Let's throw away Greenaway

July 14, 2000

David Greenaway et al have too rosy a view of "socially inclusive" Harvard charging high fees to the rich with big scholarship discounts for the needy. Elite American universities recruit fewer working-class students than their British counterparts.

Various American studies have suggested that high maximum fees deter low-income students despite "financial-aid" offers. The US system of flexible pricing has also produced an expensive bidding war in which colleges offer special deals to hot talent, not based strictly on financial need. Even Harvard now does this.

In the long run, too, American experience shows that when universities can charge and keep their own fees, they have financial incentives to restrict their intake of low-income, low-paying students.

If and when British universities can charge their own variable fees, they should be required to return to students a minimum percentage of that fee income in need-based grants or scholarships. The University of California operates a version of this scheme.

Rupert Wilkinson University of Sussex

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