LEADING ARTICLE:The price of an Oxbridge degree

Share
Related Topics
The English are drawn to "dreaming spires" but inclined to be anxious about "Oxbridge freemasonry". This week's worry is the suggestion by a college treasurer that Oxbridge students or their parents will have to find increasing sums of money for tuition or other charges. This raises fears that recent trends toward admission on the basis of educational achievement rather than family wealth might be reversed, although it tends to ignore the fact that most universities are exploring ways of raising more money from students and their parents, beyond that paid by the state. In other countries, fees paid by students haven't reduced the numbers going to university.

The more interesting point which arises from this latest Oxbridge debate is not whether the colleges should ask students to pay more, but whether Oxbridge colleges still have a valid claim to the pounds 2,000 per student top- up in tuition fees they receive direct from the Exchequer.

This bounty relies upon the claim that Oxbridge offers the highest-quality teaching and research in the country, comparable with the best universities in the developed world. The claim is based on three propositions.

First, one-to-one tutorials are supposed to provide superior teaching. Second, the benefits of bringing together teaching and research activity are said to be exceptionally strong at Oxford and Cambridge, because the calibre of research is so high. Third, the college system is said to provide a unique culture and atmosphere of learning.

In practice, it is by no means clear that Oxbridge teaching is dramatically better than the best elsewhere. Many courses are narrowly conceived: for example, the mix of disciplines in Oxford's famous Philosophy, Politics and Economics course looks inflexible by today's standards. And perhaps one-to-one teaching has a disadvantage in failing to emphasise the collaborative skills that today's jobs demand.

Certainly we need centres of educational excellence, and at an extra pounds 2,000 per head, they would probably be a bargain. The challenge is to route the funding to true centres of excellence, which certainly exist in both Oxford and Cambridge but not in all colleges and all departments at all times.

There is no reason at all why the pounds 2,000 excellence premium should not simply be paid to the best students at the best university departments, wherever they are located. In the longer term, it might also be more rewarding to direct the bulk of this funding towards postgraduate rather than undergraduate teaching. The priority for undergraduate teaching is to ensure that a massive and desirable expansion in numbers doesn't lead to an erosion in quality. Over the next decade, the top departments should probably pull out of undergraduate teaching altogether and concentrate on more demanding masters qualifications of a standard to compete with the best of North America.

The mechanisms for assessing institutions and individuals most deserving an excellence premium are already largely in place. The Higher Education Funding Councils have systems for assessing the quality of teaching and research that could be developed to make sensible comparisons. Measurement of student performance is routine.

If Oxbridge colleges and departments do not earn their place in the league of excellence, they should not be entitled to preferential taxpayer funding.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss