Sunday, October 22, 2006

College Football

The fourteenth and fifteenth largest stadiums in the world (discounting racing stadiums) are the Michigan Stadium and the Beaver Stadium according to Whilst looking this up by the way I found somewhat to my surprise that five of the stadiums in the top ten are in Iran! What is surprising about these stadiums is that they are both the home of university American football teams. The Rose Bowl in California, that some of you may remember for hosting the 1994 World Cup Final is the home of none other than the UCLA college football team. These teams are made up of students, not professionals, who play in varsity leagues. What is perhaps even more amazing than the size of these stadiums is that the universities actually manage to fill them. The Wolverines, the team of the University of Michigan has hosted crowds of over 100,000 on almost 200 occasions and the last time that the attendance figure fell short of this mark was in 1975.

Successful American universities have a very different atmosphere from their European counterparts. There in an intense sense of loyalty and dedication to ones university that is simply not present on the old continent. On matriculating to an American University, college life quickly subsumes the identity of the individual. Campus living means that everything in your life is directed towards the school. Students support their college football team instead of their local team, for example. Many college groups, whether they be musical or sporting or other activities strive for an excellence that gives a sense of pride to the students extending far further than the immediate friends of those involved. The specialist and more prominent schools in business and international affairs bring in a constant stream of high profile figures and alumni, such as leading politicians, CEO's, high ranking civil servants, and internationally renowned academics who hold seminars and give lectures on their experiences demonstrating just how far you can go with your degree.

The frenetic pace of these extra curricular activities means that there is little time to discover life off campus. Neither does this finish after your graduation, alumni will continue to support their college football team for the rest of their lives, when in Bologna last year my girlfriend at the time and a graduate of Cornell University was I thought slightly too excited about a forthcoming visit of a group of acapella singers from her Alma Mater. By contrast I dont think I would make too much of an effort to go and see the Warwick University Symphony Orchestra play, even though I myself played in it for three years. Alumni events take place regularly, and some of them can be quite impressive. There is no escaping, the reach of the alumni network is global. I was slightly surprised to find myself getting invitations to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, for lectures that had been co-sponsored by the SAIS alumni network London chapter, and I havent even left my school yet.

This strong sense of loyalty that universities work hard to engender in their students I believe plays a large role in the success of American universities. For one thing, this sense of loyalty enables American universities to command vast sums of money. The amount of private donations to American universities is truly astonishing. The total amount of private donations to education in the US runs to around $40 billion a year. Harvard and Princeton receive around half a billion dollars each.

It is for this reason that I look at the attempts of UK universities to plug the shortfall in their budgets through private donations with great scepticism. Universities in Britain simply do not command the loyalty or the attachment of their alumni that their US counterparts do. We cannot rely on simply trying to encourage a culture of giving, which is what politicians in Britain now are currently talking about. US universities work hard and invest lots in their sports teams, musical groups, arts, culture, alumni relations and other such activities that attach students to their Alma Mater for the rest of their lives, and until we start investing in the cultural side of altruism as well universities will have to look for other ways in which to fund themselves.

No comments: