Last week The Times reported that the America's Ivy League group of elite universities has begun to actively target Britain's top students. I'm pleased to hear it – the competition will do Britain's complacent universities some good.
It's not hard to imagine the UK's brightest school-leavers being tempted across the atlantic. For starters, being private (rather than state-financed) institutions, the Ivy League schools have built up enormous endowment funds to help people pay for their studies. At Yale, for instance, " students with a family income of less than £34,000 a year do not have to pay for anything. Even those whose parents earn a joint salary of up to £70,000 are eligible for some support." Better funding also means better facilities, smaller classes, and so on.
But I think the main reason British students would want to go to the US is that universities there actually teach their students. Because they rely on their students (not the government) for funding, American universities are much more attentive to their needs and requirements. Of course, there are some excellent universities and top-notch academics in the UK too – but all too often what Adam Smith said over 200 years ago still stands:
"[T]he great part of the public professors have, for these many years, given up altogether even the pretence of teaching."
"The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters."
The solution? More independence from the state, and more private funding. You can read Terence Kealey's briefing on 'Transforming Higher Education" here.