University scraps ‘wealth test’ for graduate applicants

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Oxford has rewritten the admissions policy that provoked a lawsuit against St Hugh’s College earlier this year.

The ‘financial guarantee’ that required applicants to prove they could finance their entire course before being offered a place has been replaced with a less stringent financial declaration. The policy had been under scrutiny after applicant Damien Shannon claimed the University was discriminating against poorer students.

The guarantee demanded proof that applicants were able to meet their course’s tuition fees and £12,900 in living costs before offering them a place.  However, applicants from this year on will only have to demonstrate their ability to pay the first year’s tuition fees. Living costs are no longer mentioned.

The policy became national news earlier this year after Shannon was unable to provide evidence that was thought strong enough by St Hugh’s of his ability to spend £21,000 a year and several other colleges. The subsequent withdrawal of his offer led to him accusing Hugh’s of selection by wealth as well as academic excellence.

Although the college originally intended to meet Mr Shannon in court, the case was settled in March this year. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the financial guarantee had come under review.

Hazel Blears, the MP for Shannon’s constituency, congratulated him and praised Oxford’s decision:

“It has benefited not only Damien but thousands of students who would have struggled to prove they had instant access to nearly £13,000 in living costs.

“And if that wasn’t enough, when students were willing to show initiative and get a part-time job to help ensure they had the money, Oxford refused to take account of these earnings…I’m really pleased the university has now seen sense and changed its policy”

Blears also called on the University to invest in means-tested scholarships for postgraduates from less wealthy backgrounds, to which the press office declined to respond.

A University spokesman emphasised that the policy change would not affect the ability of graduates to focus on study:

“The financial declaration aims to ensure that students are fully aware of the expected fees and living costs associated with their graduate study at oxford, and is still intended to prevent students dropping out during their course, which is in the interest of both the welfare of individual students and the institution.”

However, recent veteran of the application process Emily Moss believes that the change will lead to more students undertaking paid work while studying:

“I think most postgraduates without funding will have to work alongside their course. £20,000 a year is a lot of money, even for those from a more wealthy background or those getting a lot of financial help from other family members.”

In general, however, Moss welcomed the change.

“I certainly felt the university had totalled my expenses to be considerably over the odds and therefore, in my opinion, I had to ‘prove’ I could afford considerably more than I hope it will cost me, providing I don’t live too lavishly.”

Damien Shannon will begin studying his MSc in Economics and Social History at St Hugh’s this October.