Letter to The Queen’s

March 22, 2011 at 8:52 am Leave a comment

This wasn’t me……..but I wish it had been. Well said.


Dear Professor Madden,

I am writing, as an Old Member, in response to your letter (College Newsletter, Hilary Term 2011).  I have to say I was dismayed by the assumptions that a rising fee cap to £9,000 was just the start of a further increase to £14,000 or above, and that proportion of maintained school entrants does not appear to be a prime concern for Queen’s or the University.

When I was an undergraduate (albeit 25 year ago), one of the strengths of Queens acknowledged by many members of the College, was the relatively equal mix of those with state and private school backgrounds. The College will know better than me if this has changed over the years (indeed it would be interesting to see the data published in a future newsletter), but my presumption is that it would be undermined by the vision you outline.  

You will, I am sure, not need me to remind you that students over the next few years face the prospect of what has been termed “debt slavery” – not only the significant increase in the cost of a university eduction but also challenging job prospects, high housing costs, and expensive pensions. Hence, as your letter acknowledges, the likelihood is that prospective students’ choices are compromised: not opting for higher education, or choosing a course where they can live home to save money or which is less expensive in the first place.

This compounds a national problem. As numerous studies have shown, social mobility is Britain is declining, and we will fail to exploit our potential as a result.  A small but significant contribution to this decline would result from the vision you outline, if children from families without significant financial means become much less likely to consider an education at Oxford colleges like Queen’s.

Whilst I can understand any irritation with Nick Clegg after his volte-face on fees and punitive reduction in humanities teaching grant, I would plead not to dismiss his concerns about the proportion of state school entrants as “excessive regulation”.  Throughout society, key institutions – like the police recruitment and specialised medical training, and even political parties in choosing parliamentary candidates – are recognising that they have an obligation to ensure they do not inadvertently discriminate against certain groups, and need to examine and challenge themselves in the process.  I would suggest Oxford University, as one of the UK’s leading institutions, should view itself in the same way, and recognise its leadership role in shaping the UK as a meritocracy.

Oxford has a potentially significant role to play in sustaining the reality, for thousands of students including myself hitherto, that that the best universities are not the preserve of those educated privately or whose parents come from the 50% tax bracket.

I worry that your vision will mean the ability to pay top tier fees is a core criteria for entry, justified on the basis of a small proportion of bursaries for the less well-off. Surely, this risks fundamentally changing the mix of entrants to Queen’s?

My final thought is a practical one: given you are considering major strategic changes with far reaching implications, why not build on your letter by proactively canvassing views from Old Members about the options and how some of the challenges, such as encouraging more state entrants, can be approached?


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