The voice of young liberal democrats

British Universities: More Expensive than the U.S. by georgeinwashington
April 8, 2007, 7:30 pm
Filed under: Education

In Britain there seems to be a certain arrogance towards our public services. We seem to believe that no matter how far we go in introducing private public partnerships or top up fees, at least our system is more equitable than in the U.S. A myth is propagated that our system manages to balance a perfect mix between equity of social Europe and the efficiency of free market America.

It was with this attitude that the government brought in top up fees for universities. We were told that in order for British universities to compete internationally we needed to follow the American model and for students to start paying for their university education. However to mitigate the social cost of tuition fees there would be a cap on the amount universities could charge and bursuries to support students from low income families. Labour, blinded by this fake compromise, then went on to make university education far more expencive than in the US.

How is this possible you may ask? when in Britain universities can only charge £3,000 and yet fees in the US can be as much as $40,000 and above. Indeed my own university, The John’s Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies charges $28,000 a year for tuition. However the vast majority of students in the US do not go to Harvard or Yale but to Arizona State or Ohio State. These state universities are heavily subsidised by the state legislature for students who are resident in that state. In 2006 the annual cost of the of a state university education in the US as given in by the College Board was put at $5,836. This compares to $5,795 that £3,000 top up fees translate to in current prices. However in the US 62% of students recieve some sort of grant in order to help with them with fees and for those students the average cost of a four degree at a state university is $2,700.

All this means that UK students will now graduate carrying a far higher burden of debt than their US counterparts. Average student debt in the US is now at $19,000 whereas the DfES estimates that with the introduction of top up fees, average graduate debt in the UK will rise to £15,000 ($28,972) just under 10,000 dollars higher.

The great irony of all this is that UK students are unlikely to see much benefit from their expencive education. Despite it still being early days for top up fees, US universities still dominate international league tables and will continue to do so. This is because the universities that excel in the US and that are considered the best in the world, do not suceed through their higher fees but through the vast amount of private donations that they can command. Harvard and Princeston for example, manage to attract around half a billion dollars worth of private donations a year. This means that these universities are able to help their students far more, at Harvard for example 70% of undergraduates are eligible for some sort of grant from the University. Furthermore there are many more opportunities for scholarships from external sources. All this means that despite the tens of thousands of dollars in tuition that these universities charge, graduates leave private universities in the US with an average debt burden of $24,200. Still much lower than in the UK.

In the end British students have had an incredibly raw deal. Far from the UK occupying some kind of ballance between the quality of the US and the equality of Europe. The government has managed make a university education more expencive and more inequitable than in the US.