Alan Ryan spent several years teaching at Princeton and has a research appointment at Stanford, but he betrays a lack of understanding of US higher education when he writes: "The cheapness of tuition at US public institutions is explained by bad staff-to-student ratios, mediocre salaries and an awful lot of casual help" (Opinion, THES, November 15).
There are two kinds of US public universities - those that are state-funded and get at least 90 per cent of their budgets from state funds, and those that are state-supported and get at least 40 per cent of their income from private sources. There are about ten of the latter, including Michigan-Ann Arbor and Illinois-Urbana. At these places, the staff-to-student ratio is high, the faculty is well paid - at least twice what holders of chairs in UK universities are paid when summer research funds are counted, and "casual help" consists mostly of well-trained doctoral students.
For about $5,000 (£3,000) a year in tuition and other fees, students get an education that is as good as one at Harvard or Oxford. No British university will ever match the quality bargain of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Illinois-Urbana, Texas-Austin or California-Berkeley because of the lack of tradition of private giving in the UK.
The middle classes benefit most from these institutions. Rich families do not need them, and the children of poor families normally have attended such bad secondary schools that those without athletic scholarships must go to the lower quality state-funded colleges.
Norman F. Cantor
Hollywood, Florida, US