Members of two Oxford colleges met this week to discuss the possibility of the University increasing tuition fees to £9000 from October 2012.
The concerns of members of Congregation about the fee increase were echoed by members of Corpus Christi and St John’s colleges during fees forums held this week.
Members of Corpus present at the meeting on Monday favoured opposing cuts to bursaries and lobbying the University to support the measure rather than fee waivers.
The meeting between the President of St John’s, the College’s Principle Bursar, and students on Friday also focused on bursaries.
College members hope that their opinions will be taken into account by the University Council when it makes its decision on 14th March. Corpus Christi JCR President Jack Evans said: “Essentially you have to ask how policy decisions are made in this university. It is a college based decision-making process so JCR input will obviously be valuable. As for Corpus I am delighted that we have in our Governing Body and College President a responsive, open organisation that takes the needs of its college members seriously.”
A University press officer said: “It is clear that the decision making process includes colleges. All the University committees including the council have college representatives on them. The conference of colleges will feed in its view.”
A key concern about fee increases voiced at the meetings was that it will prohibit students from lower-income backgrounds from attending the University. David Messling, St John’s JCR President said: “The rise in fees will undoubtedly have a negative effect on access. Students from low income backgrounds will be looking at total debts that could be twice or three times their family income. Debt aversion could snatch away an Oxford education from those with the academic potential to be here.”
Andrew Parker, Principle Bursar of St John’s said of the potential discouragement of state school pupils by fee increases: “This is the anxiety that we all have.”
A recent survey carried out by the St John’s JCR found that out of 59 responses 54 percent said they were likely or very likely to be put off applying by fee levels of £9000.
The University spokesperson said: “Quite clearly from the Congregation discussion, some individuals think fee levels would be critical for access, others do not.”
Messling said he thought increasing fees could perpetuate commonly-held views about Oxford. “I think there’s a danger that if Oxford jumps straight in at 9k, it will confirm stereotypes of exclusivity that the University has spent years trying to shift, especially if other unis charge less,” he said.
Concerns were voiced at the Corpus Christi discussion over the possibility that Oxford Opportunity Bursaries will be cut from £6.6 million to £5.5 million, an option suggested at last week’s Congregation meeting. Current legislation means that the increased profit made from higher fees cannot be put towards funding poorer students.
Parker added: “Both the present and previous government have been worried that university fees would rise so sharply that some individuals would become eligible for various forms of social support, simply because of fee liability. Hence, they have specifically prescribed the use of fee income by universities to provide bursary support for day to day living.”
Another proposal under consideration at the meetings was the introduction of fee waivers, where tuition fees would be reduced rather than presenting students with a cash-in-hand bursary.
At Corpus opinion was divided over the suggestion that students from households earning less that £21,000 could have their fees reduced to £6,500.
Jack Evans said: “It seems inevitable they’re going to happen in some form.” He suggested that fee waivers are not necessarily the best method since students can always physically afford tuition fees with their student loans. He stated that living costs are the “key issue” and “bursaries are better” for solving the problem.
The outcomes of discussions in colleges this week will be put forward to several conferences of colleges representatives in sixth and seventh week.