Oxford VC "wrong" and "irresponsible" on tuition fes

Image credit: Phil Sayer

As reported by The Cambridge Student last issue (page 5), the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University has re-opened the debate on tuition fees, not by requesting that they be lowered, but by suggesting the cap must be removed altogether.

Professor Andrew Hamilton has previously been the subject of controversy as the nation’s highest-paid vice-chancellor, with an income of over £420,000 in salary, benefits and pension contributions. Emphasising a loyalty to the “values and standards that have shaped this university’s long history”, he announced in his annual speech that Oxford was facing “a funding shortfall of more that £7,000 a year per student” which, he suggested, can only be addressed by raising tuition fees.

Unlike Cambridge and Harvard, Oxford has so far chosen not to issue bonds to raise additional revenue. Instead, Hamilton believes the university “should be able to vary tuition charges over time in order to bring them closer to the real cost of the education it [provides] for its students”. He strongly supported the idea for uncapped fees set individually by universities, depending on the standard of education.

“It is not a new idea, but it is one whose time will surely come,” claims Hamilton. When approached by TCS, the University of Cambridge declined to comment, as they claimed: “This is Oxford’s story”.

Jia Hui Lee, the CUSU Education Officer, was more forthcoming, telling TCS: “Professor Hamilton’s suggestion to increase tuition fees would, without increasing bursaries, continue to put higher education out of reach for students from lower income backgrounds.”

“His statement seems particularly irresponsible given recent NUS research which shows that students currently face a cost-of-living crisis,” he added.

Hamilton’s suggestion has unwittingly been given greater impetus this week by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who declared: “Don’t worry, we’re not going to raise tuition fees to £16,000.” This promise has since been widely ridiculed as itself increasing the likelihood of such a policy.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU lecturers’ union, said Hamilton’s focus is “wrong” when “we already have the most expensive fees in Europe.”

However Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, of which Cambridge is a member, sees merit in Hamilton’s proposition, warning that “our leading institutions cannot continue to be internationally competitive... without access to increased funding”.

Tuition fees were first introduced in the UK in 1998 with a cap of £1,000, then raised in 2004 and again in 2012.

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