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

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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the paraphernalia of a practised burglar – screwdrivers, gloves, children

Guy Keleny
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?