Top-up fees force Britons to study at US universities

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The Independent Online

One of America's top universities has reported an unprecedented rise in the number of UK students applying for places, prompting fears that young people are becoming increasingly disenchanted with British universities.

Princeton reported a 65 per cent rise in applications over the past year. The dean of admissions said numbers were expected to grow further as Britain's top-up fees meant that students could obtain better financial support from a US university than from one in the UK.

Ivy League institutions are increasingly targeting British schools as they look to boost their international intake. Around 8,400 British students are studying at US universities, two- thirds as undergraduates.

Janet Rapelye, dean of admissions at Princeton, told a conference at the £24,000-a-year Wellington College in Berkshire that 100 British youngsters applied to Princeton this year, compared to 61 last year.

Ms Rapelye said the benefits of US universities were "overwhelming" with better teaching, facilities, accommodation and extra-curricular activities. In addition, the financial support available from the top US institutions such as Princeton, Yale and Harvard were second to none, she said.

Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington, who organised the conference on UK students studying at US universities, said: "British schools are beginning to lose faith in UK universities. Unfamiliarity is no excuse for dismissing the option of a US university education. I encourage all my pupils to consider US universities alongside UK ones. It does take determination and courage to break away from the crowd but British students are as able as those from any other nation."

There has been a marked increase in interest in US universities among students at private schools as the cost of a UK degree has risen because of the Government's decision to allow universities to charge tuition fees of up to £3,000 a year.

But Ivy League institutions such as Harvard have begun drives to spread this interest to British state schools, arguing that pupils from modest backgrounds may find US higher education more affordable than the UK alternative. Recruiters from Harvard are to visit state schools to ensure students are aware of its policy of waiving fees for parents with incomes of less than $60,000 (£32,000). Last year, 275 students from the UK applied to Harvard with 34 being offered places.

Meanwhile, high-profile cases such as those of Laura Spence and Euan Blair have also shown to British youngsters that they could choose to study in the US. Ms Spence caused a political row in 2000 when, as a high-flying state school pupil, she failed to win a place at Oxford University. Gordon Brown sparked a furore when he accused Oxford of elitism, saying it was an "absolute scandal" and that he believed Ms Spence had been discriminated against by an "an old establishment interview system". Ms Spence then went to Harvard to study biochemistry after becoming one of 10 British students to be offered a £65,000 scholarship.

Euan Blair is studying a two-year masters degree in international relations at Yale. Following what was described as "an Ivy League bidding war" between Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the Prime Minister's eldest son was offered a scholarship worth £50,000 to fund his course despite having an unexceptional academic record.