America's unsustainable universities

When 15 per cent of graduates default in three years, there's problems with a system.

One of the oft-repeated claims made in favour of the Government's three-fold increase in the cost of university attendence is the fact that Britain's universities are being out-competed by better-funded American ones.

The broad strokes are true, and hard to argue with. While it remains impressive that Britain has three of the THE's top 10 world universities, and 32 of the world's top 200, the domination of the top-tier by the US is clear. The country produces more Nobel prizewinners, pays its staff more, (even when counting just public universities), and invests more in research and facilities.

But where does all that money come from? Fees from the students. And where do they get the money to pay the fees? Massive student loans. And what happens when costs increase but wages don't? People start to default. A lot.

The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews:

The big takeaways from the Senate HELP committee’s report on the for-profit college sectors were that the institutions (a) are expensive, (b) produce a whole lot of dropouts, and (c) are mostly financed by the federal government. If that weren’t bad enough, they only spend about 17 percent of their funds on actual instruction, and a whole lot more on marketing — including lobbying the feds to pay their bills. A new release (pdf) from Moody’s builds on these findings, and concludes that the situation is not only bad but getting worse. Students at for-profit colleges are defaulting on their loans sooner and sooner after entering:

It may be that Britain still needs to change to compete with the US. But mimicking a system in which 15 per cent of graduates are defaulting on their lowns just three years after entering repayment doesn't seem like the best plan.

Harvard University. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Telegraph fires environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean

Some have suggested the move is due to the newspapers' scepticism about man-made climate change. 

Geoffrey Lean, the respected enviromental commentator and reporter, has been "pushed out" of the Telegraph, according to the writer. Lean, who pioneered the role of environmental correspondent almost forty years, joined the Telegraph in 2009 after 16 years at the Independent. "Telegraph is pushing me out," Lean tweeted a few days ago. The Telegraph's International Business Editor, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, tweeted "Departure of climate veteran @GeoffreyLean v sad for Telegraph colleagues. Conservative newspaper has lost a tireless voice for conservation". 

The loss of the respected Lean, some believe, is due to his longstanding support for the idea that climate change is manmade. 

I'm a mole, innit.