Oxbridge stereotypes

December 5, 1997

I HAVE read your coverage of the Oxbridge college fee review with both interest and disappointment.

In playing up the resentment that some other universities feel about the funding levels Oxford and Cambridge receive while higher education has suffered crippling cuts, your reporters are playing into the hands of those who would like to "divide and rule".

The extra funding that Oxbridge receives in the form of the college fee comes from a separate funding pool and is not, therefore, directly depriving other institutions of badly needed money.

Those of us who are campaigning to maintain Oxbridge funding levels are not seeking to belittle the achievements or the needs of other universities. As a Liberal Democrat, I would like to see a reverse in the year-on-year squeeze of the higher educationsector.

Allowing cost-cutters to nobble Oxbridge will not enable other universities to run faster. Those who back any funding council suggestion that the fee be reduced may be paving the way for further "levelling down" of awards across the sector.

If the college fee is reduced or removed, there is no guarantee that the rest of higher education would benefit financially, although it would undoubtedly be damaged by a drop of the quality and extent of Oxbridge teaching and research - and I do not just mean our international reputation for excellent higher education and the economic benefits which that brings.

Up to 70 per cent of university teachers have been through Oxford or Cambridge, but ending the college fee would mean reductions in the junior research fellowships funded by Oxbridge colleges, the seedcorn of academic talent.

Furthermore, is it really necessary to back up every story about Oxbridge with photographs of students and staff in formal dress, and stories about every other institution, even those with similar dress codes for certain occasions, with photographs of students and staff working diligently in laboratories or libraries? I hope that your paper will be able to look beyond the stereotypes at the substance of what Oxbridge achieves.

Evan Harris MP

Liberal Democrat Oxford West and Abingdon

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