Indications of the likely direction came from senior academics speaking during a debate of congregation – the dons’ parliament – yesterday in the institution’s Sheldonian Theatre.
But many academics also denounced the government’s higher education reforms and voiced their anger that Oxford would have little choice but to charge high fees to replace the funding being stripped away by ministers.
Tony Monaco, pro vice-chancellor (planning and resources), told the discussion that Oxford would have to set a fee of least £8,000 a year because of the cuts.
A charge of £9,000 would bring in an extra £14 million, he said, and some of this extra money could be used to offer £3,000 waivers for poor students. “The message to them would be, it is no more costly to attend Oxford than any other UK higher education institution,” Professor Monaco said.
However, David Barclay, president of the Oxford University Student Union, warned academics not to be “wooed” by arguments that “we must charge what we can and only spend what we have to”.
Others criticised the government and the Browne Review of higher education for putting Oxford in a situation where it had no choice but to charge a fee at or near the maximum level allowed.
Robin Briggs, emeritus Fellow in modern history, attacked the Browne Review as an “intellectually vacuous report” that “espouses a pure market ideology in which everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator of money”. Kate Tunstall, a Fellow of Worcester College, called it a “grotesque and poisonous vision of education”.
Many also concentrated on arguments about how to improve access for students from poor backgrounds and expressed anger over any attempt by the government to control Oxford’s admissions policies.
Susan Cooper, a professor of physics and member of Oxford’s governing council, said the government’s scrapping of Aimhigher and the education maintenance allowance were the “real blows to access”.
She also argued that money should be directed to bursaries rather than fee waivers.
Professor Briggs said any move towards recruiting more students from the state sector should not be achieved in a “dishonest fashion” through the breach of the “vital principle” that entry should be granted on merit and ability.
However, others said there had to be progress. John Parrington, lecturer in molecular pharmacology, said statistics showed “that we must be failing to select a huge amount of gifted students”.