Textbooks and Sports: College in the U.K. vs U.S.A.

I’m clearly not qualified to write this post, but that’s never stopped me before.

I’ve been teaching my course in London for about five weeks, and I thought I’d share a couple of differences I’ve observed between colleges in the U.K. vs in the U.S.A.

Since I’ve had very little interaction with any teachers or students from a U.K. college, combined with the fact that I have not even been here a full semester, these observations could be way off. As such, I thought I’d keep my comparisons to just two areas – sports and textbooks.

As most people in the U.S. realize, college sports is big business, particularly with respect to football and basketball. Stadiums that are packed with more than 100, 000 students and alumni, multi-million dollar contracts for the coaches, and free tuition, room, and board for the athletes are the norms at many large colleges.

Nothing like that seems to exist in the U.K.

Here’s an excerpt I found from an online article that compared collegiate sports in the U.S. to the U.K.:

With the exception of the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, intercollegiate athletics in the U.K. attracts little to no interest. You could go and watch a soccer match between the first teams of two British universities and be one of only a handful of people (and perhaps a couple of dogs) present.

Here’s another way of describing the difference, in a very unscientific way, but it at leasts provides some confirmation bias.

I checked the web sites of all four colleges I have attended, plus Villanova. For three of them, there is a link right at the top of the main page for Athletics. For the other two colleges, you had to place your cursor over one of the links, and menu popped up allowing you to select Athletics.

I then checked four U.K. colleges – Cambridge, Oxford, University College London (UCL), and Kings College. For Oxford, there was a link right on the main page to Athletics, but you had to scroll to the bottom of the page, and it was in a relatively small font.For Cambridge and Kings College, it took a few clicks to find the Sports page. Finally, for UCL, I couldn’t find the link to college sports after going through a few links. I finally had to use the search feature.

Perhaps you are thinking that I’m not comparing similar schools, so I took a look at Harvard’s web site. All that was needed here was to place the cursor over a link at the top of the main page, and there was a link to Athletics. Finally, I checked Stanford’s web site, and on its home page, if you scroll down a bit, there is a link to the Athletics page.

One final difference regarding sports, and this is just based on one quick observation is that while in the U.S. many athletes get everything paid for, in the U.K. it appears that the biggest scholarships offered are just 1,000 pounds. As a result, many athletes from the U.K. come to the U.S. to pursue a sport in college.

I’m not willing to offer judgement on which approach is better. I’m a big fan of sports, and was a varsity college athlete for all four years. However, I have become somewhat disenchanted with how big college sports have gotten in the U.S. and the obsession that some of the students have for their college’s sports teams. While it’s great for college spirit, I think it detracts from the academic nature of the university.

The other difference I’ve noticed is with respect to textbooks.

In the U.S., it is traditional to have one or more required (and quite expensive) textbooks for each course.

Since my youngest son works in a college book store, and is with me on this trip to London, we thought it would be fun to check out a couple of college bookstores here. The first college we went to, we asked at the information desk where the college bookstore was, and the young woman looked completed baffled. I then asked where do students buy their books for class, and shetems said that they don’t really use books; either they are in electronic form, or no book is required. Since I thought that there still had to be a place where students bought textbooks if they wanted to, I then changed my question to ask where we could buy some college apparel. She pointed us int he direction of the university shop, and lo and behold, that is all it sold, apparel and other such i. No textbooks.

The same scenario was repeated at the second college textbook store we tried to visit.

So all I can conclude is that British students are more comfortable reading their textbooks on line and are thriftier in terms of their spending on textbooks. In addition, it may be that the faculty provide the students with substantive notes, and there may not be a need for a textbook.

So there are my two basic observations on sports and textbooks.

But there is one thing that is definitely in common – student faces buried in smartphones…

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