Letter: public excellence (1)

November 24, 2000

Andrew Oswald is not correct in asserting that "the best universities in the world are... private ones in the United States" (Letters, THES , November 17).

A look at a widely used set of US university rankings ( www.usnews.com ) shows that private universities do not have a monopoly on excellence.

Ranking is done using a number of criteria - academic reputation, student retention, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance and alumni giving rate. Of the top-tier 51 institutions, 17 (a third) are public.

Furthermore, the public universities, more so than the private ones, do more to promote access by enrolling students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Within the top tier, two of the three with 10 per cent or more African-Americans are public; seven of the 12 with 10 per cent or more Hispanic Americans are public.

Some public universities are more than equal to private ones. According to graduate school rankings, the University of California, Berkeley, is one of the top two nationally in English, history, mathematics, political science, psychology and sociology, dropping to third place for physics and fourth for economics. Not bad for a public institution.

Kate Flynn (Undergraduate class of 1987, University of California, Berkeley) Lecturer in politics University of the West of England

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