This is a guest blog post by our long-time reader and commentator Pat Patterson, who has studied Classics and Ancient History at the University of Southern California has been and currently is a teacher in the Orange and Los Angeles counties for the last 16 years:
Judging by the recent article in Businessweek by Jennifer Fishbein titled, Europe Falls Short In Higher Education, one could assume that Europe's leaders are desperately casting about for ways to emulate the international recognition for superstar status accorded to US and UK universities. The basis for this view rests primarily on the recently released results of the Shanghai Jiaotong University Academic Ranking of World Universities. Of the top twenty universities in the world only Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and Tokyo University in Japan were represented and all the rest were in the US. This should hardly be surprising as the independence, competitiveness and deep pockets far eclipses most other universities. But it should be noted that the methodology used is heavily weighted by counting up the citations, written in English, in three areas, Science, Social Science and Arts & Humanities. The reliance on English citations would certainly predispose that universities that were part of the Anglosphere would have a big advantage.
Alas my beloved USC staggered in at 50th but as of Sunday night we are still 1st in football.
However this ranking is a very slender branch to sit on to claim that, "...Lack of financing is a key weakness." And to continue that the EU spends 1/5 as much per pupil as the US does and also to call for an increase of 1% as a way to close the claimed gap between what the US spends and what the EU spends. The article mentions the figure of 1.3% for the EU and 3.3% for the US but these figures completely contradicts the Digest of Education Statistics (pdf) which show that the gap between the major European nations ranges from the low of 4.4% in Germany to 5.4% in the UK and France with 5.8% (which is the same percentage as the US).
So obviously the percentage can't be the problem but the size of the respective economies is where the US has a huge advantage. The US can spend almost 16% to 20% more per pupil even when taking into account the relative size of the populations. The article goes on to claim that the European nations recognize this problem and are now beginning to try different solutions. Increases in funding tied to performance and autonomy are argued as the best solutions.