Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Statistics and Choices

At Left Foot Forward, Ranjit Sidhu, founder of Statistics into Decisions, discusses higher education funding in the UK. In his discussion he says:
this country is spending far lower than any other OECD country and actually half that of the USA on education.
This claim about spending half what the USA does comes from a report from the Russell Group[pdf]. That report states:
At 2.9% of GDP, the US spends more than twice what the UK does.
Earlier in the article Mr Sidhu has noticed the point about different population sizes pointing out that:
With about 5 per cent of the population of China it has an economy more than half its size.
Yet here he seems to have forgotten about that. Nor has he read much of the report, it seems. Just two lines earlier the Russell report states:
The UK spends approximately $15,447 (USD) per student, while the US spends $25,109.
By my reckoning that's 1.6 times as much not twice. But crucially, apart from not considering population sizes, Mr Sidhu has not considered the source of this funding. In fact, 66% of the funding in the US comes from private sources whereas in the UK it is 35%. Some quick maths and we find that the taxpayer pays $10,040.55 for each student in the UK but only $8,537.06 per student in the US.

So when the headline says:
We can afford to fund our universities, the fact is we choose not to 
he may be entirely correct. But he is not correct to suggest that in order to keep up with America the taxpayers should be forced to pay.

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