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Contemporary British Culture Essay, Research Paper

4. What differences are there between American and British higher education

and how may these be explained?

Before coming to study abroad here in Manchester, I didn’t realise how different the two higher education systems were. My parents used to always tell me how it was when they grew up and went to school in India, but the connection between India and England never clicked till I actually got here. The obvious difference that comes to mind is the way the two systems are funded. Another is the way a student picks his course of study. Now these two differences are ones anyone can learn about from books, but there is one huge difference that one can only experience by coming here. That is the social aspect and how diverse the university here really is compared to most in the United States. Let us explore these differences and the causes for them in more detail.

When picking a university to attend in the United States, tuition and room and board costs play a vital role. In most cases, the cost is what makes the final decision because out of state or private schools cost almost double to attend than instate or public schools. This decision making process would never take place here because cost is not a deciding factor. The difference lies in the way the two systems are funded.

In the states, government funding plays a very small role. Every student is allowed to fill out a free financial aid form where one must enclose family income, assets, number of children, cost of attending chosen school among other things that the government looks upon and determines how much money will be awarded. Basically, it’s award is only need-based. The rest of the money owed can either be paid off or borrowed from the school or banks in the form of interest-cumulating loans. Now in Britain, the government provides all of tuition costs and gives out grants and loans for living expenses. Students used to just need enough money for personal expenses, but the government doesn’t provide living expenses anymore so money needs to be secured for that as well by students(Ainley). The grants and loans offered here are usually interest free as well. Some of my friends tell me that their loans don’t need to be paid back until they graduate and have a secure job. What are some possible reasons for this difference?

In the U. S. , the average family makes more money than they do in Britain(Furnham). Families earn more money to pay for children’s education, and a student’s starting salary in most fields is higher in the states to compensate for paying back what he/she owes his/her university. Another very big reason for the difference is in history. The United States is a democracy which is based on free enterprise. Everything is a business, including higher education. It’s a business that’s competing to capture the brightest students or the biggest sports stars. And everything has a price attached to it. Britain has a much longer history, and tradition has told the government to provide education free of cost to its students(Coxall). Tradition is very hard to change, and even if change is inevitable, it will be hard to attain.

Another key difference in the two higher education systems is the structure. In the states, a student just needs to have an idea of what he wants to do and figures out exactly what it is at university. On the contrary, a student here must know by the time they enter university, often before, what it is exactly they want to do(Ainley). In the states, people change their majors and even their whole course of study often while here it is much harder to do and not so common practice. The only reason for this is in the history. The much richer history Britain follows has told it to make it this way and to preserve it. While in the states, even though it was harder before to change courses, it has developed to how it works now for tradition is not as hard to change.

So far the discussion has followed on facts, but studying abroad shows a much wider scope socially that can be captured by mere words in books. In the U. S. , the majority of students don’t leave their states to go to school because of costs meaning the majority of people you meet have grown up in a similar environment and share a similar culture. Coming here, it’s honestly been a culture shock. Very few people are actually from Manchester let alone from England. Alone in my flat, there are people from Ireland, Norway, islands off the coast of Madagascar, and Belgium. I’ve met people from all over the world and learned more about culture or people than any book can tell. The social aspect is a huge difference between the higher education systems. A big reason for this could be funding. Most governments offer their students money to study elsewhere, and England seems to be a central point. Also, England is much closer to Europe and Asia and have a lot more history with them compared to the United States.

As one can see, the higher education systems of Britain and the United States differ in many ways. Some things can be learned by books while others need to be observed. It seems the British system is slowly becoming privatised and changing its format closer to the U. S. ’s, but tradition takes time to change. As far as the social aspect, the U. S. is slowly developing into a more diverse student population like Britain, but history also takes a long time to create.

9. Compare and contrast American and British attitudes to professional sport.

Professional sports play a very different role in the United States versus Britain. The biggest thing one must realise is that professional sport is an entertainment business in the U. S. versus a profession in Britain. This is slowly changing in Britain but the magnitude is no where near what has been reached in the U. S. Where the sports are actually being played is a key difference between the countries as well. Flipping the coin gives us the other side to professional sport – the fans or the speculators. The fans’ attitudes are also very different in the two countries and play a huge part in the role professional sports play.

"Albert Belle signs a 5 year contract reported to be worth $55 million dollars with the Chicago White Sox." (ESPN Sportszone). This is a common headline you are likely to come across when reading the sports page or often the front page of a

U. S. newspaper. The U. S. professional sport business has become just that – a business. They are in the entertainment business just like Tom Cruise and Bill Cosby. Sports players in the U. S. are businessmen, and there are few left that would play their respectable sports just for the love of the game. There are many reasons why it has become an entertainment business.

The main reason is the media. They follow sports stars around, print things about their private lives, glamorise them on television and radio, and make them look like role models for society. This has made them so popular and so in demand that everyone wants a piece of them. Sports players realise this and demand they get compensated for television ratings and publicity in the form of a nice, hefty check. Michael Jordan makes over $50 million dollars a year in endorsements alone! What once was just a pastime has become one of the biggest entertainment industries in the world. A fact that supports this is fixes in American sports. There have been many situations where players have been caught taking bribes to throw a game. This even included a coach named Pete Rose for the Cincinnati Reds who was caught betting against his own team in the 1980s.

Now in Britain, professional sport still seems to be a profession but is slowly turning into an entertainment industry as well(Furnham). One reason for this is because amateur leagues are slowly dying out. Amateur leagues like that in rugby which existed required players to pay for their equipment and play for enjoyment. But the northern Englanders could not afford to play, and this caused the Rugby League to be created(Shah). Slowly, the media took over and people got to enjoy watching rugby. This caused rugby players wanting to be compensated and therefore earn a living by playing rugby. Though this transformation has not reached anywhere near the magnitude in the States, it is slowly occurring. In soccer, this is more apparent. Stars are being shown all over the television, and their private lives are becoming not so private any more.

Another thing that must be looked upon is the geographical outlook of sports in the two countries. In the United States, when we refer to the World Series of Baseball, it only takes place between the U. S. and Canada. Or when the Chicago Bulls became basketball world champions, they beat all American teams to get there. Sports in America is very intra-level or reserved to the continent alone. The only sport that is international is soccer, and it has failed to become a success in the states for so long even though it is the biggest sport in most countries around the world, arguably the most international sport. On the other hand, sports in Britain are very much inter-level or across nations. All sports played here whether it be soccer or rugby or cricket involve England playing other countries and a lot of country pride at stake rather than money. The closest thing we experience to that would be the Olympics where the stars compete against other countries not for money but for pride. This brings up the topic of fans and country pride in professional sports.

In the U. S. , there are rivalries between cities in sports but violence seldomly occurs because of it. Most people forget about a bad game and worry about the next one instead. There is not too much hatred that takes place between cities over sports. On the other hand, bitter rivalries exist very much so in Britain, often leading to disastrous downfalls. I’ve noticed how one city’s fans hate the fans of other cities and this often leads to violence. This has a lot to do with the history between the countries or regions which we don’t experience too much of in the states. When I went to see Manchester United play this year, I noticed how people were yelling at each other and just taking a hatred towards the other team and its fans. Even when I watch sports on the television, there are so many different opinions circulating about which city’s or country’s team is the best and which is the worst. This slowly turns into a hatred not only against the team but the people and the region itself. This is one poor side to professional sports I’ve noticed in Britain.

Professional sport plays a different role in both the U. S. and Britain, but it seems to be converging in recent years. It is slowly becoming an entertainment industry in Britain rather than just a profession. We the fans play a big part in this and also have differing attitudes to professional sport in each of our respectful countries. Though I wish the U. S. could become a more international sports arena, I hope fan’s violence in attitude does not become an added commodity to this.

2. Why is the issue of a single European currency playing such an important

role in contemporary British politics?

The reason the single European currency causes such a stir in contemporary British politics is because of its history. In 1973, Ireland, Denmark, and Great Britain joined the European Community(EEC). This event heralded a new era in the relationship between Britain and Europe(Furnham). The main question that arises is will it be economically beneficial for Britain to be for a single European currency. But there is more than economics involved. It’s also a question of political and cultural differences as we will see.

The economic advantages and disadvantages is the main concern of whether Britain should join. The history behind it points in a negative direction. The pound sterling has been overvalued drastically in the past and has caused severe devaluation to occur twice in the last 30 years. Many say they don’t want a repeat of ‘Black Wednesday’ which occurred in 1992. This is when the exchange rate from dollars per pound dropped from 1.8$/£ to 1.5$/£ overnight. In one survey done, the question asked was if the person thought their country being in the EEC was a good or bad thing. 72 percent of the Italians surveyed said it was a good thing while only 37 percent of the British. The British have said they do not want to have tax hikes to help out another country. Another survey revealed that 60% of British feel they put in more than they get out of the EEC(Furnham). Perhaps a reason for this is because of the high levels of unemployment in other countries suggested a television program on BBC1 named Panorama. It suggested that France and other weaker countries have the highest levels of unemployment, and therefore they would benefit the most. For the Euro currency to work, levels of unemployment must be about level in all the countries. What the British need is a cut in interest rates and all the convergence is going to do is increase inflation and unemployment in Britain. The other issue is whether a standard interest rate can be set for all of Europe. The answer seems to be no for if the rates are too high for Britain as they were in the past, unemployment, recession, inflation, and instability will start to set in since countries have different economies. "A standard interest rate would not work, and countries need to run their economies on their own needs." (Panorama).

Now there are those that think economically it will benefit Britain. First of all, it will make things a lot easier by having a standard exchange rate and a general stability across Europe. It may also cause a permanent reduction in interest rates. But the main advantage would have to be trading. An increase in trade caused by the ease of not losing money when converting currencies or having to hedge in the futures currency market would decrease prices and increase jobs(Panorama). When exchanging currencies on a small level, this does not seem like a big deal, but when exchanging in the millions, a tenth of a percentage means thousands. The smaller European countries would be able to compete on a larger scale with the U. S. and Japan which they could not do on their own as well. Luxembourg is set as the standard economy since its exports nearly equal its imports(Panorama). Also, 60% of Britain’s exports go to Europe and without joining, this could drastically hurt this trade. Foreign investments in Sterling might also go down as a result of not joining. Even though these economic factors are the main deciders on the single currency, political and cultural differences play a big part as well.

The main advantage politically and culturally would be economic unity. There would be a host of countries all united through one single currency which might enable to put the differences in the past. Then again, there are those that definitely disagree with this point.

Many point at the history of Britain and war with Europe, especially France which its had a consistent and long-standing distrust with. Past politicians such as Margaret Thatcher have not been too found of pro-European reform, and the incident with the Falkland Islands has not helped either to create any stir of pro-Europe amongst the British. In general, the opinion of most in England does not favor the single currency. They feel that it would make them a part of something they do not want to be a part of and hurt them in the long run as well.

As one can see, there are many different view points when discussing the single currency in contemporary British politics. There are those that think cancelling currencies just doesn’t add up. On the other hand, there are those that think the trade benefit from it will more than offset the disadvantages. There are still others that just don’t want to be a part of Europe. The Panorama show revealed that the exchange rates are set to be fixed in 1999 and the Euro-currency to circulate by the year 2002. Will Britain benefit as much as the other countries or will it become a scapegoat? Will Britain take another case of bad history? The answers to these questions only the future holds.

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