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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 18:42 GMT


Oxbridge system loses funding

Oxford: Colleges say maintaining this lot is expensive

The government is ending the special funding Oxford and Cambridge universities get to support their collegiate system of education.

The tutorial system relates to the universities' peculiar nature. They are administrative bodies designed to represent the various individual colleges for certain collective purposes. Students apply to and are members of the colleges.

In terms of education, the universities organise lectures which are held in university lecture theatres and within departments (or faculties) and are attended by students from all colleges who are studying a particular subject.

Colleges are responsible for individual teaching. They arrange individual tuition for their own students.

How it works

This tuition varies from one college to another but usually takes the form of a tutorial (the Oxford term) or a supervision (in Cambridge). This is a small group - probably only two or three students - and their tutor or supervisor. The tutor may be from the same college or from outside, depending on the subject or course. They get together usually once a week to review progress.

[ image: Beneficiary: The Prime Minister was at St John's College, Oxford, in the 70s]
Beneficiary: The Prime Minister was at St John's College, Oxford, in the 70s
The equivalent in most universities is lectures, in much the same way, and seminars of perhaps 10 students and a lecturer on a particular course.

The Oxbridge system is relatively luxurious and therefore expensive. Some of the more long-standing colleges are extremely wealthy - but not all of them. The colleges say they use their own endowments fully in paying for many of the costs of the collegiate university, including the "substantial recurrent costs" of maintaining and running their buildings as well as financing research, student hardship grants, and bursaries.

Nevertheless ministers ordered a review of the colleges' grants after Lord Dearing, in his inquiry into higher education, pointed to the disparity with other institutions. Oxford and Cambridge fought back, arguing that cutting the tuition fees supplement could drive some smaller colleges out of existence.

'Stable framework'

Cambridge's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Alec Broers, said the outcome was "a difficult settlement" for the colleges.

"I am reassured that the government has recognised the excellence of Cambridge and its collegiate system," he said.

"Within the constraints of national funding for higher education, we have reached an outcome that at least offers us a stable framework.

"Most importantly, this has settled the question of college fees and has given us a 10-year time span to adjust to our diminished resources."

Sir David Harrison, Chairman of the Cambridge Colleges Committee, said: "We have repeatedly demonstrated the academic excellence and integrity of the Cambridge collegiate system, which government has also acknowledged. The proposed long-range cut in funding is considerable.

Regret but relief

"We will of course do our utmost to develop a system that minimises damage to the educational provision for our students."

In Oxford, there was regret at the "significant" loss of funding. The Vice-Chancellor, Dr Colin Lucas, was putting a brave face on it.

"We are relieved that this question can be put to rest once and for all following a year-long review," he said.

"We are pleased that HEFCE and government ministers have fully accepted that colleges are central to the academic success story that marks out Oxford and Cambridge."

The Chairman of Oxford's College Contributions Committee, Mr John Flemming - Warden of Wadham - said: "The collegiate university remains committed to redistribution of funds from the better-off to the less well-off colleges. We intend to enhance this process over the coming years."

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