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Evidence based policy? The evidence supports public higher education, but the Government isn’t listening

Evidence based policy? The evidence supports public higher education, but the Government isn’t listening

The Times Higher today published its World University Rankings together with an explanation that while US universities dominate, the UK punches far above its weight and £ for £ outperforms the US. The US spends 2.7 per cent of GDP, where the UK spends 1.2%, less than the 1.5% average for the OECD countries (and has one of the lowest levels of public investment at 0.6%). Yet, the Government wishes to reduce public investment, shift funding onto student fees and introduce the market in emulation of the US system which the UK currently outperforms.

Another article in the same issue by Howard Hotson develops the argument further. “If we divide the number of top universities for each country by its population”, Hotson argues, “ the US plummets to 14th place on the international league table of university systems. If we divide the number of top universities by each country’s GDP, the wealthy US still manages no better than 14th. And if we divide the number of top institutions by total spending on higher education to measure value for money, then the US – which spends more of its national wealth on higher education than any other country – drops into the bottom quarter of the table: to 16th of the 20 countries for which we have relevant data.”

By the same exercise, the UK rises to third relative to GDP (behind Hong Kong and the Netherlands). But on value for public spending, the UK offers a 50% better return on investment than its nearest rival.

In the same issue, advanced notice is provided of a Conference co-sponsored by the Times Higher – University Futures – at which John Holmwood will argue that, even if the Government doesn’t understand the value of public higher education, the wider public does. Speaking to Times Higher Education ahead of the event, he said “universities had ‘failed at the top’ because of the inability of the sector’s leaders to articulate why the withdrawal of direct public funding and market reforms in higher education presented such a danger to society as a whole.”


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