Conservative Policy and the Universities

Ralf Dahrendorf, Director of the London School of Economics, identifies a case of over-government

Britain’s 45 universities are attractive, efficient, and cheap. In 1978, they attracted 250,000 home and 40,000 overseas students. While Continental countries, notably France and Germany, make great efforts to attract students from overseas by subsidies and quotas, such students seem to come to Britain naturally, and despite all attempts at deterring them. These universities are also efficient: less than 14 per cent of all British undergraduates drop out without a degree. In the rest of Europe, where tutorials and well-structured three-year degree courses are unknown, the figure is nearer 50 per cent, and those who finish often take five years and more to get their first degree. Finally, these universities are cheap: the unit of resource in Britain – that is, the total cost of universities divided by the number of students – is roughly half that of Continental universities; lower salaries, fewer supporting personnel, less equipment and similar factors play a part. (Incidentally, the unit of resource is the only relevant measure of the price of universities: the share of GNP, which is now sometimes quoted, tells a story about the economy, not about higher education.)

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