Oxbridge rebuffs government calls for university expansion

Ben Richardson – News Editor 21 August 2012

Oxford and Cambridge have reiterated their exclusive admissions procedures after David Willetts (pictured above), the Higher Education Minister, suggested that they should expand. Increasing these elite universities’ annual intake of students would help mitigate the annual struggle for places at Britain’s foremost higher education institutions, he said. Talking to The Daily Telegraph, Willetts encouraged universities to “find ways in which they can finance growth in the number of undergraduates” so that more people get the “opportunity to go to a prestigious university.”

“If they really are heavily oversubscribed, well one thing they can do is to offer more places to suitably qualified candidates so that more people have a chance,” he said. Yet Cambridge has remained on the defensive, insisting it has “no plans to alter its intake profile.”

Under new government plans, there are now no restrictions on the number of students a university can accept with grades above AAB at A-level. Universities including Bristol and University College London have already announced their intentions to take more AAB students.

Oxford, however, claimed that the proposals would have no effect on its own admissions since all of its applicants already had at least AAA at A-level. “All of Oxford’s 17,000 applicants are predicted straight A grades – the entry requirement at Oxford has been AAA for many years – and the university has no plans to expand undergraduate numbers further.”

Willetts’ response was unequivocal. “Of course, Oxford and Cambridge claim that it costs more to educate an undergraduate than the current level of the fees and so they say that it has to be cross-subsidised out of the university’s own resources – they can’t afford to take on more.”

“But in Oxford’s case, there is this extraordinary arrangement in which the council has limited the number of places in private, rented accommodation, which in turn limits the size of the university.”

On university applications in general, Willetts dismissed claims that the recent hike in tuition fees to over £9000 a year was putting students off. With applications down only 1%, he said, applications “seemed to have held up quite well.”

Ben Richardson – News Editor