Fees raise appeal of land of the free

Shocked by price rises, UK students are looking carefully at US universities. Elizabeth Gibney writes

May 31, 2012

Credit: Getty
Come on in: fees aid makes US study 'more explorable option', college head says

Students at some of the UK's most prestigious independent schools are increasingly looking to the US for undergraduate places, the president of a leading liberal-arts college for women has said.

Jane McAuliffe, head of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, US, told Times Higher Education that students and parents had said to her during a recent visit to the UK that the hike in tuition fees had been a "huge shock to the system".

During her trip, Professor McAuliffe hosted a meeting for schools including St Paul's Girls' School, the Cheltenham Ladies' College and the American School in London, plus "college counsellors" - admissions advisers for entry to US universities. She said the meeting indicated that the perceptions of parents and students were shifting.

"They spoke about how the difference between [the price of a degree in] the UK and both public and private colleges in the US is diminishing and how the prospect of doing a degree in the US is emerging as a more explorable option," she said.

Undergraduate fees at Bryn Mawr, a private college, including room and board, top $50,000 (£32,000) a year, but the majority of students - including those from overseas - are able to access financial support, she said.

In 2010-11, the college awarded $24.7 million in grant assistance, with 69 per cent of students receiving some form of financial aid.

Professor McAuliffe said that once this was taken into account, students might actually be charged "a good deal less" in the US.

She added that the admissions process was also changing with the advent of new technologies, with one of the schools at the meeting helping its students to prepare for interviews in the US using Skype.

According to the Fulbright Commission, which promotes educational exchanges between the US and the UK, traffic to its website increased 30 per cent in the wake of the decision to increase tuition fees in England to a maximum of £9,000 a year.

And attendance at its 2011 USA College Day, a university fair for American institutions held annually in Kensington Town Hall, rose by 50 per cent to 4,000 people.

Almost 9,000 UK students went to university in the US in 2010-11, making it Britons' most favoured destination for study abroad.

Worldwide, students' appetite for the "liberal arts" education offered by US universities is increasing, Professor McAuliffe said.

"Students take courses across the humanities, social sciences and sciences and then they major in a particular field. So it's breadth plus depth, and that is becoming increasingly appealing."


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