Having served three presidents and a series of universities, Robert Reich would be perfectly placed to advise ministers on whether to follow the US model of higher education. But he was sharing his doubts with a wider audience this week.
Professor Reich, labor secretary in Bill Clinton's administration, warned Britain of the pitfalls of introducing competition between universities in the annual Higher Education Policy Institute lecture at the Royal Institution in London on Thursday.
Professor Reich was born in Pennsylvania and raised in New York state. He studied at Dartmouth College, was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University - where he was Clinton's roommate - and then studied at Yale Law School. He served in one Republican and two Democrat administrations: as assistant to the solicitor-general under Gerald Ford; in the Federal Trade Commission under Jimmy Carter; and as a Cabinet secretary during President Clinton's first term.
A poll of experts in 1996 rated Professor Reich as the most effective member of President Clinton's Cabinet. He introduced workers' family and medical leave rights, increased the minimum wage and pushed companies to fully fund pension schemes.
He failed to win the Democratic nomination for the governorship of Massachusetts in 2002. The year before, Professor Reich warned that the Democratic Party was "dead". He asked why the party did not campaign for budget surpluses to be spent on childcare, health and education. He is nonetheless involved in this year's presidential election campaign - he is credited as author of the healthcare plan promoted by John Kerry, the Democrat candidate.
Professor Reich is a former faculty member at Harvard University's John F.
Kennedy School of Government, is professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University and a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He won the 1993 V clav Havel prize for social and economic thought.