MP claims Oxford likely to go private

February 27, 2004

Oxford University will be forced to "go private" and charge students Pounds 15,000-plus for courses when the cap on tuition fees is reviewed at the end of the decade, an MP claimed this week.

David Rendel, Liberal Demo-crat MP for Newbury, said that an Oxford college president had confided that there was a "real expectation" that the university would privatise in future and survive with "no government money coming in".

Mr Rendel told the standing committee on the higher education bill that Oxford would be one of a number of universities likely to forgo state teaching funding in favour of charging fees of £15,000 or more once the cap is lifted at the end of the decade.

In response to the claims, Sir Colin Lucas, Oxford's vice-chancellor, told The Times Higher that the proposed cap of £3,000 for fees would ultimately need to be reviewed.

"However, if there were to be an open market in higher education, then it is very doubtful that fees of the level that is sometimes quoted would be possible. In any case, one should not talk about fees without also talking about bursaries," Sir Colin said.

Draft regulations and guidance on the Office for Fair Access were published by the Department for Education and Skills this week, prior to a discussion on the proposals by the standing committee next week.

The guidance outlines the access agreements that must be approved by Offa before universities are allowed to charge top-ups. The agreements must spell out institutions' access strategies, including their plans for bursaries of at least £300. Breaching an agreement could bring a £500,000 fine or the removal of permission to charge up to £3,000 in fees.

The guidance also states that Offa will expect the most, in terms of access, from institutions who need to do more to widen student participation.

Michael Sterling, chairman of the Russell Group of universities and vice-chancellor of Birmingham University, said: "The (Offa) criteria assumes a desirable mix of students - who's defining what is a desirable mix?"

Michael Driscoll, chairman of the Campaign for Mainstream Universities and vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, said many vice-chancellors wanted nothing to do with Offa.

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