Oxford slips in world league for a fee

March 27, 1998

Oxford University's colleges will soon be no more than "glorified dormitories", Robert Stevens, master of Pembroke College, Oxford, told the Association of University Administrators in America this week.

Chronicling Oxford's "Armageddon", Professor Stevens told an audience at George Washington University that Oxford, "although remaining the best of England's universities, will not be playing in the world league".

Oxford's failure to make a convincing case to keep all of its special college funding, and its failure to stop the reduced college fee being distributed through the central university, combined with the government's ban on top-up fees, will ensure that the university will "not survive new Labour as a federal institution", he said.

"It will be a second division research university and will have forfeited its international reputation for undergraduate education," he said. "At some level of consciousness perhaps the British have decided that being no longer a world power, world-class universities are an embarrassment."

But Oxford was to blame for its own decline, he said. Under the scrutiny of a new government, Oxford was too preoccupied with fighting to keep its college fee, "rather than argue for even partial privatisation" through top-up fees.

The most important issue - that the future, reduced college fee would be paid not to the colleges but through the university - was "barely discussed", although this would mean that "in the future the university was now in the driver's seat".

Poorer colleges did not object to their "loss of independence", as they would do better if the fee was run through the university. Richer colleges such as Magdalen and Queens, he said, "were much more concerned that they might have to disclose their real worth".

The result will be disastrous for the colleges and for university teaching. "The science barons and the university politicians will have ensured that research will have gained priority over college teaching," he said. "When there are battles about dividing up the block grants, teaching and the colleges will not be the winners."

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