'I'll defend Oxford on access'- Bingham

February 28, 2003

Lord Bingham stole a march on his two principal rivals for the job of Oxford chancellor this week with an early endorsement of the university's record on access.

Four names will appear on next month's ballot paper, with comedian Sandi Toksvig standing on an anti-fees ticket. European commissioner Chris Patten is the bookmakers' favourite, with Lord Neill also attracting support.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the senior law lord, said that Oxford was at a "critical point in its history". Having already expressed support for fees, he said: "Many of the very best scholars and scientists in the world are leaving Oxford; and they are doing so reluctantly, for reasons not only of better pay but, more importantly, of better research environments."

And he signalled his intention to fight Oxford's corner on access. "The perception of Oxford as a privileged bastion - at odds with reality in so many ways - is damaging and must be countered," he said. "There is a risk that the proposed access regulator will undermine the independence of the university without addressing the real problem."

Both Lord Bingham and Mr Patten have laid out their wares on websites packed with quotes from supporters. Mr Patten, who has equivocated on top-up fees and said that he is still to be persuaded against a graduate tax, has chosen to highlight certain press articles on his site. From The Spectator comes: "He is a heavy-hitter, a man who thinks big, resting his blonde-white-thatched skull on his fist and massively excogitating his ideas."

Mr Patten was due to issue a statement on his position by the end of the week. The Oxford Gazette will carry statements from all four candidates next week.

Lord Neill of Bladen, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, is also promising to produce a website. A former vice-chancellor of the university, Lord Neill set up the fund-raising Campaign for Oxford, which raised £360 million.

Mr Patten, the frontrunner, has the support of three former vice-chancellors - Sir Rex Richards, Sir Richard Southwood and Sir Peter North - five heads of college as well as big names such as scientist Colin Blakemore and economist David Marquand.

Lord Bingham has one former vice-chancellor and ten heads of college as well as former mistress of Girton College, Cambridge, Baroness Warnock and former prime minister Sir Edward Heath among his supporters.

Lord Neill numbers 17 former heads of college, six regius professors as well as Oxford graduates William Hague and John Redwood among his.

Ms Toksvig, a Cambridge graduate, is backed by the Liberal Democrats and has the support of Paul Tyler MP, Lord Razzall, Susan Kramer and Lord Oakshott.

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