Have-nots perform below par

April 12, 1996

Huge disparities in the wealth of Oxford's colleges are affecting the quality of student learning, it was claimed this week.

Students in poorer colleges tend to perform less well in exams than fellow undergraduates at wealthy colleges, according to the Oxford University Student Union.

The union's concern prompted a report which it was due to submit to the university's commission of inquiry this week.

The commission is reviewing the university's collegiate structure and its governance. It has said it will look into the union's submission.

Union president Adam Shapiro said that disparities of up to 4,000 per cent existed between the cash reserves of Oxford's richest and poorest colleges.

Mr Shapiro said that some colleges received 80 per cent of their incomes from state fees while others, with huge endowments, needed virtually no public cash.

The union has noted an historic link between the academic performance of the richer colleges, such as St John's and Balliol, and the fact they used to top the now-defunct Norrington degree performance league tables.

But the union says it is hampered in producing definitive statistics by the colleges' reluctance to publish figures on their wealth. The union stresses that while there is a correlation between college wealth and academic performance there are exceptions.

Mr Shapiro said: "Facilities are much better at the wealthy colleges with bigger library acquisitions budgets and more IT.

"We are advocating some sort of collective agreement between colleges which would beef up the current College Contributions Scheme. Greater redistribution is vital to the future of Oxford."

Under the contributions scheme, set up following the Franks report in the 1960s, the wealthier colleges are taxed in order to help their poorer relatives. But Mr Shapiro said that the scheme had failed to provide enough for the poorest colleges.

Michael Sibley, secretary to the commission, said that it was clearly an important issue and that the commission would first consider whether college wealth makes a difference to student performance and second, if it does, then what can be done to redress the balance.

The commission is due to report early next year though sources say that this may be optimistic.

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