Oxford pro v-c 'interested' in truly variable fees

Sally Mapstone throws her weight behind calls to move beyond £9,000 fees cap

November 21, 2013

Another senior figure at the University of Oxford has backed the prospect of truly variable fees – a move that could lead to some institutions charging significantly more than the current £9,000 maximum.

Andrew Hamilton, the Oxford vice-chancellor, recently used his annual oration to urge a future government to allow “significantly different” amounts to be charged by different universities.

At a Sutton Trust event in London on 13 November, Sally Mapstone, pro vice-chancellor for education at Oxford, was asked whether the university would want to see a system of truly variable fees.

“We would be very interested in seeing the potential for a move to variable fees,” she told the event.

“But I think there are a couple of things that go with that. One is that price should never be an impediment to talent. They have got to be able to get in.

“The other is that when you look at the repayment mechanism, you’re looking very hard at income-contingent measures.”

On measures to improve access and encourage poor students to apply, Les Ebdon, director of fair access, had told the event: “The evidence we have [at the Office for Fair Access] is that [scholarships and bursaries] don’t make a difference to people’s decisions.”

However, Dr Mapstone recalled a visit “about a year ago” by Professor Ebdon to Oxford where students discussed bursaries with him.

“Our students said that they felt very strongly – particularly those who came from what you might call disadvantaged backgrounds – that bursaries actually made a really big difference,” she said.

She added that bursaries were key in “levelling up the differences between certain social groups”.

Sir Michael Barber, chief education adviser to Pearson and a member of the 2010 Browne Review, told the event that to reduce the fee cap and reintroduce direct public funding would be “a big waste of money”.

“The fee cap should probably be raised, because inflation is occurring in costs,” he added.

Sir Michael suggested that there should be thinking about “how you could get government capital money building an endowment fund…or a number of endowment funds that would get you towards a proper system of needs-blind admission”.

He suggested that funds received by the government from future privatisations could be used for this purpose.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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