The answer for Oxbridge

October 17, 1997

Andrew Adonis's diagnosis (THES, October 10) of the influence of Oxbridge is sound but does not go far enough. No other country has two universities which are so uniquely different from the rest of its universities as Britain.

The presence of Oxford and Cambridge distorts not only the university system, but also on the one hand curricula in schools and on the other employment. Without Oxbridge, the private school sector would lose much of its raison d'etre. In fact, there is probably no aspect of British society that is not affected, and in most cases deleteriously, by the existence of Oxbridge. These serious disadvantages must be set against the internationally recognised excellence of the two universities.

There is, however, a possible solution to the Oxbridge problem which the two universities would find extremely difficult to refuse, namely to turn both into specially funded wholly postgraduate institutions.

This would enable them to maintain and extend their international excellence in research - and it is this which is internationally recognised rather than their undergraduate education - and it would allow their renowned tutorial teaching to be directed at students on postgraduate courses.

Equally importantly, it would take away the privilege of a superior undergraduate education from the small minority of students - a high proportion from private schools - who at present attend these two universities. The unfortunate effects of the present situation on British society would diminish and perhaps even disappear, when all students have to take their first degrees at comparatively similar universities.

I appreciate that to turn my proposal into practical politics will present many difficulties, but I suggest that the position of the present government, with its large majority in Parliament and its huge approval rating in the country, provides a unique opportunity for achieving this major change which will give Britain a genuinely modern higher education system for the 21st century.


Higher education research and development unit, University College, London

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