The US is larger than the UK: its population of 311 million is five times the UK population of 62 million. The UK has had more top 20 universities per head of population (one per 15.5 million) than the US (one per 23.9 million). Almost twice the proportion of the UK population has been studying at world top 20 universities (1 in 756, compared with 1 in 1383). US GDP (at $14.658 trillion) is 6.5 times larger than UK GDP (at $2.247 trillion). Americans spend a far higher proportion of their national wealth on higher education than the British. According to the OECD, the UK spends 1.3 per cent of GDP on tertiary education, precisely the EU average. The US, on the other hand, spends 3.1 per cent, far more than any other country in the world. So America not only has 6.5 times the UK’s financial resources, it also spends 2.4 times as much of those resources on tertiary education. That adds up to more than 15 times as much investment in higher education in the US than in the UK. The UK has somehow managed to maintain top-ranked universities for only about a fifth of the US price.
There are some good reasons to believe that we have cheaper and better higher education down the line from the Russell Group too. My own experience is dated, but I rated my British students better than their US equivalents, despite having better facilities and conditions of work in the US. The debate on health care is rather similar.
What’s wrong in our education system is not being addressed in our non-politics and subservience to dud economic posturing. It starts with child care. This is far too expensive in terms of the cut taken from parents. Our attitudes towards it are all wrong. It’s easy enough to see the argument that, if they have the brats, they should pay. The same argument would also presumably remove child benefit, maternity and paternity leave and so on. The whole business of private education and getting kids to the right State schools and so on, right up to cramming for the right universities, is not good for us. I cannot believe university education is appropriate, at 18, for half our population. I believe threats to keep all our children in school until 18 cruel; doubly so if they are still going to leave functionally incapable in basic language and arithmetic.
A big pitfall in any of this is our ignorance of good models we could copy or adapt, combined with our lack of appreciation that such change involves cultural change. Some are pushing the old clown line that privatisation will take care of things. They can’t even count. That 7% of children are taken out of our State sector should tell us that we are not succeeding. Add in the numbers buying houses in catchment areas and the rest, and it’s hard to believe we are doing much right. If schools were doing as well as their assessments, it’s unlikely parents would give such a damn. Looking at some of the stuff I get to mark when I do teach undergraduates also tells the tale.
There are sensible, viable options that would make a great difference.