The University bought a seven- bedroom house in Oxford for its former head of fundraising, The Oxford Student has discovered.
The house, which the University bought for £1m, is now worth up to £1.8m, according to local estate agents.
Documents filed at the Land Registry show that the University purchased the house in 2005, the year it appointed the former Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Development and External Affairs, Jon Dellandrea.
Senior academics – including several members of the University’s governing body – have expressed surprise at the revelations this week, saying they were kept in the dark by the University.
Dellandrea came to Oxford from the University of Toronto, where he had headed their fundraising operation, to launch the “Oxford Thinking” campaign.
Controversy surrounded his departure in 2008. At the time, The Daily Telegraph claimed that Dellandrea had fallen out with an influential American donor, who allegedly called Dellandrea “obtuse” and “uncooperative”. The University has always contested this.
A valuer at Oxford estate agent James C. Penny said it was a “substantial detached house”.
He added: “It’s unusual to have seven bedrooms in Oxford – it’s rather big.”
Oxford is not known for coming second best. It’s ranked highest in The Times and The Guardian league tables and it attracts some of the finest minds from around the world. But now it has something else to shout about – it employs the highest-paid university official in the country.
In The Guardian’s recent comparison of pay across UK universities, Oxford endowment manager Sandra Robertson topped the table.
Her salary of £683,000 last year – not including expenses claims of £43,665 – left the competition trailing behind, with the next highest-paid, the Vice-Chancellor, taking home £474,000.
The new government’s focus on the pay of top officials – including publishing the salaries of all civil servants earning over £150,000 – has focused attention on the pay and perks of Oxford’s senior administrators.
Spending on the fundraiser
With gardens to the front and side, seven bedrooms, a drawing room, sitting room, dining room and kitchen/breakfast room, there is surely no shortage of people who would like to live in the substantial North Oxford residence that was put on the market in 2004. The main barrier would probably be the price on the front of the estate agent’s brochure – £1.25 million.
But for the University this did not prove an obstacle – and they became the proud owner of the property in 2005, for £1 million. Unbeknown to Oxford’s academics – and even its governing body – the house soon had a new occupant.
Jon Dellandrea, an outgoing career fundraiser from Canada, was hired from the University of Toronto to be Oxford’s first head of development and external affairs. He arrived with great fanfare in 2005, with then Vice-Chancellor John Hood saying that “Oxford is very fortunate to have been able to attract someone of the calibre of Jon Dellandrea.”
But dons soon started asking questions: Who had appointed Dellandrea? What was his salary? Who set it? And now – almost two years after he left Oxford in summer 2008 – the veil of secrecy still refuses to lift.
Our revelation about his University-owned home this week has, however, provoked anger from dons – showing that Dellandrea remains a divisive figure.
One member of Council, the University’s governing body, said: “Dellandrea was not dealt with by Council. The Senior Salaries Committee doesn’t tell Council anything worth knowing. We didn’t know about the house. The Pro-Vice-Chancellors in those dark ages were just appointed by the Vice-Chancellor. Now there is a procedure for this and a selection panel.”
Another senior academic said: “There wasn’t a procedure in place for appointing him, so it was done.”
Dellandrea also regularly used a chauffeur to go about his University business.
A University spokesperson said: “In the course of University business, senior officers, including Pro-Vice-Chancellors, are able to make use of a University vehicle and a driver where necessary.
“The University does not employ full-time drivers or chauffeurs.”
Students have also questioned the University’s remuneration decisions.
Hannah Thompson, co-ordinator of the Oxford Anti-Cuts Campaign, said: “It’s really inappropriate for someone to spend £1m on a house. It’s a ridiculous luxury that the University can’t afford – especially [the use of] a chauffeur on top of a seven-bedroom house.
“I’m interested to know how they would justify investing in such a large house.”
The spokesperson defended Dellandrea’s conditions of employment.
She said: “The address you are referring to was bought for the University’s investment portfolio and still remains in the possession of the University.
“It is managed in the same way as its other similar properties and is currently let out at a commercial rate.”
She would not be drawn on who appointed Dellandrea or his salary, commenting: “The University does not make public the terms and conditions of an individual’s employment without that individual’s consent.
“All Pro-Vice-Chancellors report directly to the Vice-Chancellor.”
But Dellandrea is not the only Oxford official to have benefited from the University’s largesse.
Oxford pays more than 135 non-clinical staff more than £100,000 a year, according to the University’s latest accounts.
Former Vice-Chancellor John Hood earned £327,000 in his last year in the job, including pension contributions. This made him the sixth highest-paid VC in the country, according to The Guardian’s investigation.
This newspaper revealed in Michaelmas that the VC also lives in a University-owned property, which is worth £3.5 million.
This comes in stark contrast to the government’s desire to cut public sector pay and perks.
In a letter sent to universities across the country a fortnight ago, ministers Vince Cable and David Willetts wrote: “We are expecting [our department]… to apply restraint to all aspects of pay and bonuses with a lead being given by senior staff. We expect universities and colleges will wish to do the same.”
The Oxford Student this week asked all of Oxford’s college heads – and some of the central University’s top administrators – whether they would voluntarily reveal their salaries.
Just four heads of houses responded with their salaries – even so, revealing a gap of over £20,000 between the lowest and highest paid.
Sir Ivor Crewe at Univ was paid £91,742 last year, with Merton’s Dame Jessica Rawson (£86,912), Wadham’s Sir Neil Chalmers (£80,052) and Green Templeton’s Colin Bundy (£70,000) coming behind.
Frances Cairncross, Exeter’s Rector, said: “This is not information that I want to publish. My full employment costs are annually approved by Governing Body in the College’s management accounts.”
But Thompson questioned why heads of houses were reluctant to publish their salaries.
“It makes institutions look very dishonest when they don’t respond to investigations into pay. Why would you hide it? Are you ashamed of it?” she said.
None of the University officials contacted – including all Pro-Vice-Chancellors, Finance Director Giles Kerr, Development Director Sue Cunningham and Public Affairs Director Jeremy Harris – replied to our enquiry.
The University said that it was treating the emails as a request under the Freedom of Information Act. A spokesperson said that the individuals would need to consult each other before deciding whether or not to make their salaries public.
One senior academic questioned the University’s reluctance to answer the questions this week. He said: “They’re hiding behind the figleaf of calling it a Freedom of Information request, which it wasn’t.”
Similarly, the University this week refused to publish a copy of a report into Jon Dellandrea’s conditions of employment carried out by Oxford’s internal Audit and Scrutiny Committee.
A spokesperson said: “As the Audit and Scrutiny Committee report is not publicly available, the Press Office cannot provide you with a copy of it.”
Construction of Oxford’s new Radcliffe Observatory Quarter could face “considerable delays” because of the University’s dire financial situation.
In fiscal year 2008, the University made a profit of £10.5 million, but with public sector cuts imminent, the University has conceded expenditure will need to fall. This leaves the Radcliffe Quarter, a £160 million development, on uncertain ground.
A spokesperson for the English faculty said: “Given the University and the Division’s financial situation, there is likely to be some considerable delay before building on the site can be commenced.”
A University spokesperson said the earliest construction could begin is 2011.
The development, the biggest the University has seen in more than a century, will centralise the new Maths and Humanities faculties on one site.
A university spokesperson said: “The [Quarter] will offer students and Faculty members exceptional opportunities for interdisciplinary work and integrated libraries, with state-of-the-art lecture rooms, classrooms, and study spaces.”
Students seem to agree improvements are required.
Navjote Singh Sachdev, a 1st year PPEist, said: “A bigger library’s definitely needed and better facilities are necessary to ensure that the Oxford philosophy department remains one of the best in the world.”
The Maths faculty is currently situated on three different sites and is in particular need of centralisation and modernisation.
Tom Hosking, a physicist who had lectures in the Maths department, said the building “was in need of loving”.
“The maths one was definitely worse than any lecture rooms I’ve used in physics. It had crap acoustics – I had to sit in the front half to hear anything,” he said.
The humanities faculty will include the English, History, Theology and Philosophy faculties.
Jahan Meeran, a historian at Corpus, didn’t see a problem with the new devlopment replacing older historic buildings.
“Oxford has many buildings from centuries gone by and it seems only logical that the Oxford University we know currently leaves its mark for future generations,” he said.
The ROQ is on a 10-acre site in Jericho, bound by Woodstock Road and Walton Street.
The Chair of the ROQ Board, Professor Anthony Monaco, said: “The fantastic designs by both architects provide new avenues through the site, exciting gardens and squares, all with views of the Radcliffe Observatory.”
The University Development Office’s burgeoning army of administrators has unveiled their latest fundraising weapon: perjurer peer Jeffrey Archer.
Archer, who was imprisoned for two years for lying about paying a prostitute, will preside over an auction at the Royal Opera House next month, hiking bidding for some “unique and valuable prizes.”
The £200-a-head black tie event is sponsored by Sir Victor Blank, the former chairman of Lloyds Banking Group and one-time member of Oxford’s governing body.
The concert, which has been promoted to University dons, will raise money for Oxford Philomusica, an Oxford-based orchestra.
Although the orchestra is an independent charity, money raised at the fundraising gala – and all donations to the charity – count towards Oxford University’s fundraising total.
More than £1,500,000 of donations to the orchestra in the past three years has been counted as part of the “Oxford Thinking” giving total, even though the charity spends much of its money putting on concerts and running outreach schemes unconnected to the University.
The drive to raise money for an independent charity is just one example underpinning widespread academic concern that the University’s much-vaunted fundraising campaign, “Oxford Thinking”, is not focused enough on raising money for the University’s core priorities.
The wrong priorities?
In an interview with The Oxford Student, University Development Director Sue Cunningham set out the three priorities of the Oxford Thinking campaign, which has so far raised over £800m: supporting students, supporting academic posts and developing the University’s infrastructure.
But dons have suggested that these priorities are extremely vague, allowing almost any fundraising project to fit within them. Cunningham herself admits that 500 different priorities suggested by academics all “fell very comfortably” within these three areas.
Christ Church don Peter Oppenheimer said: “What do you mean posts? If someone says I want a post in Botswanan philology… they’ll say, “How much money is it? £2 million? We’ll have it.” That’s not a policy… First of all they shouldn’t be building in the present [economic] situation, but secondly posts should be geared to genuine priorities.”
At a time when Oxford is struggling to keep its finances in the black in the wake of cuts to its government grants that could last five years, many academics want the University to focus on endowed fellowships and undergraduate bursaries.
One member of Council, the University’s governing body, said: “There’s a headline [fundraising] figure of £800m but there are also large and growing deficits in some of our divisions – those two things don’t match.
“We’ve got to raise money for things we’re already doing or we’ve got to agree we don’t want to do it anymore. Otherwise we’ll have a university with lots of sparkling new buildings and institutes while core teaching and research will wither.”
Philosophy don Alan Ryan, former head of New College, agreed with this analysis. He said: “Piling up institutes makes it look as if they have raised lots of money, but they haven’t actually raised much for the University’s core functions…The big ultimate tension is the number of things that are attractive versus the expense of undergraduate teaching… There is a great temptation to have shiny new donors paying for shiny new buildings, but the University then asks for half of the time of our shiny fellow, but they can’t pay for it. Fundraising really needs to be devoted much more to the core functions.”
Cunningham countered this, arguing that fundraisers would already only allow donors to make gifts that fell within Oxford’s core needs.
“If what they want to do and support in Oxford isn’t actually core to what Oxford wants to do…that is not something that ultimately happens,” she said.
But the University’s support of Oxford Philomusica’s fundraising drive, which is advertised on the “Oxford Thinking” website, calls this assertion into question.
Oxford Philomusica fundraiser Simon Payne confirmed that all donations to the charity count towards the University’s fundraising total, even though the organisation is not part of the University.
Although it is the University’s “Orchestra in Residence”, it does not spend most of its time working with Oxford students.
Instead, it works with a wide variety of schools and hospitals in the region and puts on a number of public concerts outside of term time.
Payne said the orchestra aspired to serve the whole Thames Valley.
Cunningham explained the partnership, saying: “If somebody wishes to support Oxford Philomusica, we should be enormously grateful that they want to do that and Oxford Philomusica and its relationship with the University is multi-faceted and provides benefit to students [and] to the community.”
But Oppenheimer was not convinced that all of the orchestra’s donations should count towards Oxford’s fundraising target.
He said: “I’m all in favour of it [Oxford Philomusica] but what has it got to do with the University?… It is obviously misleading and inappropriate [for donations to count towards Oxford's target].”
In a letter publicising the Royal Opera House concert, seen by The Oxford Student, an Oxford Philomusica official states: “The event… aims to raise funds for Oxford Philomusica Trust, a registered charity… As the University of Oxford’s professional Orchestra in Residence, Oxford Philomusica is part of the Campaign for Oxford and any funds it raises for its own purposes will go towards meeting the target for the Campaign.”
College fundraisers have explained how hard it can be to persuade a donor to donate to a particular project – and how a college can benefit from a plurality of giving opportunities.
Kirsty MacDonald, Wadham’s Development Director, said: “Donors have to give to what they want to give to, but…donors usually respond to what you say are the priorities.
“What we don’t want to do is say you can give to whatever you like and people to come up with things that just aren’t important to the success of the college. At the same time, you can’t tell somebody you must give to this and not to that.”
Spending money to make money
Dons are also concerned at the rapid growth in the size of the University’s Development Office.
It now employs 83 administrators compared to 44 in 2002, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
One Wellington Square official described the staffing numbers as “a hangover from Dellandrea’s days,” a reference to the University’s former Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Development, hired in 2005.
In fact, the statistics show that the number of UK Development Office staff more than doubled, from 24 to 50, the year after Dellandrea arrived.
The fundraisers’ payroll totaled over £4m last year, with total Development Office costs reaching £7m.
This means that the University spent about 13% of its donation income on office overheads, though these costs are borne by other University income.
But Cunningham said that this performance was better than other universities are achieving.
She said: “Relative to the UK average, which is something over 33p [on overheads per pound raised]… in higher education, that suggests that we’re doing really well. I think it’s really important that when one develops relationships and people give very generously one is investing the resources to ensure that you’re thanking those donors and continuing a relationship with those donors so you don’t… make a gift, we write you a thank you letter and then you don’t hear anything for 25 years.”
There are also signs that the fundraising effort is slowing, a suggestion that has been hotly contested by the University in the past. The figures show that while the Development Office raised £97m for the “Oxford Thinking” campaign in 2007-08, it only raised £53.5m in 2008-09 and £32.9m since August last year.
I am overwhelmed by the University’s decision to have variable fees and to lift the cap on tuition fees in the future.
This is an absolute disgrace. No one with a low income or from an underprivileged background will ever even consider for a second applying to Oxford if it is going to be the most expensive university in the country.
They can give out as many grants, loans and bursaries as they like: the fact is that the perception of the University will be highly negative.
The general public will regard it as a posh, elitist institution only for rich people and this will stop intelligent people applying to Oxford.
This is the beginning of the end for the University.
I very much enjoyed the article about being a Northerner in Oxford.
I myself come from Leeds and can identify with all the different problems your author from the North (Northor?) came across.
My accent seems incomprehensible to the Southern ponces who surround me, who either don’t understand me, or proceed to make fun of my alien dialect.
But if I dare as much to suggest anything negative about London or the sacred Home Counties, I am shot down faster than the Piccadilly Line.
I have had enough of Southern pride and would like the entire student body to walk the gritty streets of the North and realise their beauty.
Just a week after the University published an influential report pressuring the government to lift the cap on tuition fees, one of the key figures underpinning the submission has been called into doubt.
In its submission to the Browne review on higher education funding, which will recommend whether or not the government should hike fees, the University estimated that it costs £16,000 a year to teach an Oxford undergraduate.
But an investigation by The Oxford Student has revealed that an internal University report questioned the accuracy of the figure months before it was included in the submission last week. Questioned on the figure, one college bursar this week said it is little better than a “back of the envelope calculation”.
If the sums were correct, they would suggest that teaching costs an average of £670 per undergraduate per week. Many humanities undergraduates – who often receive only two hours of tuition a week – have expressed surprise at the sum.
In its report to the Browne review, the University stated that “the full cost of teaching an undergraduate at Oxford is estimated to be about £16,000 per student per year.”
The submission relied on the calculation to argue that there was a gap of around £8,000 between the funding the University receives per undergraduate and the cost of teaching them, which needs to be partially plugged by raising fees from the current limit of £3,290 a year.
Yet an internal report to Council, the University’s governing body, in November last year stated: “In an area of this kind, there will always be different ways of estimating the total cost, and the quality of information is expected to continue improving…Some estimates would indicate this is as much as £8,000 per year.”
By the time the figure was replicated in the Browne review submission, the University had dropped its caveat that the £8,000 figure only came from “some estimates”.
Student campaigners have said that this lack of clarity could prove crucial in a report designed to influence MPs into allowing Oxford to charge unlimited tuition fees.
OUSU President Stefan Baskerville, who sat on the committee that formulated the University’s submission to former BP boss Lord Browne, questioned why the University did not repeat its earlier note of caution.
He said: “The truth is that the University doesn’t know what the gap [between government income and teaching costs] is. They have one methodology and by their own admission it is one estimate on a range of estimates that indicates it’s £8,000 a year.
“If, as they say in the November [Council] document, there’s a range of estimates, they should be open about that fact and they shouldn’t be running with the highest figure because it suits their purposes for their preferred model [of raising fees].”
Other statements in the Council report cast further doubt on the £8,000 sum. It noted that the methodology for estimating the cost of teaching was very new and was still improving in accuracy, while highlighting that it is difficult to separate the cost of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.
Since much undergraduate teaching takes place in colleges, the figure was also “weighted” by applying the methodology – which is designed to be applied to University finances – to college accounts for the first time.
David Palfreyman, New College’s Bursar, admitted that the University’s calculation was not watertight.
“It’s one of the figures floating around. We’ve got the University doing their own study – other universities have done similar back of the envelope calculations, though this is slightly more nuanced.
“In theory it’s an accurate, accepted methodology…In all management-type calculations there are assumptions made – especially about how academics divide their time. That’s the biggest conceptual weakness, but it’s unavoidable.
“The Physics gang needs toys to play with…do the humanities crowd need all the fancy libraries?…So there’s obviously fuzziness in there, but it’s the best we’ve got,” he said.
But the University has repeatedly failed to highlight their own uncertainty about the figure.
Pro-Vice-Chancellor Anthony Monaco told this newspaper last week: “We’ve done a very careful analysis of our costs and we have an £8,000 shortfall.”
When questioned about the figure on Tuesday, Monaco said: “It is using a figure we report back to HEFCE [the funding council] using their methodology. It is the methodology that HEFCE and all of higher education uses.”
But former Vice-Chancellor John Hood was much less certain when he used the figure in evidence to Parliament last year.
At the time, he said: “Some calculations would indicate that additional cost is as much as £8,000 per year.”
Despite this caution, the national press widely recorded the estimates as fact, with headlines such as “Oxford University losing £8,000 per student”.
Simon Wood, publicity officer for the Target Schools access initiative, said that the University should have shared its doubts about the figure.
Wood said: “It’s clear that the University has sexed up the original report, dropping some very necessary caveats, in order to strengthen its case that Oxford should be allowed to charge the fees it wants.”
But Monaco said that the University did not believe there was any inconsistency between the internal report and the Browne submission.
He said: “I do not think there is any difference between the two documents. In fact the numbers submitted in the Browne Review are based on our analysis of teaching costs in the Joint Variable Fees Group and the [November] report.
“We used TRAC methodology and public University and college accounts to estimate the average cost per annum of teaching undergraduate students…Therefore the numbers are the same in both reports.”
“Socially useful” is a term that sounds a little too applicable to the engineered batches of workers of Huxley’s Brave New World.
Yet this ambiguous term is apparently what we Alpha Plus babies will have to be when we graduate in order to stave off the huge fee repayments which will exist, according to University’s submission to the Browne Review this week.
The decision, deemed realistic by some and completely despicable by others, has been made by Oxford that the cap on tuition fees should be lifted, meaning undergraduates could be charged up to £11,000 tuition fees for an education here.
It is going to take more than limiting oneself to weekly Sainsbury’s Basics rations and buying clothes solely from Primark to deal with this financial burden.
It is also going to harm the University as an institution as well as the individual students, as Oxford will undoubtedly become one of the country’s most expensive universities.
Access will therefore become more difficult, as now it will be both an academic and a financial challenge. Perceptions of the University as elitist will return with a vengeance, and we shall be thrust back into the image of Brideshead decadence from which we have long struggled to shift.
Of course, University fees will have to rise due to the £8,000 gap between government income and the cost of teaching, and this should be an inevitable fact accepted by all.
Yet the submission the University has given to the Browne Review seems insensitively thought out. Increasing fees means favouring the rich and there is no significant attempt to increase the number of bursaries, or college endowments for bursary funds, and this is unacceptable.
If the chance is limited for potential students with a low income to be helped by the University to fund their education, then they simply will not bother to apply.
There is also a lack of precision and sensitivity about the University’s view to write off the fees of people with “socially useful” jobs. This would mean making entirely arbitrary decisions about which professions benefit society, which so far have been sharply defined as “the intrinsically worthwhile stuff” by Lesley Sims, the University’s Head of Planning and Resource Allocation.
Therefore, once future students achieve the task, both academically and financially draining, of getting an Oxford degree, they must mould their career options on what the University deems “useful”.
Tuition fees must be increased, yet the inaccessibility of Oxford and the disillusionment of its students should not be, and need not be, as a result of that.
The University has this week called on the government to scrap the top cap on tuition fees and allow Oxford to hike fees to plug the gap in its rapidly deteriorating finances.
The move could see Oxford charging undergraduates fees of up to £11,000 – to cover most of the so-called “tutorial gap” of £8,000 between current government income and the cost of undergraduate teaching. The University emphasised that some of the gap would be made up from other sources of income.
Student representatives have highlighted the negative effect they believe the plans would have on encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to Oxford, saying it would “risk undermining decades of work” to improve access.
Describing an expensive Oxford education as “a risk” for students to take, University officials have outlined proposals to postpone fee repayments until Oxford graduates reach a certain income threshold – or even write them off if their careers are thought “socially useful”.
The proposals, which would boost University coffers, come weeks after Finance Director Giles Kerr painted a depressing picture of Oxford’s finances, revealing he was budgeting for five years of cuts following the £6m already slashed from the budget by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Under the proposals, submitted to the government review on higher education funding chaired by former BP boss Lord Browne, universities across the country would be free to charge what they like to undergraduates, who currently pay Oxford the statutory maximum fee of £3,290.
Oxford University seeks freedom to set fees
Ushering us in to quiz the University’s top officials on their proposals to scrap the top cap on tuition fees entirely, press officers checked twice that we would not publish the material until today. They were clearly aware that whatever Oxford says on this highly contentious issue will be seized upon by supporters and critics of a market in higher education.
But now the embargo has been lifted and the University’s position could not be clearer: it wants to be able to charge the tuition fees it chooses – and the sooner the better.
As Oxford struggles to cope with swingeing cuts to its block grants from government that are set to continue for years to come, higher fees would form part of a series of “coping strategies” to balance its books.
But worried students have raised concerns about the effect that hiking fees would have on access to the University, suggesting it could entrench Oxford as a university for the rich.
Bankers need not apply
Oxford has set out plans to fundraise to offset the fee repayments of students who go on to work in professions that the University deems to be “socially useful”.
In a scheme that could see social workers applauded but budding bankers stigmatised, University officials would ask donors to write off the fees of relatively low-earning professionals whose work contributed to society. Even so, no fees would be paid back until the graduate was earning above £15,000, if the University’s proposals are implemented.
A University spokesperson said: “You go out to donors and alumni and say will you support a pot of money for, say, social workers, and they would support that and the idea would be that the University would use that funding to then write off fees for people who went into those particular professions.”
In a press briefing to launch Oxford’s second submission to the Browne Review earlier this week, the University’s Head of Planning and
Resource Allocation, Lesley Sims, outlined her vision for the socially useful fee write-off.
Sims said: “It’s one thing to say that yes if you go to Oxford or Cambridge you come out with a higher average salary, that’s a good thing, but it’s not all of it because we actually want people to go into the intrinsically worthwhile stuff: the teachers and the social workers and the people who make the world go round.
“What you’d do is to allow the donors to decide, so I’m sure that a lot of journalists would think that they’re socially useful and they’d contribute to their successors.”
Though the University emphasised that the plans are in embryonic stage, students have raised concerns that they could prove unworkable.
OUSU Vice-President Jonny Medland said that the student union’s proposed graduate tax – making all graduates pay for higher education on a progressive scale, increasing as their income rises – would achieve this aim better.
“Forgiving fees on the basis of what careers people go into is a poorly thought-out way of reducing the impact of variable fees. If Oxford wants to remove the necessity for students to go into very high-paying jobs then they should sign onto our proposals and accept that graduates should pay for their education on the basis of how much they benefit from it,” he said.
Concerned students have raised fears that the University’s plans could accentuate negative stereotypes of Oxford and discourage applications from disadvantaged students worried about re-paying higher tuition fees than at other universities.
The University’s submission was released on the same day as the latest report from the Office for Fair Access showed that the wealthiest students are seven times more likely to get places at England’s top universities than the most disadvantaged.
OUSU said that the measures, if implemented, would discourage potential applicants from poorer backgrounds.
Medland said: “The University’s submission risks undermining decades of work to improve access to Oxford. Placing a high headline figure on the value of an Oxford education will put students off applying here unless they feel that they can afford it.
“Students shouldn’t be making decisions about their education on the basis of money and a truly variable fee-based system would place this aim in jeopardy.”
Sims admitted that the University has not in the past been good enough at communicating the message that its fees will only be repaid when a graduate can afford it.
She said: “I think we would say that the understanding of the system is simply not good enough and it’s one that we really have to work on…They [students] will say ‘is it worth me paying this? What do I get for it?’ And that’s what we need to make clear – what you get for it.”
Anthony Monaco, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Planning and Resource Allocation, agreed that selling the value of an Oxford education would be important in attracting students from all backgrounds.
“I also think that if we’re having an income-contingent repayment system, we actually have to show how an Oxford education benefits the individual. By showing those benefits, we can help people understand that it’s worth the risk of going to an institution that may have a higher variable fee,” he said.
University officials believe higher fees will allow Oxford to become more independent from government control.
Sims said: “We’d very much like to say that universities are not public sector, they are independent, autonomous charities and we feel that they should be allowed to function like that.”
But the University was at pains to emphasise that it has no specific level to which it would like to raise fees. It admitted that fees could rise further if the government cut more money from its higher education fund.
Monaco said: “At the same time the government is in the process of considering whether they’re going to cut further our tuition grant – it’s very hard, because it is also a moving target.”
Only one student, OUSU President Stefan Baskerville, was invited to sit on the committee, composed of delegates from the central University and its colleges, that drafted the two submissions to the Browne Review.
University officials insisted that this did not indicate that they were not consulting students.
Monaco said: “We took the views of the students very seriously in both groups and we debated some of the issues like the graduate tax versus deferred income. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages and came to a view that the University would like to propose. We understand that OUSU has a different view, but I don’t think these views are worlds apart.”
But OUSU Vice-President Jonny Medland seemed taken aback by this assertion, insisting that their proposals were very distinct from those submitted by the University.
He said: “I’m not sure how anyone could conclude that our proposals are similar to Oxford’s. We have argued that students should pay for their education in accordance with the benefit that they receive from it. Oxford is arguing that they should pay a fee dependent on which university they attend. These two arguments are fundamentally different.”