By Mark Leach
Both Oxford and Cambridge have let it be known this week that they intend to charge the maximum £9000 fee. Absolutely no one is surprised by this news.
However the details about the new access requirements that will come with fees will be announced later this week and Oxbridge have taken a gamble that their measures (such as Cambridge’s ‘discount’ for the poorest students) will more than meet the new regulatory requirements.
And they have good reason to suspect this. OFFA’s Access Agreements have long been the butt of jokes to anyone that believes higher education institutions bare some responsibility for the socio-economic makeup of its intake. Oxbridge is gambling that the new requirements will not be significantly more onerous.
The Government is clearly in a mess about this issue. The fact that we will only get details of the new regime this week – months too late for the sector to put adequate plans in place for the coming year – and Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes are out and about giving confused and conflicting signals to those of David Willetts and BIS. Not to mention No.10 which has to be comfortable with any proposals in this area before they are finalised.
Oxbridge are also gambling that ‘exceptional circumstances’ will apply to them because they are exceptional – and they are probably right. David Willetts (PPE, Christchurch, Oxford) would be one of the first to argue in defense of protecting the ‘jewels in the crown’ of our sector. Willetts is also a firm believer in the market and if we are to take him at his word, then the HE sector will shortly have the free market thrust upon it. It would therefore be entirely consistent with the Willetts worldview for the very best to be able to charge the maximum amount, without too much regulatory interference.
Everything points to access rules in the mould of the useless and discredited OFFA regime put in place in 2004/5. Perhaps with a few inconsistent and nonsensical ‘concessions’ made to the Lib Dems making it even more of a fudge that will have to be rectified at some point down the line.
Oxford and Cambridge are older institutions than the UK Government itself. They’ve proved fairly impervious to legislative tinkering to the sector over the years. And you can bet that they are laughing hard at the thoughtless, messy, cack-handed policy-making of this Coalition which they they don’t need to wait for to make the big decisions about their future.