Contemporary British Culture

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  • Topic: Euro, Currency, Roman Britain
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  • Published : February 13, 2000
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4. What differences are there between American and British higher education and how may these be explained?

Before coming to study abroad here in Manchester, I didn't realise how different the two higher education systems were. My parents used to always tell me how it was when they grew up and went to school in India, but the connection between India and England never clicked till I actually got here. The obvious difference that comes to mind is the way the two systems are funded. Another is the way a student picks his course of study. Now these two differences are ones anyone can learn about from books, but there is one huge difference that one can only experience by coming here. That is the social aspect and how diverse the university here really is compared to most in the United States. Let us explore these differences and the causes for them in more detail.

When picking a university to attend in the United States, tuition and room and board costs play a vital role. In most cases, the cost is what makes the final decision because out of state or private schools cost almost double to attend than instate or public schools. This decision making process would never take place here because cost is not a deciding factor. The difference lies in the way the two systems are funded.

In the states, government funding plays a very small role. Every student is allowed to fill out a free financial aid form where one must enclose family income, assets, number of children, cost of attending chosen school among other things that the government looks upon and determines how much money will be awarded. Basically, it's award is only need-based. The rest of the money owed can either be paid off or borrowed from the school or banks in the form of interest-cumulating loans. Now in Britain, the government provides all of tuition costs and gives out grants and loans for living expenses. Students used to just need enough money for personal expenses, but the government doesn't provide living expenses anymore so money needs to be secured for that as well by students(Ainley). The grants and loans offered here are usually interest free as well. Some of my friends tell me that their loans don't need to be paid back until they graduate and have a secure job. What are some possible reasons for this difference?

In the U. S. , the average family makes more money than they do in Britain(Furnham). Families earn more money to pay for children's education, and a student's starting salary in most fields is higher in the states to compensate for paying back what he/she owes his/her university. Another very big reason for the difference is in history. The United States is a democracy which is based on free enterprise. Everything is a business, including higher education. It's a business that's competing to capture the brightest students or the biggest sports stars. And everything has a price attached to it. Britain has a much longer history, and tradition has told the government to provide education free of cost to its students(Coxall). Tradition is very hard to change, and even if change is inevitable, it will be hard to attain.

Another key difference in the two higher education systems is the structure. In the states, a student just needs to have an idea of what he wants to do and figures out exactly what it is at university. On the contrary, a student here must know by the time they enter university, often before, what it is exactly they want to do(Ainley). In the states, people change their majors and even their whole course of study often while here it is much harder to do and not so common practice. The only reason for this is in the history. The much richer history Britain follows has told it to make it this way and to preserve it. While in the states, even though it was harder before to change courses, it has developed to how it works now for tradition is not as hard to change.

So far the...
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