who wanted to bring attention to the funding cuts to public schools, and that a public school system should be created that caters to all students.

According to the Daily Caller, the documentary is a perfect film for anti-school choice confirmation bias, as it bashes charter schools, denounces voucher programs, and basically makes any new ideas just look bad. Meanwhile, the film insists that even more taxpayer dollars need to be thrown at public schools.

Here’s the kicker.

Damon’s preaching for public education from a golden pulpit that allows him to send his own children to a private school.

Damon's argument is that he can't find the kind of progressive education he had growing up for his own children, and thus has no choice but to send his own kids to private school

Isn't that just fascinating?

Throughout this country, there are people who are less than thrilled with the school they find their children assigned to due to where they live. Maybe they live in a great neighborhood for their modest income level but the school they're zoned for is notorious for drugs and violence. Maybe it's just a bad school. Whatever.

Damon would have that hardworking family that only wants what's best for their kids to be forced to attend the bad school with no say in the matter, all while sending his kids to private school because he can't find quite the same "progressive" education he had as a kid. In other words, because he's rich, it's cool for him to be picky about his children's education, but not for the rest of us. No, we have to make due with the hand we're dealt -- right, Matt?

Yeah, I mean, I get it. Who cares if my son or my daughter becomes strung out on drugs or can't get into a decent college because of the poor education they receive at their schools. What really matters to Matt Damon is that he be permitted to send his kids to a "progressive" school.

To be fair, I don't fault Matt for putting his own children before mine. What I do fault him for is his efforts to keep me from putting my kids first.


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