Oxford and Cambridge: will elite universities go private and raise fees?

As universities wait to see if the government will cut tuition fees – and therefore their income – one of the most controversial questions of all is being discussed. Could Oxford and Cambridge universities opt to break free from state control and go private? The Guardian reports

The government launched its review of post-18 education in February. With the Tories keen to woo young voters, following Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to end tuition fees, a reduction of the £9,250 fees cap is widely expected. But vice-chancellors say quality could be threatened if the government does not plug any gap with new funding.

Unlike other universities, Oxford and Cambridge say fees, even at £9,250, do not cover the costs of the tutorial-led teaching for which they are famous. A spokesperson for Cambridge would not comment about going private, but said each student costs an average of £18,500 a year to teach.

Matt Robb, of EY-Parthenon, a consultancy that advises universities, says: “Oxford and Cambridge are currently in the top five institutions in the world. If that status were threatened by loss of funding or other factors, and this was the only solution, I think they wouldn’t blink in pushing to go private.”

Lord Butler, a crossbench peer and former master of University College Oxford, argues: “If the government looks at its interests clearly it ought to be sympathetic and encouraging towards this idea. It would save a lot of money [on loans and teaching funding]. It would be a very good solution for some leading universities to be cut loose, on the condition that they had a needs-blind admissions system [with no one turned away because they can’t afford the fees].”

Lord Butler says: “I think the government might be anxious that independent universities would become like private schools and would be largely confined to the well off. However, that needn’t be the case as universities with strong brands could ensure that access could be completely means tested, with bursaries for families who could not afford the fees.”

However Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank, says: “If they walk away from the regulatory system they are basically the same as private schools. No one chases Eton hard about needs-blind admissions.” If admissions were scrupulously fair, the private universities would be less likely to spend as much time and money on going into state schools and searching for talented students.

Read the full article Oxford and Cambridge: will elite universities go private and raise fees?

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