The Oxbridge college fees debate is coming to the boil. Harriet Swain reports on the issues at stake
OXBRIDGE colleges have levied charges and fees for hundreds of years. This practice was incorporated into their statutes by the Oxford and Cambridge Act of 1923.
Each has always charged different amounts, depending on the services offered and the amount of money received from elsewhere, including endowments.
This variation has declined over the years, although recent drops in funding have made better-off colleges less willing to lower their fees.
On average, annual fees amount to about Pounds 2,700 at Cambridge and Pounds 3,116 at Oxford.
For most of Oxford and Cambridge's history, the burden of college fees has fallen on the student. Then, after the 1944 Education Act, the state stepped in to pay some of the costs. This was applied equally to students regardless of income.
In 1962, means-testing was introduced. All students eligible for state support while at university were also reimbursed for fees.
But a few years later, means-testing was removed again. Local education authorities had to pay all tuition and other fees.
John Bradfield, former senior bursar at Trinity College, said: "The colleges never asked for that and we were amazed when it was offered. It was introduced with hardly any consultation."
Even then, he said, the cost per student to the state of the extra money never varied from the national average by more than about 10 per cent and was matched at a number of other universities.
Nevertheless, the amount involved caused the Labour government of the time to ask for regular meetings to discuss fee levels. Since then the level has effectively been controlled by government.
The formula for fixing the fee has differed over the years. At first, fees increased in line with the retail price index. Then, in the early 1990s, they were pegged to increases in the whole of the higher education sector - RPI minus efficiency gains. For a while, this was modified linking increases in college fees to increases in other elite universities.
This year the government finally decided to go back to a system based on the whole sector.
Leader, page 13