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January 18, 2004
Michael Jennings on the decline of Britain's universities and the continuing excellence of America's

A comment from Michael Jennings on this which I reproduce (and see also this posting here where similar points to Michael's are made) here, in full:

I did a (scientific) Ph.D. at Cambridge. I know lots of really bright Germans who have come to Britain to do PhDs (because German graduate education is a shambles and British isn't, at least for the moment), have got British PhDs, and have then gone to American universities for research careers, never to be seen again. It is partly the salaries, but it isn't the salaries as much as that America is where the good people to work with are, and British academics spend a huge portion of the time coping with the bureaucracies imposed upon them either directly or indirectly by the British government, at the same time as they have swallowed lots of appalling management speak in how they administer themselves. Allowing Oxford and Cambridge, whose colleges are traditionally endowment based organisations similar to US private universities, to essentially be nationalised is a great catastrophe. This is a process that has been going on for decades, but the urge of this labour government to control and manage them (by, for instance, reducing their independence to control who they admit) is just appalling.

On the other hand, the academics are generally fairly squishy leftists who have generally accepted and indeed encouraged government controls and voted for Tony Blair. They complain about the bureaucracy and the low pay without yet really putting it together in their heads what caused it.

And the great thing about the US university system is the diversity of the institutions. You have private universities, state universities, federal research institutions, the odd city university, Jesuit universities, and various other things. This constitutes something like competition. And if you are American and poor but bright, the cheapest option to you is probably to go to the best state university in your home state. This probably doesn't have the cachet or going to Harvard but the quality of the education will not be much worse (and if you are good enough, you can then go to Harvard as a grad student anyway). And if you are lucky enough to live in California or Michigan or somewhere else with a really good state university, it really isn't much worse than going to Harvard.

Michael Jennnings

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:12 PM
Category: Higher education
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