Undergrads are Oxford's strength

June 23, 1995

Oxford is in so many ways all that a university ought to be, it has no centre. It does take teaching and research seriously, your editorial says (THES, June 16). As a United States citizen who has spent most of his life teaching at Yale and then headed a major liberal arts college, and a distinguished public university, I should like to take issue with your basic assumption.

What distinguishes Oxford is its first-rate undergraduate education. It may well be that it needs to emphasise its commitment to an intellectual elite rather than a social one, but it does provide an education matched, to the best of my knowledge, by no US university. Your editorial backs the wrong horse.

Research at Oxford is like research at many universities, with peaks of excellence and troughs of despair. Taking into account Britain's long-term economic prospects, if Oxford were to give up undergraduate education, where it clearly and rightly has an outstanding international reputation, and to emphasise research, it might well find that it has left the leadership of the first division in teaching to play in the second and third divisions of international research universities.

Robert Stevens

Pembroke College


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