Oxford aims to compete with US rivals by cutting British students

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The Independent Online

Oxford University is to cut the number of UK students it recruits and woo more young people from overseas to combat a financial crisis.

Oxford University is to cut the number of UK students it recruits and woo more young people from overseas to combat a financial crisis.

The decision, announced in a Green Paper on its future published yesterday, will provoke an outcry from teachers' leaders claiming that opportunities for British students will be restricted.

The paper calls for a gradual reduction in undergraduate numbers over the next five years to help the university retain its world-class status.

It says the move is essential to help Oxford recruit top-calibre staff by offering them conditions similar to those in Ivy League universities in the US.

It comes as ministers are seeking a dramatic increase in the number of youngsters going on to higher education to meet Tony Blair's target of getting 50 per cent of pupils into higher education by 2010.

While reducing UK numbers, the university is seeking to increase the percentage of overseas students - who pay fees of up to £20,000 a year. Academics want the 7 or 8 per cent of undergraduates coming from overseas to be increased to between 12 and 15 per cent. The university has been losing £20m a year.

Academics have pointed out that Oxford has a far higher proportion of undergraduates than any Ivy League university. Oxford has 11,000 undergraduates compared with an Ivy League average of around 7,500.

Academic staff are also less well paid than at US universities and have a heavier teaching load - with the result that there are fears the university will not be able to compete for high-calibre staff if conditions do not improve.

The Green Paper warned: "The competitiveness of Oxford in the longer term is contingent on much greater finan- cial security and autonomy."

John Hood, Oxford's new vice-chancellor, told The Independent the university would go to the Government seeking an increase in the maximum top-up fee once the £3,000-a-year figure was up for renewal in 2010.

"If we are to remain credible competitors in the world then we have to have a review which comes up with a credible fee - or we will be diminished."

The university is also hiring extra fundraising staff to boost contributions from alumni. Such contributions net between £70m and £80m compared with the £262m Harvard raises.

Dr Hood said the university had to pave the way for a "change in culture" in the UK and persuade its former alumni they had a duty to ensure students benefited from the same standard of higher education they had received.

Oxford also plans a modest increase in recruitment to more lucrative graduate courses - where around 40 per cent of the students are from overseas.

On widening access to students from poorer backgrounds, the Green Paper said the number of applications from state schools had increased by 33 per cent since 2000. However, the state's share of the intake had only increased from 56 per cent to 57 per cent because of a similar increase in applications from private schools.

The Green Paper is being put out to consultation at the university before final plans are drawn up this summer.

Leading article, page 30

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