The president of one of the UK’s leading universities, Imperial College London, has called on the government to privatize the country’s top five universities.
He suggested that these leading universities be able to charge unlimited tuition, to allow them to compete with and raise funds equivalent to those at the disposal of the leading US institutions. UK tuition is currently capped at around £3,000 per year — equivalent to approximately US$5,000 or C$5,500. That’s one-seventh the undergraduate tuition fee at leading US universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton. According to Sir Roy Anderson, head of Imperial College, London, the goal is to create a pool of universities that could compete with the US Ivy League. To give these British universities the tools to do so, Sir Roy proposes that tuition at the top 5 UK universities be allowed to “float free” of the government’s cap on tuition, effectively removing these universities from the UK’s publicly funded university system.
Though the Ivies charge very high tuition, the extra cash allows them to offer extensive financial aid to lower and middle income students.
The five universities Sir Roy singled out for privatization were Imperial College, Oxford, Cambridge, the London School of Economics and University College London. They are generally seen as the UK’s most prestigious institutions, and are highly ranked by such international surveys as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities. (There are some serious questions about the methodology of the second survey, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day).
Sir Roy told the Standard:
“How important is higher education to UK Plc? Staggeringly so. It is a multi-billion-pound industry. It is one of the few things we are world competitive in.
“If you take the top five universities, they have enormous potential to earn income for Britain. How best to do that? My own view would be to privatise them. You don’t want to be subject to the mores of government funding or changing educational structures.”
“Higher education is a product that Britain does superbly. Even if in 20 years’ time Imperial is a private institution able to compete with the Harvards and Yales, like them, I very much hope we would have the scholarship endowment to continue to take people from all walks of life.”
Sir Roy also condemned the Government for being preoccupied with dying industries such as car manufacturing.