Oxford and Cambridge: will elite universities go private and raise fees?

Apr 17, 2018 by

Income loss from tuition fees cap could prompt a break from state control, which other institutions might follow

As universities wait to see if the government will cut tuition fees – and therefore their income – one of the most controversial questions of all is being discussed. Could Oxford and Cambridge universities opt to break free from state control and go private?

The government launched its review of post-18 education in February. With the Tories keen to woo young voters, following Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to end tuition fees, a reduction of the £9,250 fees cap is widely expected. But vice-chancellors say quality could be threatened if the government does not plug any gap with new funding.

Unlike other universities, Oxford and Cambridge say fees, even at £9,250, do not cover the costs of the tutorial-led teaching for which they are famous. A spokesperson for Cambridge would not comment about going private, but said each student costs an average of £18,500 a year to teach.

If they declared themselves independent, they could set their own fees and not have to endure state regulation, which requires them to prove the quality of their research – and what they do with it – plus that of their teaching and the amount their graduates earn.

Matt Robb, of EY-Parthenon, a consultancy that advises universities, says: “Oxford and Cambridge are currently in the top five institutions in the world. If that status were threatened by loss of funding or other factors, and this was the only solution, I think they wouldn’t blink in pushing to go private.”

Some experts argue that this could solve a conundrum for ministers, who want to cut fees but don’t want to damage two such stellar British brands.

Lord Butler, a crossbench peer and former master of University College Oxford, argues: “If the government looks at its interests clearly it ought to be sympathetic and encouraging towards this idea. It would save a lot of money [on loans and teaching funding]. It would be a very good solution for some leading universities to be cut loose, on the condition that they had a needs-blind admissions system [with no one turned away because they can’t afford the fees].”

Source: Oxford and Cambridge: will elite universities go private and raise fees? | Education | The Guardian

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