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China could teach us a lesson on universities

The high rates of payment to university vice-chancellors in the UK, combined with extortionate tuition fees, would suggest that a university education has become a private affair run by kleptocrats.

Annual tuition fees come in at £9,250 at Bath University, where the vice-chancellor (who has just retired) was paid an eye-popping salary of £468,000 per year to do her job.

It is beyond belief that a university education has become the servant of market ideology in a country famed for its soft socialism in the form of the NHS and free primary and secondary education.

Margaret Thatcher's fetish-like belief in the market at the expense of society has ill-served the English-speaking, Western world. Where is a university education free, or with low tuition fees, these days? Norway, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Russia and India are some examples. And don't forget China - a country heavily influenced by the Soviet Union and a latecomer to the concept of a private university.

It is painful to consider this, but a managed economy can make for a more egalitarian society - albeit with fewer democratic freedoms - than the unregulated market economy, with its winners and losers.

It has been predicted that China will overtake the UK as the second most popular country for international students by 2020. The People's Republic of China's ministry of education might have a thing or two to teach us here in the West.

ALISON HACKETT

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