The decision to virtually eliminate public funding for university teaching in England appears to imply that the benefits of studying for a degree are almost entirely private.

But a campaign calling for recognition of the public value of higher study is gathering momentum, with academics from across the globe challenging the fundamental shift in university funding.

At the Universities and their Regional Impacts: Making a Difference to the Economy and Society conference in Edinburgh last week, Walter W. McMahon, a US economist who has put a monetary value on the wider social benefits of higher education (see table below), warned the UK against the “worrisome” move.

Professor McMahon, author of Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private and Social Benefits of Higher Education (2009), has studied the “private non-market benefits” for individuals of having degrees, including better personal health and improved cognitive development in their children, alongside the “social non-market benefits”, such as lower spending on prisons and greater political stability.

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