US is hot on funds, cool on PC

September 8, 2000

The peculiar spectacle that is the American presidential campaign typically begins in earnest in September, and this time education is taking centre stage.

Picking up on public opinion polls that place education at the top of the list of Americans' anxieties, both political parties have promised major reforms - even though education is an area over which the federal government has little direct control.

One of the few roles the national government does play is in funding university tuition. Both parties have pledged to help relieve the ever-increasing cost to families and students.

Vice-president Al Gore and the Democrats favour a tax deduction for up to $10,000 (Pounds 6,900) a year of university tuition and fees, reducing an eligible family's tax bill by up to $2,800.

"I will fight for a targeted, affordable tax cut to help working families save and pay for college," Mr Gore said. "It's the key to our future."

The Republican Party's candidate, Governor George W. Bush of Texas, wants to increase benefits to students taking courses in maths, science and technology. He is also calling for a study to see whether government regulation and red tape contribute to growing university costs.

Governor Bush did not mention university tuition in his speech accepting his party's nomination. But the Republicans' platform speaks at great length about other higher education issues.

The Republicans take credit for keeping interest rates low on government-backed student loans, for instance. They attack so-called political correctness, standing "in solidarity with the dedicated faculty who are penalised for their conservatism".

They oppose forcing students to pay fees if any of the money goes to causes such as campus abortion-rights groups.

Vice-president Gore's running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman, has pushed for visa programmes making it easier for foreign scholars to teach and conduct research in the United States.

He has also backed greater funding for civilian research at US universities.

Many of Mr Lieberman's other stands on higher education are considerably more conservative than Mr Gore's. He has called university programmes to give preference to minorities in admissions "patently unfair".

He and the wife of the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Richard Cheney, co-founded the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which also opposes political correctness and promotes the teaching of traditional Western texts and scholars.

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