Leader: Collegiate conundrum

September 26, 2003

The cloistered world of the Oxbridge college has always been one where disagreements can fester and grow into something more serious. From Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers to Colin Dexter's tales of Inspector Morse, authors have seen an ideal setting for stories of intrigue. The turmoil at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, could be dismissed in this way, but beyond the personalities lie troubling questions about the college system and the relationship between higher education and its sponsors.

The generosity and commitment to education of Lord Harris, the college's benefactor, are not in doubt; nor is the college management's dedication to a community that has few other opportunities within the university. But the expectations of endowment that led to the granting of full college status have not been realised, and the slashing of Harris Manchester's income from the College Contributions Fund speaks volumes about the wider university's view. If future provision for mature students is to be safeguarded, the university administration cannot sit on the sidelines.

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