Letter: public excellence (2)

November 24, 2000

Claire Sanders's article on "privatisation" ("The survival of the well-endowed?, THES , November 10) provides useful insight for the growing higher education funding debate.

Data on the size of endowments and income produced at US universities ought to be a cold shower for those who think this is the source of funding for most US universities. It is not, and raising the endowment is difficult, time-consuming and slow. Harvard, the endowment leader, is, after all, older than the US.

By focusing on the amount government would need to contribute to endow universities, Sanders slides by a central issue. Private US universities derive the lion's share of their income from student fees. State universities also depend on fees, albeit to a lesser extent. Financial aid from universities, as well as loans from the national government and states, offset the cost to students. Granted, loans must eventually be repaid, a burden for students and their families. Yet repayment schemes can be stretched over longer times for those who earn less and the amount repaid similarly adjusted. Incomes of graduates are generally higher than for those without degrees, and there is a strong moral argument that the beneficiaries of tertiary education can rightly be asked to bear some of the cost.

Until the fees issue is faced squarely, the discussion is likely to lead to stalemate or unsatisfactory compromises.

Walter McCann President, Richmond, the American International University in London, a private, nonprofit university accredited in both the US and UK.

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