Sooner or later, the Olympics patriotism will kick in for curmudgeonly Britain

Gold! Medals! Wenlock! Mandeville! Rings! Official sponsors! Unofficial sponsors! Running! Jumping! Throwing things!

Sometime over the coming week, the tide will turn. There won't be a bat signal to let us know when to abandon our anti-Games curmudgeonry and adopt a red, white and blue blindfold, but it will happen.

It's not our fault that we're programmed to tug forelocks when required, but here it is: as soon as The Queen is activated, we will jettison all the complaints about G4S, crumbling transport networks, exclusive VIP lanes and brand bullying, and settle down like good little subjects to proclaim the glory of the Olympic Games.

Sure, right now we may be doing our best to predict Apocalympics - a running, jumping and throwing epic fail that will see our once-proud nation reduced to an international embarrassment. But to imagine that our collective Great British Grumpiness will last until beyond the opening ceremony is to underestimate our sense of subservience, and as Ronnie Corbett's working-class character in the Frost Report sketches put it, "I know my place."

The athletes will get stuck on cablecars taking them from one awful piece of rubble on the south of the Thames to one equally awful piece of rubble on the north of the Thames. And we'll look the other way. The tourists will be ripped off left, right and centre by staggeringly horrific prices and mountains of roadside tack. We'll laugh because it's not happening to us. The spectators will be brutalised by a series of bewildering security checks. And we'll stand in queues and love it, because it's "what we do best".

Oh, Britain, Britain. England. London. Britain. Whatever. I wish I could say that you'll maintain that fabled "sense of humour" as the madness grips the nation, and all critical media outlets put their very best Rule Britannia goggles on - coincidentally, at exactly the same moment as the deluge of FREE STUFF begins to arrive in newsrooms from sponsors. ("These games are a shambl... wait, a free Wenlock and Mandeville bath mitt!") But we won't.

I know how it'll be. Some of us, perhaps looking forward to the sport but dreading the commercialism, or looking forward to the commercialism but dreading the sport, will start to get that funny inkling that happens from time to time - that post-Diana moment when you looked around and started thinking "Has everyone gone entirely bananas, or is it just me who feels like that bloke from Day of the Triffids?"

Too late. This time next week, the patriotism begins in earnest. If you thought the Jubilee was faintly nauseating, that will be a trifle compared to what's about to come. Gold! Medals! Wenlock! Mandeville! Rings! Official sponsors! Unofficial sponsors! Sponsors! Running! Jumping! Throwing things! Jessica Ennis on every page of every newspaper, forever!

I'll resist it for as long as possible, but of course I'm no better than anyone else. I'm bound to succumb sooner rather than later - probably around Thursday afternoon, when I head off to the Olympic football at Cardiff. Bring on arriving two hours early and seeing nothing of any great import; bring on the wall-to-wall TV sports day. There's no beating it, so I'm joining it. Sorry.

 

By about Thursday, you'll all be this happy. Trust us. Photograph: Getty Images

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

Paul Marotta
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England is now a more expensive place to study than the US. Why?

Is a university education in this country really worth £44,000, and how does our system compare to higher education funding elsewhere?

England has long sneered at American universities and their exorbitant fees. It cannot do so any longer: England is now a more expensive country to study than the US, and is easily the most expensive of eight Anglophone countries – the four UK nations, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US – analysed in a new Sutton Trust report. English students graduating from last year left university with an average of £44,000 in debt £15,000 more than Americans studying at for-profit universities across the pond.

Why do English students have it so much worse than other students in the UK? There are two answers. The first is the government's decision in 2010 to shift much of the cost of university from the general taxpayer to the beneficiaries: the students themselves. The second answer is devolution. The devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have made political choices to differentiate themselves from Westminster by prioritising keeping fees down – even when, as in Scotland, the effect is to benefit middle-class students at the expense of disadvantaged ones. Students in Wales who study in England are eligible for generous grants, meaning they pay less than £4,000 a year rather than up to £9,000. Those studying in Northern Ireland have their fees capped at £3,925. 

Even England's £9,000 fees are puny set against those at elite American universities. In 2016/17 annual, tuition fees at Harvard are $59,550 and, when all else is accounted for, Harvard reckon each year costs students $88,600. But such exorbitant numbers are not the real story. About 60% of Harvard students receive the Harvard Scholarship: a microcosm of how US students benefit from a culture of graduates giving endowents to their old universities that is still lacking in England. Scholarships and bursaries at universities in the US are far more generous than in other countries. And those who go to public universities within their own state pay far less: those graduating after four years leave with an average debt of only US$27,100 [£19,100]. This is why the average debt of US graduates is now considerably less than in England. But those who berate that even America now has a more benign system for students than England should not be so hasty. The majority of US loans are not income contingent, meaning that low earners who are already struggling still have to pay.

Governments throughout the world are grappling with how to fund send an increasing proportion of students to university in an era of austerity. In the last two decades at least 14 countries in the OECD, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, have implemented major reforms to fees, according to the Sutton Trust. In general these reforms have led to students paying a greater share of the cost of their tuition. 

So in a sense what has happened in England is merely an extreme example of an international trend. And the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, which have been hiked up twice since, has been managed better than most acknowledge: indeed, the proportion of disadvantaged students at university has actually risen by one-fifth since tuition fees rose to £9,000.

But, with the poorest students in England now graduating with £50,000 in debt, more students will be driven to ask whether a university education is really worth it. For a small but significant minority, it isn’t. A recent IFS report found that male graduates from 23 low performing institutions – though it sadly declined to name them - earn less, on average, than those who do not go to university, and end up with huge debt to boot.

No matter how expensive a university education has become, not having one is even more expensive. Throughout the world demand for university education continues to soar; in England the average graduate premium is £200,000 over a lifetime. Yet too many dunce universities are saddling students with debt without giving them anything in return.    

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.