Danial Hussain in front of LMH presenting the college disparities report

SU President’s leaked report reveals severe college disparities

The Oxford Student has gained exclusive access to a version of a report authored by SU President Danial Hussain on college disparities due to be published later this term.

It lays out an extensive vision of an Oxford rife with disparity at almost every level, from accommodation to academic performance. It makes several recommendations to address disparities, including the creation of an Endowment Fund to redistribute funds from wealthier colleges to poorer ones.

This report was Hussain’s headline measure during the SU presidential election. His manifesto put forward “An Oxford that reduces college disparities” by “compiling […] data from all colleges for negotiating efforts.”

It comes two months after Hussain returned to his role following suspension after allegedly sharing porn with SU staff. Oxford SU is also undergoing a period of significant change, with a transformation plan underway to, among other goals, create a “more responsive student representation system”.

The report finds that “there are substantial financial disparities between colleges, which have worsened with time and will continue to deteriorate unless significant action is taken.” It highlights that wealthier colleges provide more support for their students due to having larger endowments, and that these disparities lead to significant differences in student experiences.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds were found to be especially affected by these disparities, undermining the University’s “goals of access and inclusion”.

The report examines the repercussions of these disparities, and the unequal support offered by colleges through various grants and scholarships. These disparities, paired with diverging accommodation offerings and rent prices, result in unequal situations between students across colleges.

Existing schemes to address financial disparities are labelled as poorly designed and insufficient. The report specifically takes issue with the current bid system for redistribution between colleges, which it calls “humiliating” and “financially inadequate” for poorer colleges.

The report’s recommendations consist of three significant proposals. These include the creation of an endowment fund and the creation of a committee of college disparities made up from University and College representatives. It also proposes integrating college disparities into the Office for Students “Access and Participation Plan”.

The proposed endowment fund would begin with £60m in capital funding from the existing scheme. It projects that over ten years, the fund would reach a value of £286m and redistribute over £74m between 18 colleges.

The endowment fund would work by taking a portion of the “wealthiest college’s share” of the Collegiate Funding Formula. The formula consists of funding for teaching, research, and student fees, and operates by allocating an equal rate per student to each college.

This money would then be redistributed “proportionally” to the poorest colleges. The report’s model projects that this would have “little effect” for wealthier colleges, but that it would allow poorer colleges to improve their “financial stability”.

Disparities would be further addressed by a committee formed from college and university representatives. The report also proposes incorporating college disparities into an Access and Participation Plan, which would “mandate Oxford to actively address and rectify these imbalances”.

The report includes quotes from Chancellor Lord Patten, who said: “Partly a result of history and luck, is the wide divergence in the funding of individual colleges from their own resources. These differences across the University can lead to what many believe is sometimes an unequal student experience across the same university.”

Vice-Chancellor Irene Tracey said: “We do have some unevenness between departments and colleges. The same might be said for the experience of our academics. I’m not ignorant of the challenges in levelling up, for want of a better expression, and I welcome engagement with departmental and college heads on this issue going forwards”. 

One issue that the report also raises is that colleges with lower financial endowments admit significantly more state-educated students than ones with bigger endowments. However, it is often these students that will require the financial assistance that wealthier colleges can more easily provide.

The report also highlights that there is a “broad correlation between college wealth and academic performance”, meaning that students from poorer colleges generally perform worse than peers from wealthier colleges on final exams.

Previous attempts to resolve college disparities are also acknowledged, namely the Franks Commission in 1966 and the North Commission in 1997. The report states that recommendations made by the Franks Commission did not materialise into substantive changes, and the problem has since intensified.

Examples of this are numerous: Christ Church’s endowment alone increased more than that of the 10 poorest colleges in the last 4 years, meaning that while poor colleges struggle to pay for necessary expenses, wealthier colleges are able to reinvest their earnings.

The report states that its objective is to “ensure that no student’s experience falls below an acceptable minimum baseline”. It concludes by saying that these changes are “crucial for fostering an equitable Oxford experience”.

The University, Oxford SU, and Danial Hussain declined to comment on this issue.

Image Description: Danial Hussain in front of Christ Church and LMH

Image Credit: Ed Webster, Dmitry Djouce, and Andre Camara for The Times