Elite universities should be allowed to charge far more, Oxford chief arguesWednesday 09 October 2013
Leading universities should be able to charge fees substantially higher than the current £9,000-a-year ceiling to meet the cost of educating their students, the vice-chancellor of Oxford University said today.
Professor Hamilton took the opportunity of his annual oration to the university to launch what, in effect, was the start of a campaign to persuade ministers they had to start debating what would follow the £9,000 fee ceiling introduced in September 2012. His comments provoked an angry reaction from - amongst others - university lecturers who said higher fees were “not what this country needs”.
However, he won support from the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the country’s more selective higher education institutions, whose director general Dr Wendy Piatt warned: “Our leading institutions cannot continue to be internationally competitive, provide a first-rate teaching experience and offer generous support to disadvantaged students without access to increased funding."
Professor Hamilton argued the £9,000-a-year cap had not worked in introducing a market in higher education, because virtually everyone was charging the same fee.
The idea of a market - and that is ostensibly what is being created - in which every item, virtually regardless of content and quality, is the same price seems, well, a little odd,” he said.
“On the other hand, given the great diversity of the institutions in our higher education system, the notion of different universities charging significantly different amounts, doesn’t feel inherently unnatural. It is the current situation that seems out of kilter.
“What matters surely is that an institution’s charges are clearly aligned with what it offers and that they are demonstrably not a barrier to student access. In other words that robust and generous financial support remains readily available for students who most need it.”
Some universities, he said, were “doing very nicely” out of charging £9,000 a year, “comfortably covering the cost of what they want to provide for their students”.
“That may or may not be the case for them but one thing I am quite sure about is that it doesn’t add up for Oxford, where the new regime of increased tuition charges for students, but greatly reduced Government spending on teaching, have done little to change the basic financial equation," he went on.