Oxford's 'farcical' cash plan attacked

December 10, 1999

Oxford University faces "catastrophic" centralisation that risks turning the ancient university into a "big, boring, bland oil-tanker" unable to compete internationally, according to college manager David Palfreyman, writes Phil Baty.

Mr Palfreyman, bursar of New College, Oxford, has attacked university plans for distributing cash to the colleges, following the government's decision last year to phase out the Pounds 18.6 million college fee. The fee, which was paid direct to the 42 colleges, has been replaced with a shrinking block grant, paid to the central administration.

Mr Palfreyman writes in the Oxford Magazine that Oxford "will use the opportunity as the university piper very definitely to call the college tune" (sic). He claims that "the withholding of money is to be used to blackmail (and the word is used advisedly) colleges into complying with the university's wishes".

Cambridge has decided that its colleges will carry the full burden of the loss of college fees but Oxford has opted to share it 50:50 between the central administration and the colleges this year. But Mr Palfreyman claims that "if the colleges collectively jump through various hoops, then 60:40 is on offer, even 70:30."

Strings attached include moves to encourage the colleges to "become more collectivist" and, "most farcically", moves to push fellows in richer colleges to fix their housing allowance to let poorer colleges catch up.

Mr Palfreyman said: "If Oxford wished to be yet another big, boring, bland, oil-tanker civic, then the recipe (in the plans) is just the ticket: mediocre salaries attracting mediocre people to perform in a mediocre way... Cosy, comforting, cloying, claustrophobic and catastrophic."

Mr Palfreyman calls on Congregation - the democratic community of dons - to reject the plans.

Ralph Walker, chairman of the general board, said: "We believe that the objectives we are proposing - such as a new body to represent colleges - are in the interest of the colleges and the university as a whole."

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