Debt rise puts fees on agenda at Oxford

June 21, 2002

Oxford University is to consider charging differential fees as a way of meeting its mounting deficit.

Fees were discussed at a university council meeting on May 20 but the discussion was not included in the minutes.

A spokeswoman for the university said: "Agreed actions of the council are minuted - not all the discussions."

Donald Hay, head of the social sciences division at Oxford, said: "There was a discussion of fees with no obvious conclusion, so I was not surprised that it was not recorded in the minutes."

However, a number of people in the university are keen to have the discussions out in the open and say that the university's reluctance to debate publicly is damaging.

The university spokeswoman said: "Fees have not been ruled out. It would be silly at this stage to rule anything out." She said the university was waiting for the results of the comprehensive spending review and budget settlement in November.

The council, the principal policy-making body of the university, met again last Monday.

A working group is looking at the options for dealing with the deficit, which will be discussed again at an extended vacation meeting of council on July 15. "Everything is on the table. It is a big agenda," said Mr Hay.

The spokeswoman said: "The university is establishing a restructuring fund so that departments can, for example, invest in equipment that will save money in the long run."

Other options include a greater push on fundraising and winning research funding. Oxford is also looking at increasing postgraduate student numbers, although it has a commitment to the local council not to go for a sudden expansion that would flood the housing market. Another option is to make further cuts on top of the 2 per cent faced by all academic divisions.

The spokeswoman said: "Like many Russell Group universities, we face a substantial deficit. For the first time this year we have both forecast and posted a deficit. Our forecast of £1.6 million will probably be exceeded." On current plans, it would take five years to break even again.

Oxford also announced a significant boost to its £1 million bursary fund, which is crucial if fees are charged so that access is ensured for poorer students. The scheme is expected to help 400 students in the coming academic year. Each bursary is worth £1,000 in the first year and £500 in subsequent years.

Kevin Malone, a millionaire who grew up in Nottingham, began his career at the Co-op and moved to America, has donated £340,000 to the scheme.

He said: "In my younger years I would have welcomed an opportunity for higher education, but due to lack of financial wherewithal it was not possible."

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