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Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
UK students consider US colleges
laura spence
Laura Spence: Won Harvard scholarship
Head teachers are warning Britain could be facing a teenage "brain drain".

They say pupils are shunning England's universities in favour of trying for scholarships in the United States.

In doing so the pupils are following the high-profile example of Laura Spence - the state school pupil rejected by Oxford who then went to Harvard on a scholarship last year.

The commission which advises people on applying to the US reports a huge increase in inquiries - but says talk of a "brain drain" is an exaggeration.

Opting for Harvard

Andre Staviscak, 18, a pupil at private Dulwich College, has turned down a place at Cambridge in order to study at Harvard.

"I have been given the maximum scholarship and will only have to borrow $3,000, which I will be expected to pay back by working on campus," he said.

"They are certainly prepared to help you. They have a lot of money to give away."

His friend Nimi Ocholi, also 18, was rejected by Cambridge but plans to take a degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He said: "I think they have a lot of ex-students donating cash.

"They don't just give it to you. You have to prove you can't afford it.

"But if I had been able to get the same sort of financial help in the UK I would be staying here. As it was I didn't hesitate to leave."

State pupils 'welcome'

Laura Spence's former head teacher at Monkseaton Community High School in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, Dr Paul Kelley, said his school had five pupils applying to the USA this year.

He said US universities were "stunningly expensive", but that "a lot of these institutions have massive donation chests which they use to help foreign students."

"They put a lot of premium on being the best and they are determined to get the best pupils.

"Everyone I have spoken to there is welcome to the idea of accepting good state school pupils from England."

Dr Phillip Evans, head of Bedford School, said: "This could amount to a teenage brain drain. If we lose our brightest people at 18, they may never come back. It is very worrying."

Tuition fees

Sue Fishburn, head of another fee-paying school, Leeds Girls High, said applications to US universities were still only "a trickle".

But increasing numbers of pupils coming to board in Britain from elsewhere were expressing an interest in studying in the US, rather than staying here and that was a concern, she went on.

The introduction of means-tested tuition fees in the UK was also a factor.

"If people are going to be paying fees, they will go where they think they will get the best education for the money," Ms Fishburn said.

"If there's an agenda of further increasing tuition fees, for example, parents and students will start to look for better value for money and then we will end up with a brain drain that is accelerating."

Full scholarships rare

The number of requests for information received by the Fulbright Commission, which promotes UK-US educational exchanges, has gone up from 54,000 in 1997 to 115,000 in 1999 and 200,000 last year.

But the commission's Emma Cooney said that only 7,000 Britons actually went to America to begin a degree this year, up just 3% on the year before, and it was an "exaggeration" to talk of a brain drain.

Britain ranked ninth in the table of countries sending students to the US - behind China, Japan, Germany, Korea, India, Canada, Russia and France.

Ms Cooney stressed that it was highly unusual for an overseas student to get a full scholarship to Harvard, including cover for living costs.

Fees 'no deterrent'

The introduction of tuition fees could have been a factor in the sharp increase in inquiries between 1999 and 2000.

But she added: "I think that to talk of it as a brain drain is a bit of an exaggeration, to be quite honest."

A spokesman for the Department for Education said there were 87,000 more students in UK universities than when Labour came to power in 1997.

"Tuition fees have not had a deterrent effect on students from poor backgrounds and the proportion of students who pay any fees will only be 50% this year."

The Government was spending 1bn more on higher education in 2001 than in 1997 and an extra 1bn was going into research, he said.

"The point is, if they were paying tuition fees in America, they would be paying substantially more than 1,050."

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See also:

25 Apr 01 | Education
Laura Spence don blames families
18 Sep 00 | Education
Private schools 'engines of change'
11 May 01 | Education
Student debt 'threat to wider access'
14 May 01 | Education
Student costs 'put research at risk'
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