University challenge: Funding is far from perfect, but it
is too soon for another debate about fees

The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University is getting way ahead of himself

Share

With the furore over the introduction of £9,000-a-year university fees still so recent, politicians might expect to be spared another round of controversy on the subject. They would be wrong, however. But the latest brickbats are not from prospective students or campaign groups, they are from one of Britain’s most prestigious educational establishments.

According to the Vice-Chancellor, Oxford University’s “world-class education system” is being jeopardised by a shortfall of £70m in annual income from undergraduate teaching. Because of the cap on fees, a service that is costing almost £16,000 per student per year to provide is only bringing in £9,000.

There is some sense in Professor Andrew Hamilton’s argument. He is right that it makes little sense for all universities to be charging the same, regardless of the quality or quantity of teaching that they offer. He is also right to point out that £9,000 does not cover the costs of our best institutions, which risks eroding standards. And he is right, too, that there is room for a debate about the extent to which market principles should be applied to the tertiary education sector, given the hybrid nature of the current arrangements.

But the Vice-Chancellor is way ahead of himself, nonetheless. Not because there is any inalienable argument against  some institutions putting up their fees. Nor because his pledge of extra measures to ensure that the less well-off do not miss out is not to be believed. Fees need not, after all, penalise poorer students, given that there is no up-front cost and repayment does not begin until the graduate is earning more than £21,000 a year.

The problem is that, after barely more than 12 months, the current arrangements have simply not been in place long enough to evaluate them sensibly. It is possible, for example, that some less illustrious universities may be forced to drop their prices, if prospective students begin to vote with their feet. Equally, it is not yet certain what effect higher charges have had on applications. The first intake, in September 2012, may have been markedly down, but this year’s numbers were back to normal.

Until it is clear how the existing scheme is working, then, there can be little meaningful discussion of changes to it. And there is also the politics to consider. No party will be willing to engage in a discussion of this type ahead of the next election, and quite possibly not afterwards either.

The good news is that there may not be the hurry that Professor Hamilton implies. Oxford’s shortfall did not start with £9,000 tuition fees and the concomitant fall in state funding; the university was not receiving £16,000 per student before either. If the gap has been filled so far, it can continue to be, for the near future at least. That is not to say that the debate about university funding is not needed. Just that it will not happen soon.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Media Sales - OTE up to £30,000

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning company, whi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Developer

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique & exciting opp...

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The economics of the stock market is simple really: buy and hold

Ben Chu
Jeb Bush's campaign will emphasise both his conservative record as a former governor of Florida and his commitment to building a more inclusive Republican Party  

American democracy is up for sale, and it’s a warning to us all

Shirley Williams
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border