Increasing numbers of British school leavers are opting to undertake their degrees in the United States, leading teachers have warned.

At a conference held last week to promote American higher education, Andrew Halls, headmaster of Kings College School in Wimbledon, argued that American institutions provide “a far broader education” with more “lavish” facilities.

Halls condemned British universities as having “faceless and sprawling campuses” and criticised the apparent “dumbed-down” quality of teaching, grade inflation and over-sized teaching groups. British universities are “vocational conveyor belts for job applicants”, he said. 

Halls’ remarks co-inside with recent criticism that students are being admitted to British universities with limited academic skills.

Competition for places at universities across the UK is higher than ever. With applicants rising and clearance places falling, students are increasingly looking for new places to study.  Independent schools believe themselves to be most vulnerable to admission trends. Both Oxford and Cambridge saw independent school admissions fall this year, with Cambridge experiencing a twenty seven year low. Some students described how their fears of Oxbridge rejection pushed them into their American choice.

With American universities regularly dominating the world league tables, it’s clear why students from across the world are increasingly drawn to them. The prestigious ‘ivy league’ universities in particular receive massive funding, allowing them to offer some of the best academics and facilities in the world. Emma Watson, star of the Harry Potter film series, has demonstrated this with her recent decision to study at Brown University in Rhode Island, rather than her top English choice, Cambridge.

The growing popularity of American degrees is reflected in new figures. St Paul’s, the independent boys’ school in London, ranked seventh by The Sunday Times, has witnessed a record twenty eight school leavers pursuing higher education in the US. St Paul’s girls’ school sent 14 pupils to America, twice the total two years ago. Other independent schools reporting steady growth in interest include Cheltenham ladies’ college, where 18 pupils have applied to study in the United States next year, a 50% increase on this year.

Interest from the state sector is also rising. Monkseaton School in North Tyneside has six pupils planning to attend this year, up from two last year.

US universities have confirmed the growing interest from Britain – Yale received 308 applications for entry this year, up from 257 the year before. Many students who have attended both British and American Universities have said there is “clearly no contest” with American universities being “superior in every respect.” Most appealing to students who are looking to study in America is the broad subject choice available. The structure of study also benefits those school leavers not yet ready to specialise, as students are not expected to declare their major until the third year.

However, studying in the US comes at a price, with annual tuition and accommodation fees for the top universities totalling $40,000. Fortunately generous bursaries and scholarships are available – even for students with families earning a high income – but are renowned for being difficult to obtain, especially for non US students. With tuition fees and transportation costs to and from the UK so high, it’s clear to see why interest is predominantly coming from more privileged students.  

Government cuts to university funding, combined with the prospect of increasing tuition fees, will undoubtedly continue to inspire British students to undertake their degrees elsewhere. However, optimists believe this will positively fuel competition between British and American institutions, thereby raising higher education standards on both sides of the pond.

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