LETTER: Animus against Oxbridge

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The Independent Online
From Mr J. R. Lucas

Sir: Nicholas Faith allows his animus against Oxbridge ("Dear Oxford dons", 9 March) to cloud his ratiocinative faculties.

First, he complains that the state pays more to educate undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge, and dismisses the answer that we provide value for money as waffle. But it does take more time to listen and comment on essays individually than to give lectures in large lecture halls, and there is a substantial body of testimony that it is more educative. Does Mr Faith really mean to say that the state should not buy this form of education for any state-assisted students, and reserve education at Oxford and Cambridge for the children of foreigners and the rather rich?

Mr Faith goes on to complain that Oxford and Cambridge colleges "have perfected a system of non-disclos- ure that would do credit to the Cayman Islands". Few companies in the Cayman Islands publish their accounts each year in the form laid down by the 1923 Act of Parliament.

Mr Faith can go to the British Library and scrutinise our accounts for himself. It is true that the accounts are concerned mostly with actual income and expenditure, rather than capital assets, but there is a reason for this: many of the assets are in land and buildings, and there is no way of putting an accurate value on these except when they are being sold.

My college's priorities can be gauged from our attitude towards the Bodleian Library. We make an annual grant, recently increased, towards the cost of buying foreign books. We could give more but resources are limited.

We have many debates about priorities. Maybe we should spend more on buildings and less on the current generation of undergraduates; or more on those who are really in need, and less on the rest.

But to enter into that debate, it is necessary to find out the relevant facts and face the hard choices, two things that Mr Faith is unwilling to do.

Yours faithfully,

J. R. LUCAS

Merton College,

Oxford

9 March

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