Our Ivy League should go it alone

In the aftermath of WWI our universities lost their independence. By 1919 inflation had destroyed their investments, many of which had used fixed interest vehicles, and four years of derisory undergraduate income had left them effectively broke. To avoid bankruptcy, the British universities were forced to apply for Government assistance. At first this came in the form of grants administered by the University Grants Committee, but later mutated into effective nationalisation. Across most of my life there have been sporadic calls for our leading universities to have a greater degree of independence. This is usually loudest after a divisive government such as NU Labour with it’s mania for social engineering and general interference. A recent systematic study of universities globally by the OECD showed that the more autonomous they were, the better they were, and so there are clear gains to the dozen leading universities in removing the dead hand of the likes of Gordon Brown. However, restoring the endowments of these universities is a tricky proposition since the British tradition of private charity was broken by the stultifying taxation of Labour governments after WWII. It can only be done gradually by allowing them to raise their fees to those who can afford them and by encouraging them into fund-raising to help those students who need support. However, the UK universities should not aspire to survive on fee income alone, because no student in America, not even at the Ivy League, pays anything like the full costs of his or her education. Instead the Ivy League, like mainstream universities everywhere, subsidises its undergraduates from its huge endowments.

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