Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Rash Arguments for an Ivy League Future

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Rash Arguments for an Ivy League Future

Article excerpt

Terence Kealey's argument that because of the prestige of the US Ivy League institutions, our most selective universities should emulate them by forswearing direct state funding for teaching is wrong, muddled and dangerous ("Declaration of independence", 11 October).

The Ivy League institutions represent a unique phenomenon borne of particular historical and economic circumstances that cannot easily be replicated elsewhere, and their success cannot disguise the declining quality of the US system overall. Part of the reason for this decline has been the way in which prices (tuition) have rocketed above what many families can afford. The root cause of this is the level of tuition charged by the Ivy League, which acts as a "price umbrella" for the rest of the system. This is what would have happened here if ministers had acceded to Russell Group pressure to abolish the fee cap (even in those circumstances, the mission group's students, like most of their Ivy League counterparts, would have continued to benefit from state-subsidised aid in various forms).

This points to the second problem with Kealey's reasoning. In comparing provision across national boundaries, the key level of analysis is not the individual university but the system as a whole. The work of Howard Hotson, professor of early modern intellectual history at the University of Oxford, and others clearly shows that it is the public and heavily subsidised higher education systems - Scandinavia's, the Netherlands', Switzerland's and (historically) the UK's - that offer the best quality and value for money. …

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