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Friday, November 21, 2003

A Follow-Up: US, EU, Japanese Spending on Higher Education

In a buggy article published on November 13th, 2003 --- the 3rd in a long 5-7 article mini-series on US exceptionalism among the world's rich democratic countries --- a claim was made about the comparative amounts the US and the EU countries spend on higher education. Essentially, it was said at one point, we spend about 2.0 - 2.5 times more on higher education as a percentage of GDP than the EU does. A professor in the EU has just queried that figure. Is it possible, he asked? Yes; not only possible --- but the case. What follows unveils the precise figures.

It will probably be helpful to fill in the background context in which the claim about university spending was originally made.

Tersely put, the claim appeared in a lengthy reply to a set of comments tacked on by a visitor at the end of another article on comparisons between the EU and the US . . . mainly involving the EU media and its shoddy professional standards, and more to the point, at the time of the Israel battle with Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank city of Jenin. That was in April 2002. With at best a handful of exceptions, the EU media's reporters were wholly inaccurate and full of prejudice: against the Israelis, and even --- as subsequent studies showed --- with taints of anti-Semitism. American reporting, by contrast, was far more balanced and far more accurate. There were no massacres of Palestinian civilians --- no 5000 and later 500 victims as the Palestinian Authority claimed and the EU media tended, in a hurry-scurry leap to judgment, happily to endorse. As UN inspections later showed, the total number of dead Palestinians was 56, almost all adult men; 26 Israeli soldiers died in the battle too. If anything, as the later reports showed, the Israeli forces had been very careful to avoid civilian casualties, even as they spent days, under gunfire, assaulting known terrorist hide-outs and bomber labs.

The actual degree to which anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic prejudices tainted the vast bulk of EU reporting was brought out in two subsequent studies. Both compared the EU reportage with its American equivalents; both showed how blatantly inept and biased the EU media were by that comparison. One of the studies, published in three long articles, was undertake by a UPI journalist; he spent weeks studying the astonishingly different journalistic standards on the two sidesa of the Atlantic. The second study appeared in The National Review online site. [See UPI analysis. Also National Review's site ]

The EU and University Education

Against that background, the argument in that earlier buggy article then navigated a twisting turn and added this set of pertinent remarks:

"One thing for sure: whatever you call the root problems here, most standards of professional journalism appear to be heading into the sewers in West Europe save for occasional pockets of quality such as The Financial Times and The Economist in London and the Frankfuerter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany.

"Something else, closely related: the education of journalists in Europe.

"As someone who knows the British, French, Germany, and Swiss university systems first-hand, the buggy prof can't find much to praise about educational systems that produce such incompetent, prejudice-ridden hokum of a thoroughly unexamined knee-jerk sort. It's distressing, no other word for it: a sign of marked decline in standards or maybe even a willingness to appreciate what good standards --- educational or journalistic --- should be. Maybe, who knows? --- the Europeans are paying a big price for being so stingy in financing higher education. The US spends about 2.0 - 2.5 times as much on higher education as a % of GDP than the EU countries as a whole. Even in Britain, despite the generally higher standards in the university system, it's been estimated that the government would have to spend tens of billions of dollars to bring it up to par fully with American standards in our better universities --- 60% of Californians age 18 to 22 are in various post-high school institutions --- and the government just doesn't have the money: too many other claimants. Worried about insufficient funding, even Cambridge is threatening to cut itself off from all government support in order to raise tuition fees to a level that will bring in enough money to maintain its well-deserved reputation. "


Here Are The Specifics:

To get down to cases, the exact percentages of GDP spent on higher education are the following. In 1998 --- the latest year for the figures across countries --- the US spent 1.9% of GDP on higher education, the EU 0.7% on an average.

For Britain, the figure was 0.8%, France 0.8%, Germany 0.7%, and Italy 0.6%. The biggest spenders were Denmark and Finland, both about 4 million in population, which spent 1.1% each. The figures include both public and private spending. Japan spent the same as the big EU countries, 0.8% of GDP on higher education. Only South Korea spent more than the US: 2.2%. For the figures, see the OECD.

For what it's worth, the same OECD table shows that whereas the EU countries spent an average of 1.8% of GDP on R&D the same year, 1998, the US figure was about 50% higher: 2.6%. Japan's, interestingly, was slightly higher still: 3.0%. Only tiny Finland and Sweden (9 million people) spent at or higher than the US on R&D: Finland 2.9% and Sweden an astonishing 3.8%.

Replies: 1 Comment

I think your comments about the Jenin coverage hints of frustration, possibly from a strong pro-Israeli bias?

I read 'between 50 and 100 killed' in my paper in Denmark. I also read that the Israelis refused UN observers access to Jenin...Now what kind of conclusions would you draw from that as a reporter?

The OECD numbers on education are interesting, but I would like to see numbers educated as well. Education in the US can be ridiculously expensive, here I feel Europe's 'equal opportunity for all' has served much better, especially under the current recession.

Posted by Mr. Me @ 12/07/2003 06:25 PM PST