Supplement (4) to Gazette No. 4655
Wednesday, 23 April 2003
- Text of the Resolution and proposed amendment
- Speeches were made by the following:
- Dr M.E. Woodin
- Dr P.R.A. McGuinness
- Professor P. Langford
- Professor D.C. Clary
- Dame Ruth Deech
- Mr P.J. Stewart
- Mr W. Straw
- Mr A. Dilnot
- Professor C.P. Mayer
- Dr M.J. Collins
- Ms S. Sodha
- Dr R.C.S. Walker
- Professor A.D. Smith
- Dr S. Goddard
- Professor P. Langford
- Dr M.E. Woodin
- Result of voting and arrangements for postal vote
The report of the debate in Congregation on 25 March on the resolution concerning university funding and fees (see Gazette, 27 March) is set out below.
The resolution read as follows:
`That Congregation welcome the Government's recognition that Universities require higher levels of funding if they are to maintain and improve standards in research and teaching, but oppose the introduction of top-up fees.
(a) believes that the increase in student debt arising from £3,000 per annum top-up fees will prove to be a significant deterrent for potential students from poorer backgrounds to enter higher education or to apply to institutions that charge higher top-up fees;
(b) is concerned that students who attend institutions that charge higher levels of top-up fees will be dissuaded by the higher levels of personal debt they will incur from seeking employment in relatively poorly paid sectors such as teaching, research, and the public sector;
(c) is concerned that, once established as the principal source of additional funding, top-up fees will increase substantially in real terms in future years;
(d) believes that, although welcome in principle, the Government's proposals to reintroduce means-tested grants are insufficient to significantly ameliorate this deterrent;
(e) applauds the efforts of all sections of the University to widen access, particularly its Junior Members through the Target Schools Campaign. Congregation is concerned that the government's proposal to establish a direct link via the Access Regulator between a University's effectiveness in widening access and its ability to charge higher top-up fees will significantly diminish Junior Members' motivation to continue their excellent work in this area.
2. Future Funding
Congregation believes that the benefits derived from higher education are, in large measure, a `public good', and that graduates' subsequent incomes can be regarded as a fair approximation of the extent to which they are a `private good' in any particular case. Congregation therefore resolves that in its response to the Government's White Paper, the University will advocate the introduction of a system of funding that:
(a) allows current standards of teaching and research to be maintained and improved;
(b) facilitates the planned expansion of higher education without compromising standards; and
(c) meets the cost from the public purse, having close regard to contributors' ability to pay.'
The following amendment was proposed on behalf of Council:
Delete all after `That Congregation' and substitute:
`be committed to ensuring that the University of Oxford remains an institution of the highest international standing in research and teaching that is accessible to those who demonstrate the greatest potential, regardless of social or educational background.
Congregation notes that there has been and continues to be a substantial shortfall in public funding to support teaching by research-active staff, and that the core HEFCE grant for teaching in 2003-4 has declined, nationally, by 6 per cent in real terms from the previous year.
Congregation recognises that the increasingly urgent need to redress the substantial reduction in the unit of funding will, regrettably, not be a high priority for allocation of finite public funds, in the context of the Government's target for 50 per cent participation in higher education by 2010 and other public-sector budgetary commitments.
(a) remains committed to ensuring that our selection processes are equitable and transparent, and based only on a range of criteria concerning academic potential;
(b) expresses concern about the proposed Access Regulator and believes that any linkage of funding to the terms and conditions of admission of students is contrary to the Further and Higher Education Act 1992;
(c) supports the expansion of programmes such as the Oxford Bursary Scheme which aim to remove financial barriers that may deter individual students from studying at Oxford, and welcomes the principle of the restoration of means-tested grants;
(d) will continue to welcome, support, and encourage the comprehensive range of activities by students and staff to widen participation in higher education and access to Oxford;
(e) recognises that it is realistic to expect that students, as independent adults at 18 and major beneficiaries of a university education, should bear some of the costs of a high-quality university education, as at present but through more advantageous arrangements for a subsidised loan with income-dependent repayments.'
DR M.E. WOODIN (Balliol College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I would like to start this afternoon by thanking everyone for setting aside valuable vacation time in order to attend the debate, and also my fellow signatories for enabling it to occur. I hope at least at this stage in the afternoon, we can all agree that it is a debate worth having.
In proposing the resolution I hope to clarify the thinking behind it and perhaps also to offer some advice on what to do about the amendment.
We are all aware, and the statement from Council that was circulated in the Gazette last week reminded us in case we were not aware, that the Government recently published its White Paper on the Future of Higher Education against a background of substantial and sustained cumulative reductions in the unit of resource available to UK universities. The White Paper makes it clear that the proposed increases in government investment in universities will be insufficient to pay for the planned expansion in student numbers and an additional source of funding is required to fill the gap. Of course the Government's suggestion to fill that gap, on which they request our comments by the end of April, is `graduate contributions' or top-up fees.
Against that background then, the purpose of our resolution this afternoon is to give the University an opportunity to debate the main points that it wishes to see, or not, placed in its response to the Government's White Paper. In due course, after the White Paper has reappeared as a Parliamentary Bill, and after that Bill has been enacted, the University will have to study the detail of the proposals or the regulations that emerge and decide what it wants to do in response, but I would emphasis at this point that those discussions and decisions are a debate that should be had on a future occasion. It is not the debate that we are here to have this afternoon.
Today we must decide what to say in response to the Government's proposals, chiefly to load a higher proportion of the costs of higher education onto individual students in the form of personal debt. The resolution provides a clear response to that proposal.
Its signatories believe that by imposing increased levels of personal debt, perhaps around £21,000 on average, potential students from poorer backgrounds will be deterred from entering higher education, as the evidence circulated in our flysheet already suggests. If not deterred from entering then they will be forced to choose between institutions on the basis of the fees that those institutions charge rather than on the academic grounds that I am sure we would all rather see them use to make those choices. In a climate of increased personal debt, choices of degree course and career will be more strongly shaped by financial considerations than they are at present. And I am sure I am not alone in believing that teaching fulfils its many purposes more abundantly (even those purposes that are related to future employment) when students are inspired by the intrinsic value of the education that they are acquiring, rather than a narrow calculation of what is in it for them.
The Government do propose some steps in recognition of the adverse effects of the main thrust of their White Paper; colleges and the University too are making welcome moves to expand hardship and bursary support available to the poorest students. All this together would be better than nothing, but it would be insufficient to ameliorate the deterrent that we believe would be imposed if top-up fees are introduced.
I am therefore drawn to one straightforward conclusion: the Government's proposals would undermine the significant efforts that all sections of this University are engaged in to widen access to students from all sections of society---and that that would be to the detriment not only of this University but of society as a whole.
The alternative source of funding the resolution suggests should be included in our response to the Government's White Paper is public funding that bears `close regard to contributors' ability to pay'. I hope subsequent speakers will be given a chance to outline some of the details of this, for we believe that it is affordable and politically achievable. It would also help the UK to move up from its current very lowly position in the OECD's spending on higher education league-tables.
What the resolution carefully avoids stating is who the contributors should be. My personal preference would be `all income-tax payers' with higher bands for top earners to boot. But there are other signatories who would restrict the category of contributors to `all graduates'. However, the essential point of agreement amongst us is that higher education is a `public-enough good' to avoid loading any proportion of its cost on individuals in the form of personal debt. That is not to deny that there is private benefit to be gained from higher education, but in as much as that benefit is reflected in an individual's increased earning potential, then may they fall into a higher income or graduate tax band.
I hope that this straightforward statement in favour of the public benefit of adequately funded higher education is one that will unite Oxford University today.
I will now turn briefly, I hope, to the amendment. In passing I would note that most forums for debate with which I am familiar (and there are one or two) possess standing orders that prohibit amendments to replace the original resolution in virtual entirety whilst negating its main argument, the more conventional course of action being of course to vote against the substantive motion---it seems, however, that Congregation is not so blessed.
However, the more significant arguments against the amendment are two-fold: firstly it is internally contradictory; secondly and more importantly, it appears to be motivated by a mistaken understanding of our original resolution.
I will deal with these in turn.
Firstly, the amendment appears to intend the removal of any mention of opposition to the Government's proposal to introduce top-up fees. However, in the third paragraph of the amendment's preamble, the fact that the Government is thought not likely to place a high priority on redressing `the substantial reduction in the unit of fundingþ---the very factor which necessitates additional funding streams---is said to be regrettable, as indeed it is. If then our opinion of the withdrawal of public funding from higher education is that it is regrettable, why should we not, during an official period of consultation, tell the Government directly that that is indeed our opinion? This is of course what the original resolution does.
Secondly, as is made clear in Council's statement in last week's Gazette, the amendment misunderstands the original resolution as `ruling out' future graduate contributions---a decision branded as `premature and probably reckless'. While I should probably concede that the words that appear in the first paragraph of the original resolution which say `but oppose the introduction of top-up fees' could be read in this way I will rely on the good sense of members of Congregation to perform two tasks this afternoon. Firstly, to recognise from the rest of the resolution, from our flysheet in the Gazette, and the remarks in the debate today that the resolution addresses solely the nature of our response to the Government's current consultative proposals, and it does not address the University's future actions once those proposals are finalised. And secondly, to mentally edit any sections of subsequent speeches that are based on the false premise I have just highlighted.
Indeed, if any party in today's debate is in danger of being `premature and probably reckless', it is Council---and I have to say I would not sink to such name calling had Council not started it!
In an open democracy it is always premature to stifle one's own opinion before a decision is taken, simply because you fear you might end up in a minority. If we adopt the resolution today we will be in tune with the overwhelming majority of public opinion and a growing body of parliamentary opinion. As it has demonstrated before, the University has an influential voice in the formulation of higher education policy and it could yet use that voice to help persuade the Government of the error of its ways---to vote for the amendment today in an attempt to muzzle our collective voice will, probably, be reckless indeed.
I urge you therefore, whether you agree with the resolution or not, to vote against the amendment in order that we can take a clear stand on the principle of top-up fees. I will also, of course, be rather grateful if you vote for the resolution as well.
DR P.R.A. MCGUINNESS (St Anne's College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, as you have just heard, our resolution is not an attempt to tie the University's hands for future funding, but to formulate a response to the Government's White Paper that takes into account the real risks entailed by several of its proposals. As I hope you will discover in the course of the debate, we may well have common ground.
I however support this resolution and I oppose the amendment for a number of reasons, the principal one being to do with access and widening participation. In my capacity as Schools Liaison Officer for my faculty, I visit many schools and run many open days. I can assert that what most worries potential applicants, and importantly their teachers and parents, is debt. Debt also blights the lives of many who actually get into university. To say, as a senior academic (not from here) recently said, that students who fear debt are thinking with the wrong side of their brain seems to me a failure of sympathy as well as of imagination.
Perhaps we could begin therefore by pondering this statistic: in the ten years since the abolition of grants and the introduction of fees the number of people from poorer backgrounds attending university has gone down from 13 to 7 per cent. Introducing fees seems counter-logical, proposing in fact to increase exactly what it is that deters in the first place. And it is not enough, I believe, to say that higher education has increased unmanageably in the last ten years as if that gets us off the hook, or as some kind of excuse, since in the same ten years the percentage of people from poorer backgrounds has actually gone down. So yes, participation has gone up, but access to that participation is going down and it will go down further.
Not a term goes by when I do not have students of my own with serious financial hardship. Many of them leave with £18,000 to £20,000 debt, a figure that frightens me even as a relatively comfortable wage-earner. Moreover, I would suggest that one does not actually even need to be poor to fear a £20,000 debt. I am not poor and I fear it, and I would fear it. My other worry is that many of my students stay on to do research or go on to do teaching qualifications---do we really think that with big debts we will keep feeding people into teaching, research, and public-sector work? I do not believe that we will.
Like many members of Congregation, I received a free university education. I do not believe that the tax-payer who `paid for me' as the parlance goes, or indeed for any of us, has got bad value for money, or funded something irrelevant to them. Fees as they are proposed are based on the `user pays' philosophy that has already been the near end of our public services---why do we take a demonstrably failing principle and apply it to the university sector?
The amendment flyer's euphemism of `non-traditional backgrounds' when we mean poor or low-paid socio-economic groups, I think, is also evasive and inexact: being poor, in the last decade in this country of growing inequality, is becoming all too traditional, and I think it is the kind of tradition that we ought perhaps to try to abolish. We ought to stop also fooling ourselves about exactly what kind of potential students we will be excluding.
We also oppose the Access Regulator because, since fees will damage access, all the Access Regulator will do is impose from above what we as a society lack the imagination and the backbone to foster from below: that is to say, equality of opportunity. We also in any case have a great many regulators in today's Britain. As a frequent rail traveller myself I can tell you that the Rail Regulator has not done much for the quality of my commuting life. What do we expect from an Access Regulator? A kind of toothless meddling, I suspect, with more regulation than access.
I also ask those of us who support fees, provided they stay low, whether we really believe that they will stay low. I do not believe so. Many of us do not believe so. Already senior academics are talking of £10,000 fees and more. The American model which we are being hawked is itself not perfect. Access figures for the US are not necessarily better than the UK though they often have more striking individual rags-to-riches stories to impart. Many universities in the US today are finding that even their extremely high fees are not necessarily keeping them afloat. This is a model I believe we should be wary of.
All these issues go to the heart of what we believe the university is---as a place and as an idea. They go to the heart also of why we feel so privileged to learn at or teach in this particular University. To call raising these questions about access, student welfare, academic freedom `reckless' (a very fashionable term at the moment) is a kind of insult. Our resolution is also called `prematureþ; we prefer to call it---to use another highly topical phrase--- `a pre- emptive action', in which we think ahead on issues that affect us and those we teach.
My final point---our final point---is that the best reason for fees that we have heard, perhaps in the end the only truly persuasive reason, goes along the lines of: `We have no alternative; it is going to happen anyway,' and besides, `we need the funding.' It is this mixture of weariness and a kind of misplaced pragmatism that we want to challenge. The best way that we can start challenging it is by admitting that debt deters and to increase debt would be to increase the deterrent.
And that is why I urge you to vote for the resolution and against the amendment.
PROFESSOR P. LANGFORD (Rector of Lincoln College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, having heard Dr Woodin and Dr McGuinness, can I say at the outset that in my view there is no fundamental difference of principle between us today? It is unfortunate that there is some disagreement, but it is really not about the principle of `needs-blind access'. Where there is a division, I think, is about how to realise that principle while obtaining funds to support all our other objectives and ambitions.
Dr Woodin asks Congregation to respond to the White Paper by demanding that remedial funding of universities should come from taxation, rather than from what are called `top-up fees' in the resolution. This term is not transparent, it is not helpful, and it is not actually used in the White Paper. It is applied here to a policy involving in fact three linked actions, all subject to consultation and negotiation. The first would abolish the existing fee of £1,100 which students pay unless they qualify for remission. The second would establish a new fee, fixed by individual universities, no higher than £3,000, that is to say £1,900 more than the £1,100 now charged. This would be levied not at the outset, as the present one is, but by means of a loan repayable when the student attains a specified income, in the White Paper 50 per cent above the current level for repayment of loans. The third element would preserve the present remission for the first £1,100 of this new fee and also provide a maintenance grant for students from lower-income families. This is a complicated package. The resolution ignores, it seems to me, some of its key features. Those features represent major changes in government thinking and also suggest room for further changes. Last week the Secretary of State's latest remarks in the House of Commons even held out the possibility of remitting the whole of the new fee, the whole of the £3,000, for less well-off students.
Accepting the resolution would, I think, inhibit the University from engaging in open discussion with Government about our own priorities, which include of course `access'. It would be interpreted by the media and many well-disposed friends of the University as evidence of an `ivory tower' capacity to ignore political realities and of a lack of interest in any mediated or negotiated solution. I know it has been said that this resolution does not tie the University's hands in future. Dr Woodin and Dr McGuinness have both explained in some detail what that interpretation is based on. Dr Woodin has said that there are really two debates, as I understand him: one today on the White Paper; another later on, on any concrete proposals that emerge after the period of consultation. He asks us to believe that taking a stance on one would have no implications for the way our stance on the other might be perceived. The press has already described this debate today as being about Oxford's opposition to so-called top-up fees. I submit that it is surely not credible to ask Congregation to instruct Council to oppose variable fees on the one hand while making a collective mental reservation on the other that would permit their subsequent adoption. Such conduct could lead to accusations of gesture politics, perhaps of pusillanimity, perhaps even of hypocrisy. In any event, we seem now to be in the realm of intentions, for Dr Woodin conceded that the wording of the resolution seemed to be ambiguous in some respects. If we are in the realm of intentions we can hardly cross-examine all thirty-three signatories to find out what they actually intended. I suggest we stick to the words of the resolution and to our understanding of the way those words will be interpreted by the outside world, not least by Government. I would also like to suggest that it makes too many assumptions and fails to foresee quite serious implications.
The resolution assumes that Government and the public would prioritise higher education above the many other demands on the modern state, including the claims of primary, secondary, and further education among much else. It assumes that the tax-paying public, however defined, would be ready to finance in full the tertiary education of what in all scenarios would be a limited proportion of the population as a whole. It assumes that universities like ours, with distinctive missions in teaching and research, can be fully funded by the public at the same level as other UK universities. It assumes, it indeed states, that none of the measures proposed in the White Paper would enable or encourage less well-off students to apply to Oxford. No doubt, further work could be done and further thought should be given to this, but further work and thought are exactly what the resolution today is designed to make more difficult.
These assumptions must also be set in the financial context outlined in Council's published statement. That context is bleak. The £30m at stake on the basis of the White Paper proposals represents nearly half the turnover on the University's undergraduate teaching `budget'. To reject the proposals, in the expectation that these sums, let alone any that would meet our full costs, might be found by the public, seems to me unrealistic and in its consequences perhaps even rather irresponsible.
Receipts from undergraduate home and EU student fees cannot be considered in isolation. There are already forces pushing up what we charge other students. The more we subsidise home students the more pressure there is to replace them with others. Perhaps there is some high moral ground from which it seems legitimate to charge something closer to the market rate to students from the poorest Asian and African countries but illegitimate to charge a fee at all to students from Britain or other relatively rich European countries, such as Germany, Sweden, and France. I recall that being called highly objectionable by the Student Union and by many academics in the past, but even if we are now comfortable with it, we should bear in mind that other universities, at home and abroad, are battling to improve their share of this market. It cannot simply be turned on and off to counteract reductions in our own funding at home.
Secondly, it seems to be supposed that Oxford's stance can be determined by Congregation alone. In fact colleges are essential to the planning process. They are already, like the universities, subsidising home and EU undergraduates very substantially, and some of them are talking about taking more overseas students to reduce that subsidy. They are also losing a proportion of home and EU fees each year on a scale of reduction commenced in 1998 and now only half-way through its course. For colleges, the so-called LSE route, of largely abandoning home students to turn to foreign students would be wholly unpalatable, but there is bound to come a point in a loss-making operation when quite unpalatable questions will be asked.
Thirdly, the fee structure proposed in the White Paper is not a panacea. It is part of a continuing debate about how to support higher education. For Oxford a key issue is surely that of academic and academic-related salaries, not just because they have fallen so far behind any reasonable benchmark but because their decline has got to be arrested if Oxford is to maintain its standards and its aspirations. It is surely the quality of our academic staff that more than anything else decides our continuing excellence, in undergraduate teaching as much as in graduate training or in research. There are already signs that we are losing the capacity to recruit and retain relative to our global rivals and to other universities in other parts of the UK. Access for all of the right ability and aptitude is vital, but it must not be access to a steadily degraded asset in a manifestly declining university.
Fourthly, fund-raising. Our alumni understand the pressures placed on a university of this kind by current policy. They accept that they must help us sustain students from very diverse backgrounds. What in my experience very few of them accept is the notion that we would deny ourselves the right to charge students who have the potential to pay their own way. We need our alumni support if we are to remain a world-class university. The new Sutton Trust report out last Friday highlights our predicament. Only Oxford and Cambridge among UK universities would feature in the list of the top 150 institutions in the USA in terms of endowment, and neither Oxford nor Cambridge would get into the top ten. It also reveals the role of alumni in the vast increase in endowment that has benefited American universities. We know their importance to Oxford. We need to be very careful about the signals we send when we talk of raising taxation to avoid raising fees, even for the relatively well off, and when we claim that attracting lower-income students requires us to avoid charging those who will later be able to make a larger contribution to their already heavily subsidised education.
Two concluding points: firstly, Council is not suggesting there is only one preferred outcome, let alone that it is determined to introduce the £3,000 fee if legislation permits. What it does suggest is that the policy outlined in the White Paper should be a basis for negotiation and deliberation. The amendment that I am now proposing on behalf of Council makes that possible. The resolution we have been offered makes it impossible and backs us into a cul de sac from which there is no practical escape whatever is said about `double debate'.
Secondly, the principle that I started with: let me say clearly, as a member of Council, that I would only vote for a variable fee that allows us to deliver on `needs-blind' admissions. That would almost certainly involve returning a proportion of any income gained in the form of support for less well-off students. It would also involve renewed and vigorous fund-raising to sustain bursary schemes, as well as further developing the outreach campaigns that have been so strongly supported by our students as well as staff in recent years. To make progress with all these things, we need room for intelligent and principled negotiation, not an outright `No' to one of the Government's central proposals in its new thinking and in the new White Paper.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I beg to move the amendment.
PROFESSOR D.C. CLARY (St John's College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I wish to second the amendment proposed by the Rector of Lincoln College.
Like many people here today, I was fortunate enough to study at university without having to pay fees, and had the support of a maintenance grant paid by the state. Many of us teaching in universities look back wistfully on those days. However, the number of people attending universities in the UK has increased considerably since that time, and financing that increase has become a major problem.
Several of the points made in the resolution of Dr Woodin and Dr McGuinness are valid and worthy. I have only recently come to Oxford University and have been most impressed with the efforts being made to encourage applications to Oxford from schools and colleges that do not send many students to university. This is being done not just by people specially employed for that purpose, and through the excellent student Target Schools Campaign, but also by many staff in the divisions, departments, and colleges of the University. I should say that these efforts do not get the publicity they deserve outside the University, and I am sure we all agree that continuing emphasis on outreach and access must be a major priority of the University.
Related to this is the very important matter of student bursaries. There are already major campaigns from the colleges and University to raise the extensive finances needed to provide appropriate bursaries, and this must be a top priority for the University in the future. Above all, and I think we all agree with this, we must ensure that any student who has the talent and potential to be admitted to Oxford must not be prevented from doing so for financial reasons.
The amendment has been proposed partly because Council is concerned with the implications of the resolution for the ability of the University to maintain its position as one of the leading universities in the world for teaching and research. I have worked at more than one university considered to be a major competitor to Oxford. If Oxford was restricted in its sources of funding for teaching and research, universities such as these would quickly exploit the financial advantages of flexibility, and the national and international standing of Oxford could be lost.
I would like to raise a concern on item 2 (c) in the resolution that states, `The University will advocate the introduction of a system of funding that ... meets the cost from the public purse, having close regard to contributors' ability to pay.' This statement does not refer to the fact that there are many sources of university funding. Only one-third of funding for Oxford University comes from government sources. In my division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and in other divisions and departments of the University, charities and industry contribute substantially, not only to research but also to the funding of doctoral students. This illustrates that flexibility in funding is central to a university such as ours.
However, I think we can assume that item 2 (c) of the resolution is supposed to refer to undergraduate funding, although it does not do so explicitly. There are still many discussions going on between universities and Government, but to expect that the full costs associated with undergraduates should be met from the public purse is not realistic. Indeed there is an argument that such a system is unfair to those who have not attended university and would have to pay taxes to enable others to do so. There are many reports that show that graduates, on average, receive significantly higher salaries than non-graduates, and with this financial advantage it is not unreasonable to expect graduates to make some income-dependent repayments through a subsidised loan to help pay for their undergraduate education.
It should be emphasised that such a system would have to be applied carefully, as indeed is emphasised in the resolution. It will be essential to ensure that graduates employed in jobs with lower salaries, such as some of those in the public sector, are given special financial support. They must not be discouraged and disadvantaged from entering such important professions because they would be carrying a loan.
It is argued that a graduate contribution scheme will discourage people from financially disadvantaged backgrounds from wanting to attend university. There is already a fee of £1,100 per annum, and there is evidence that the introduction of this fee has not reduced applications to Oxford and to other UK universities. For example, the number of applications from the maintained sector for undergraduate places at Oxford increased by a remarkable 27 per cent from 2000 to the year 2002, and this increase is reflected in substantial increases right across the subjects. For example, Physics, a subject probably considered by many of you to be difficult, and a subject from my division with a high proportion of students from the maintained sector, received 371 applications in 2000 and 532 in 2002. In addition, the annual publication of the Higher Education Funding Council on Performance Indicators shows that the proportion of young people from financially disadvantaged backgrounds taking places at universities in the UK has increased every year since the first introduction of the £1,000 fee.
To conclude, the University must not be committed to a policy of inflexible funding that would put us at a serious disadvantage compared to our competitors in maintaining and enhancing the quality of our teaching and research, but we must continue to emphasise the important priorities of enhancing access and providing appropriate financial support through student bursaries.
DAME RUTH DEECH (Principal of St Anne's College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I would like to support the amendment proposed by the Rector of Lincoln College.
On 28 May 1920 a letter appeared in the Oxford Magazine:
The academical year which is now closing has witnessed three gigantic changes, which will slowly but surely turn the course of the University into new channels. The accumulated effect will be as momentous in the eyes of future generations as that of the First Commission. I refer to the abolition of compulsory Greek, the admission of women to membership and degrees of the University, and the acceptance of money from a government department.
I salute the writer on his perception of the need, then as now, to balance the need of the universities for public funding with the retention of independence and concern for access.
Why does independence matter? Because it is the task of the universities, and of no other institution in society, to preserve, advance, and communicate knowledge. There will be no national development in our social policies and our scientific skills, our internal governance and our external standing, unless universities are allowed to proceed in their own way with the task of fostering intelligence, intelligibility, and independence of mind in students, for the common good.
The raising of fees to £3,000 per annum (if that is the sum) represents an important step in the reclaiming of university independence. It is better done by direct funding from the participants in higher education than by seeking extra from taxation or from HEFCE on terms that Government will impose. Fees will be the equivalent of a hypothecated tax, but outside the constraints of government policy if we successfully argue the case in our response.
Fees incidentally should not be called `top-up'. Top-up indicates something additional, over and above a fully funded system. The fees in question will amount to no more than a partial contribution to the preservation of the university system, in which both students and tutors are partners and participants.
The status of British universities has undoubtedly fallen: the question is how far? Lord Baker, who was responsible for one of the recent statutes that most undermined universities, said, `When great institutions decline they do not suddenly fall over a precipice, they simply slide down the slope, a little further each year, in a genteel way, making do in their reduced circumstances, like a spinster in an Edwardian novel.'
It is hard for universities to complain. If they say they cannot manage on the money made available, they lose their reputations; so they manage, with the result that further cuts are made because they are able to cope with reduced resources. Successive governments have created an under-funded and over-regulated mass university system without full consideration of the consequences. The student proponents of the resolution will be earning more than their donnish opponents in two or three years' time. The damage to them is temporary---to the universities it could be permanent.
The proponents have no alternative plan to ameliorate a situation where staff:student ratios have declined in ten years from 1:10 to 1:20, and where British academic salaries have failed to keep pace with non-manual salary inflation by 30 per cent since the 1970s. General taxation will not meet the point, because all general taxation is surprisingly regressive. The very rich find ways of avoiding it. The poor should not subsidise the education of the more favoured. All public services that depend monopolistically on general taxation, for example health, schools, and social security, are chronically under-funded. It is unrealistic to expect anything different in relation to higher education.
Yet universities have been manoeuvred, once again, into the position of the cruel perpetrators of injustice, when the responsibility should be placed at the doors of Government.
The proponents should be addressing their concerns to the electorate and to the Government; and in the meantime join with Council in preserving the institutions of higher education. It is irresponsible not to take funds in a grand gesture of self-sacrifice; deserving students are being placed in the position of human shields to the Government's policy consequences. It is the task of Government to ensure that no one who is qualified is denied access to higher education. It is not the task of Government to run universities, and yet a long history of legislative interference with every aspect of universities, from student unions to freedom of speech, from academic tenure to A-levels, has culminated in proposals to engineer the composition of the student body, university by university, in a way that is ill consonant with the charging of fees.
Oxford has acted imaginatively and successfully in recruiting and encouraging applications from all over the country, but it rejects the notion that a regulator is necessary or that Oxford's social composition is to be profiled; and it has already taken giant strides to ensure that no applicant is deterred by financial hardship. Indeed, in my own college and no doubt in others, I know of no student who has ever had to leave Oxford for financial reasons. We wish to reassure the proponents of the resolution that the financial needs of students are of paramount importance to the University, but they are not in our view the main deterrent to the widest possible access. Social manipulation of university entry for ideological or financial reasons has no place in our thinking. On the contrary, controlled selection of particular classes of students has always been the hallmark of authoritarian governments.
The White Paper outlines a regulatory scheme that could be challenged in the courts as illegal under s. 68(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act, which appears directly to ban such a scheme, and also the Human Rights Act. The White Paper states that the new Access Regulator will work with universities to set `benchmarks' through `robust and challenging agreements' backed by penalties to the extent of ending permission to charge fees. On behalf of the integrity of universities and students, the notion is being resisted and the counter arguments seem to have prevailed. If they did not, then the proponents' younger brothers and sisters will be the first to be excluded by the regulator's principles, which are emphasis on students from families in which neither parent went to university, young people from low-income homes and from schools with poor exam results. There is no need for the regulator to be more than a man of straw; for nobody could be dissatisfied with the efforts made by Oxford to widen access over the last few years and the transparency of the process. We are proud of what we have done, and of the fund-raising from graduates to provide bursaries.
The real deterrents to access, as desired on all sides, are the class system, attacks on Oxford by government ministers, and the absence of maintenance grants. Participation by the lower social classes was proportionately greater when I was a student, and public-school entry was lower, because of grammar schools and maintenance grants.
The access work undertaken by Oxford ranges from conferences for 8,000 to working with children in care, to Sutton Trust summer schools for 300 with undergraduate helpers and college subsidies, to 1,300 potential applicants visiting Oxford in four months, to encouragement of children as young as year 7, to 200 open days a year, to a full-time Further Education Liaison Officer and twenty-four staff working on access, and Oxfordshire master classes---not to mention the college-based projects.
The unique Oxford Bursaries amount to £1,000 in the first year and £500 in the second, third, and maybe fourth years to any student whose fees are remitted, i.e. the parental income is below £20,000. The full cost of £2.5m a year will be met by benefaction, the colleges, and the University.
Free education of the past sadly did not increase access. It is different in the USA, where high fees are coupled with widespread access, because of different social expectations and ambitions and more parental input. Nor are we likely to find many schoolchildren who are deterred by the fee system already in place. Almost all children with two A-levels from semi- skilled and unskilled homes already go to university, and there does not seem to be a reservoir of resistant high achievers. Our applications have risen by some 2,000 in the last couple of years.
Students in our system contribute only a small proportion of the funding actually needed to run a university. They receive in return infinitely more proportionately in terms of subsidy, bursaries, scholarships, and grants. It is the University's own structure that is suffering, and the victims include academics through their low salaries.
Education at university is expensive to provide but priceless to receive. The proponents should join with Council in seizing the means to preserve it in the interests of future generations by making a robust and challenging response to the White Paper.
I support the amendment.
MR P.J. STEWART (Department of Plant Sciences): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I speak as one whose lifetime earnings were very seriously damaged by my decision to go to university. I thought that the purpose of going to university was to acquire knowledge for its own sake and not for any use that I might make of it later on. I think, as a country, we have made three mistakes which have cost us very dear and made our universities far more expensive than they need to be.
First of all, we have confused university education, which should be the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, with technical education, which is teaching people how things are done at present and how to improve them in the immediate future. Of course there is no absolute distinction between these two. A lot of knowledge pursued for its own sake turned out many years later actually to be useful. The important thing was that at the time it was being pursued nobody foresaw that use. A few years ago a Conservative Government decided to turn all our polytechnics into universities, so we now have a second tier of universities; we no longer really have a proper higher education system aimed at technical learning. I think we should look at France, where Napoleon established the Grandes Écoles to teach technical subjects. It is actually harder to get into a Grande École than to get into a university in France, it has higher prestige, and the earnings you can expect afterwards are greater, so people in France only go to university if they really are interested in knowledge for its own sake.
A second mistake we have made in this country is to expect universities to provide most of the laboratory equipment for scientific and technological research. Again we could look at the example of France. They have the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, which provides facilities for most of the very expensive research, leaving universities without this huge burden.
A third way in which we have made our universities very expensive is by assuming that most students will go away from home to study. I read recently that about a quarter of all young people between the age of 20 and 30 in Great Britain are now living with their parents. I do not really see why we should expect that most people who are going to want to study in higher education should go away from home. We should surely re-establish the distinction between universities that cater mainly for their municipal population and that of the surrounding countryside, and national universities which do expect students to come from all over the country.
Oxford, no doubt, would hope to be one of the latter, and because of our peculiar college system the cost of providing accommodation for students living away from home falls on the colleges, not on the University. But in the larger perspective if we did abandon this idea of making people go away from home for university, universities would become considerably less expensive than they are now for society, and we could hope to find a solution that does not involve imposing these huge debts on people, many of whom will probably end up worse off for having chosen university.
I beg to support the resolution.
MR W. STRAW (President of the Oxford University Student Union): Mr Vice-Chancellor, higher education, as we know it, is under threat. The Government's plans for the sector will destroy the principle that we in this room are all committed to: that of meritocracy.
I know that those of you here today want to teach the very brightest people in the country, based on their merit and potential and not on their ability to pay. I have no doubt that everyone in the room has the same determination as the Student Union to widen participation. It is at the forefront of all our efforts.
There are four ways to improve access and I do not need to tell you that the Access Regulator is not one of them. First, the raising of aspirations of schoolchildren. Second, outreach work, and my colleague Sonia Sodha will talk more about this if selected by the Chair, but there can be no doubt that the combined work of the University and the Student Union is sending out the strongest possible message that Oxford is a university open to all.
A third way to improve access is the introduction of what the Government term an `effective and fair means of student support'. But their proposals simply do not go far enough. A grant of £1,000 a year will barely dent the actual cost of being a student, which is £6,217 according to the latest statistics from the NUS. And as well as being a pittance, only those whose parents earn under £10,000 will qualify. I ask you: how many students do you know whose parental income is that low? Yet how many students do you know who are in dire financial straits? According to the National Office of Statistics, only 7 per cent of all 16- to 18-year-olds come from families with an income that low. It is essential that this University sends a strong message to the Government during this consultation period that their plans for student support are not good enough.
And there is a fourth reason for low access in Britain's universities. It is a truth that policy-makers, including the Secretary of State, are only starting to recognise, but let me tell you: debt deters, and if debt continues to rise applications will not be made.
Professor Barr of the LSE will tell you that students are thinking with the wrong part of their brain when they consider their student loans a debt. The Government tell us to consider our loans to be an investment in our future. Unfortunately, and it may come as a shock to some of the economists in the room, we are not all rational utility-maximising individuals. And not everyone will go on to earn huge amounts of money as a result of their education. Yet the future investment banker and the future social worker will still be expected to pay back the same amount of money. I ask those who support the Government's proposals to tell me whether that is fair. And I also ask the Principal of St Anne's to tell me which job I can go into in two years' time which will earn me as much as the Rector of Lincoln or the Principal of St Anne's, because then I will tear up my plans to work in the public sector. Let us be clear: the creation of a market in higher education will mean that some potential applicants, especially the more risk-averse students from the lower socio-economic groups, will apply to less good universities to save the pennies. Potential will be wasted.
I do not want you to think I am a naïve student representative who does not understand the real issue at stake here: that of the under-funding of higher education. I know that more money has to be found from somewhere. But although some members of Congregation may see student contributions as an inevitability, the same cannot be said where it matters: in Westminster. Fifty-one Labour MPs have signed an Early Day Motion stating that they support the National Union of Students campaign on top-up fees. Only another thirty are needed to defeat this policy in Parliament, and we can join this group. In Cambridge the Council passed a resolution last November proposed by the Student Union to express their reservations about top-up fees. It will not bind them and it will not bind us. And I believe the money can be found elsewhere. As stated earlier, Britain's public spending on higher education is twenty-fifth of the twenty-eight OECD countries.
The Government has responsibility to put extra money into this sector. It was their rhetoric that spoke of `education, education, education'. It is they who want world-class institutions to compete with the best of the Ivy League. And it is they who want to increase access to universities.
The tax burden in this country is far too low. Introducing a new 50 per cent tax band on the one per cent of people in the job market earning over £100,000 would raise £3.7bn this year and £4.6bn by 2005-6. The cuts in corporation tax between 1997 and 2004 will add £20bn to company profits and it can be argued that the reduction in military spending to that of other European NATO countries would save £3.5bn. The cash is there; the problem is that the Government do not have the balls to put their money where their mouth is. Of course there are other demands on resources, but the higher education sector must get more public funding and it is the responsibility of everyone in this room to tell that to the Government.
Some claim that only those who benefit from higher education should pay for it, but I do not accept that the dustman should not pay for the doctor's education. Whatever Thatcher thought, we do live in a society. In Britain we have a welfare state of which we should be proud. People put in as they can afford and take from it as they need. Those who earn more, pay more. It is not a romantic ideal; it is the foundation of post-war Britain. In any case, why should we assume that the dustman's children will not be attending university in future?
One final source of income should be alumni donations. Compared to the American universities we look like amateurs. With a proper fund-raising drive we can make huge amounts of money to build up endowments. I just worry that, with the introduction of these fees, my generation of students will not feel like making donations once they have been in debt for ten to twenty years of their life. My message is simple: we cannot widen participation if we allow the Government to introduce top-up fees. And there are other funding streams available to pay for Britain to have world-class universities.
I urge you to vote against the amendment and in favour of the main resolution.
MR A. DILNOT (Principal of St Hugh's College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I have only recently arrived in this University. I spent the previous twenty-one years talking about tax and I am afraid I cannot therefore resist a few unscheduled remarks in response to those we have just heard. First of all, it is true that corporation tax has been cut in recent years. It is also true that it has been increased, and the increases in corporation tax more than offset the reductions that Mr Straw referred to: indeed, over the first six years of the Labour Government the total tax burden on companies will have increased by an aggregate of rather more than £20bn. That may be a very good thing, but I think we should have that straight.
I want to talk about three things: I want to talk about scale with reference to the level of public spending and taxation that we are talking about; I want to talk about gainers and losers; and I want to talk about when it is appropriate to have a tax and when it is appropriate to have a charge.
Now let us first of all talk about scale. Mr Straw quite rightly said that if you were to increase the top rate of income tax to 50 per cent, just on those earning over £100,000 a year, you would get between £4bn and £5bn. Is that a lot or a little? Well, any of us would be glad to have a small slice of that. Is it a lot in the current scale? Well, no, it is not. It is notable from the resolution that there is no suggestion that we should add spending on higher education by cutting spending elsewhere, because I do not think any of the proponents would think that any of the other things that Government do are less worthy than higher education. But it still applies that we have to decide what the best use of money is even after we have got it. So let us imagine that we had an extra £4bn or £5bn. Would we as a government, as a society, think that the top priority was an increase in universal support to students? Or might we think that child poverty, or poverty amongst the elderly, or the National Health Service, or the transport system (which I can assure you this afternoon is still not working), or schools, or overseas aid might just have a higher priority? My guess is that if the Chancellor were to walk through that door and give us £5bn, we would use that £5bn for one of those things that I have listed, not for higher education.
You might say, `Well, in that case what we need is a big increase in tax,' and there I have to say that is something I would certainly wish to entertain, and many other people here might want to do that. How big would such an increase need to be before we could have enough money so that higher education was at the top of our list of priorities? Well, let us say we were thinking of something modest like the level of taxation in France. In France tax is ten percentage points of national income higher than it is the UK. That is approximately £100bn in UK prices per year. I think that puts the £3bn, £4bn, or £5bn that Mr Straw talked about in perspective. Maybe if we had a tax burden as high as they have in France, and therefore public spending as high as they have in France, we might think that universal support of higher education got to be as high a priority as child poverty or the health service. What would we need to do to our tax system to get there? Well, we would need practically to double the revenue from income tax, taking the basic rate of income tax from 22 per cent to 42 per cent and the higher rate from 40 per cent to 60 per cent. Now some people would say that was economically infeasible. I think they are entirely wrong: it is economically feasible, it just is not politically feasible, and neither this Government nor any alternative government of which I am aware is proposing that in this country.
Secondly, let me come to the question of gainers and losers. Who would gain and who would lose from the various types of proposals that are on the table at the moment? Well, increasing universal spending on students would clearly be highly regressive. All of us are fortunate; those who would gain from such spending even if they are not from fortunate backgrounds are very likely in the overall scheme of things to have fortunate futures. So the act of the spending would be very regressive. `Ah,' say those who have brought the motion forward, `but we would fund it through a progressive tax.' Well, yes, we could certainly fund it through a progressive tax and that would offset much of the regressivity. But if it is really a tax not a charge, then we still have to ask the question, `Well, if we were to change the tax system in this way, what is the best way of using the money?' Is the best and most progressive way of using the money to increase universal support to a group who will on average, despite Mr Straw's comments, be a great deal more affluent than the rest of society? It seems to me that the answer is that it is quite difficult to assert that, and the appropriate comparison is not between what the Government is proposing on spending plus some tax, but between what the Government is proposing with extra tax if we can have extra tax spent on something highly progressive and what the resolution itself is proposing.
So overall, the net effects of the resolution would be a more regressive not a less regressive system. Now why should we have a tax and why should we have a charge? When is it right to have each of those two types of approach? Well, we normally think that taxation is right in cases where it is very difficult to have a charge. So in the case of, say, lighting the streets, or funding a defence system, where it is very hard to charge the right people the right amount; that is one reason why we have tax, so-called classic public goods. The second is where we want to do something highly redistributive, where we want to take money from one group of society and spend it on something else that will typically benefit another group. In general we want to do that redistribution from rich to poor. But, as I have just argued, raising taxes generally to fund a universal system of student support will not be progressive, it will tend to be regressive. Now this redistributive argument, I think, is an extremely powerful argument to use when we think about issues of student hardship and of student access. Where there is redistribution to be done, there seems no doubt that taxation at the margin is the right way to go.
So, three points: first of all, scale. We cannot think of any tax increases to fund student provision or higher education in general in isolation from the rest of what Government does, and it seems to me very hard to imagine if we had more tax we would put higher education needs at the top of the list of higher priorities. To do that we would need a level of tax increase which I do not think is in anybody's mind, but it is disingenuous to imagine that we could have a tax increase for us but not for child poverty, health, the school system, transport, and poverty amongst the elderly.
Secondly, gainers and losers: yes, we can try to construct a system that seems to make the resolution look less regressive than it otherwise would be, but I think there is no doubt that when looked at coldly, such a proposal is regressive in its own right. That does not necessarily mean it is bad, but we had better be clear about it.
And finally, is this an area where at the margin we are clear that the arguments of principle are in favour of a tax rather than a charge? Well, no, because it seems rather peculiar to rely even more heavily on taxation to pay for something which itself confers large gains on the great bulk of those who consume it. That is not to say we should not use taxation for some of it, that is not to say we should not use taxation for hardship and access programmes: I think we should.
So I beg to support the amendment.
PROFESSOR C.P. MAYER (Wadham College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, a primary goal of the University must be to provide a first-class education to the most able students from as wide and diverse a set of backgrounds as possible.
This needs to be funded. The most straightforward source is of course increased government expenditure through taxation. If enough of this were available to meet the needs of the university sector, we would not be here today. The University has actively lobbied and should go on lobbying for increased expenditure on higher education and alternative ways of funding it. But a resolution that reiterates the problems while offering no new solutions will not assist the process. On the contrary, it could be seriously counterproductive and provoke the not unreasonable reaction that, if Oxford rejects the only politically viable solution on offer, then it will have to sort out its problems for itself. And we have plenty of problems.
This year the University has an operating deficit of over £12m. With additional sources of finance promised, the University will just be able to break even over the next few years.
But this does not of course in any way reflect the University's real financial position. As we repeatedly hear, Oxford is not only one of the oldest but also one of the greatest universities in the world---at least in name. In reality, like every other university in this country it has fallen seriously and progressively behind its North American counterparts. This has been going on for the last thirty years but it is over the last ten or so that it has become really acute.
It is reflected in virtually every aspect of the University's activities, as anyone who has spent time in the leading North Amercian universities appreciates all too clearly. It is reflected in the provision of resources for research, maintenance of the University's infrastructure, and the support services that academics can reasonably expect. But there are two areas where it is most pronounced.
The first is recruitment of faculty. There are several parts of the sciences and social sciences in particular where the University simply cannot compete with its North American counterparts in recruiting faculty. In several cases it has effectively given up trying. The reason for this is that the University does not have the financial resources to attract the best academics. This is clearly unacceptable for a world-class university. In terms of its stated (and appropriate) objectives of being such an institution, this University is massively in deficit.
The fee income should be seen against this background. If the University does not raise fees then it will be voluntarily forgoing an income stream of £30m. Of course it could be argued that it should find the resources from elsewhere, and indeed it was argued just earlier on. But from where? At a 3 per cent real return £30m per annum equates to giving up an endowment of £1bn! Can someone please explain from where it is supposed to raise an endowment of £1bn? Certainly not from alumni or donors.
On the contrary, if the University does not raise fees it will be sending a clear signal to the Government and potential donors that it is not actually serious about retaining its international status. The only group that will welcome this are its competitors.
The proponents of the motion argue that it would be sending a strong message that the University is intent on broadening access. But nothing could be further from the truth, and that brings me to the second area in which the under-funding of the University is being most seriously felt---on students.
I would be firmly opposed to the introduction of fees were it not for one simple fact, and that is that they are essential for broadening access. I quite agree that support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is grossly inadequate. Indeed, we should go well beyond what is proposed by the Government to include the elimination of fees and the provision of adequate maintenance grants for those who need them. We should therefore be remedying the obvious defects of the current government proposals ourselves. A university without adequate financial resources does not have the means to do this; a properly resourced university does. We should have a well-funded system of student support to broaden access and widen participation, and we need the financial resources to do this. The only source for these is what is currently on the table.
--- The University is currently running a deficit.
--- On any realistic accounting basis that measures the University against its stated and appropriate aim of being a world-class university, it will continue to run a massive deficit in the future.
--- The University should continue to lobby for significant increases in government expenditure on higher education to meet this, but the resolution before Congregation will not assist that process.
--- The proposed fee income equates to an enormous endowment, which the University has no prospect of matching from donations.
--- If the University does not accept the opportunity of diminishing its deficit, it will be signalling that it is not serious about regaining its international status.
--- It will not be demonstrating its determination to broaden access---there are far better ways of doing this.
--- Most significantly, the University should state its clear intention to establish a generous system of providing financial assistance to students who need it.
--- The University must have the resources to do this. Without them, there is no prospect of it being able to do so and there are currently no other sources on the table.
I therefore support, and urge you to support, the amendment to the resolution.
DR M.J. COLLINS (University College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I have spoken in debates rather of this ilk before, many years ago, and I feel a certain sense of déja vu
. Mainly I am referring to the sequence of debates we had in successive years twenty years ago over overseas fees. I remember Professor Dummett standing here and saying how it was quite immoral to charge fees to students from overseas and how, if we did, not only would we lose the respect of other countries but we would lose the students as well. The funny thing is that I believe, Mr Vice-Chancellor, that we have quite a lot of overseas students today when about three or four years later, now about twenty years ago, we did indeed have to charge those fees.
That period twenty years ago was still very much the period of Renaissance Man in Oxford. Some of us remember the famous twenty-eight (or was it twenty-seven?) questions from Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer. How would we manage if we had to face a cut in funding of half a per cent for the next two years? I think that was the most generous on offer. The very worst as I recall was of one and a half per cent for five years. Would, Mr Vice-Chancellor, that that had been so! I remember Lord Goodman saying very publicly that he thought that we should not need to discuss these questions: it was inconceivable that in a civilised society the state would not pay for higher education. How wrong that generation was. We faced, in 1987--8, the Education Reform Bill with a new funding regime, the Universities Funding Council.
I remember a debate in this House in 1990 when the Provost of Worcester, then Chairman of the General Board, came up with planning proposals for the University. But they were planning proposals that were built against a background of a funding council that really had no idea where it was going. We were in a world then, as I will explain now, of perverse incentives. There was a formula proposed by the UFC for Oxford which should have meant that the University was actually negatively funded for its arts subjects. Clear answer: do not take any funded students, but take everyone as fee-paying extras. That concept of perverse incentives continues today. We saw it only last week, or was it the week before now, with the proposals from HEFCE about the funding for students and how all the best universities would be fined for taking good students. There is a very simple answer to that: we should make our offers at the level of three Es. But exactly three Es. If you take a good candidate who is always going to be getting As and tell him or her that they will have a place if they get precisely three Es, and they achieve it, they will be very clever indeed! But that is the sort of silly world in which we are living. And of course we ought to do that, for the stupid reason that that would increase our funding.
Having pointed out some of the flaws of the arguments that float around HEFCE's thinking at the moment, there was a time, 1989 to be precise, when I would have supported the resolution. I remember publicly opposing in the press the suggestions that there should then have been a graduate tax to meet the cost of universities. What I said at the time was that higher education deserved its share of the then so-called peace dividend. We never saw it, nor do I believe in the present climate (and I do not want to make any particular remarks about the very current situation) that we shall see it. I do not see today, as I would not have seen for the last five years or more, more real money coming into the university system in terms of the unit of resource, indeed especially towards Oxford and Cambridge. One of the problems of the present proposals in the White Paper is they actually mask from us the sort of debates we should be having, because if you set externally a rather narrow fee range, it is rather like going to the butcher and saying, `Well, I think your price of beef should be in this range,' not reflecting the fact that you can buy cheap beef and you can buy good beef. The sort of range being proposed is not one that encourages us to say publicly, although I am quite sure internally we very carefully calculate, what is the real cost of educating an undergraduate in Oxford. Anything short of that received either by HEFCE grant, which has been cut at the moment, or by some type of fee or other mechanism, is a subsidy from the University and the colleges to the undergraduates. Now I am not against that. I am not against the fact that one of the advantages of the University and colleges having a substantial endowment is that we should subsidise education, but we need to know exactly what we are doing. We cannot set out and simply say we oppose this on moral grounds at a time when, as it has been so eloquently pointed out by others, we are not in a position where we can financially afford to do so.
There is of course at the moment a tremendous graduate tax. People do not think there is a graduate tax, but there is. The Principal of St Anne's alluded to it. It is the 25 per cent tax that everyone in this room other than retirees is currently paying just straight off the top of what they should by all rights, and even by the present Government's admission, be paid in terms of stipends. As an American friend once said to me, everyone else's tax cut was his stipend cut. I think we need to be very careful, though, in looking at American comparisons. Again that has been alluded to. The financial structure and the social structure in America would not allow us to get the situation in this country, I believe, where you could actually have what any rational person would call a top-up fee, namely a fee in excess of real costs which would actually directly provide the subsidy for those unable to pay.
What we certainly need is a mechanism by which we can support the more needy. Do not get me wrong on that. But we need flexibility to do it and we will not get that flexibility if we turn our backs on proposals, albeit how unpalatable, made by Government. The argument is put that debt is a disincentive. It probably is, but most of our pupils, when they leave Oxford, within a very few years have debts that would make most of us feel very uncomfortable with. I believe the polite word is a `mortgage'. I think that is also to be remembered. But this in turn brings up a further feature of how we should look at the ways in which students should be funded if they need to take out loans or other income-dependent repayments. Because one of the great defects of the current student loan system is the fact that you suddenly hit a barrier and then you start paying back the notional rate. It is a version of the old poverty trap.
Student loans currently are classified by all funding agencies as debts. I can tell you from experience of my own family that this has been taken into account in trying to obtain a mortgage on property. What we need therefore is to encourage the Government in our response to find ways in which equitable payments for student education can be made. The argument that graduates earn so much more in their lifetime is probably true. The form of the argument that therefore graduates should pay because of that is probably true of those who have graduated in the past. But I would actually question whether it is the right policy when you look to the future at a time when 50 per cent of the population goes through some form of higher education. Are they in fact subsequently earning more because of that education or are the same 50 per cent who go on to higher education those who would actually be earning more in any case?
Now I want to turn to a rather specific proposal we might put, and that is to find ways of alleviating repayments. I have indicated that I believe that they should be taken outside formal debts, but (for example) they should also be taken outside the tax net. At the moment students repaying their loans do so out of taxed income. Yet if at some time in the future we got to the position where employers actually gave benefits to their future employees, then of course such payments for their education would come entirely pre-tax. And I would venture to suggest that it would be far more equitable if, instead of having repayments made out of tax income, such repayments were made out of pre-taxed income. They could then be viewed as a mixture of support by employer, by Government through forgone taxes (of course governments do not like to forgo taxes but previous scholarship mechanisms have shown that is possible), and the individual. In that way all parts of society would in fact share the burden that is gained by the education of significant parts of that population. These are things that might be regarded as fine tuning, but I think that if we do not engage with the Government in major debate but just simply put up the shutters, then ways in which these various problems can be investigated will be ignored.
Can I, Mr Vice-Chancellor, very briefly turn finally to what I regard as the most pernicious aspect of the White Paper, the Access Regulator? The Access Regulator could be one of the most intrusive aspects of a future Bill: in the wrong hands he would interfere, I believe, with every aspect of this University. The University would lose its independence, and above all there is a very grave danger that he would ignore the fact that there are many minorities for whom education is a very high priority, but not necessarily the ones that he would wish to support.
Mr Vice-Chancellor I wish to support the amendment.
MS S. SODHA (Vice-President (Access and Academic Affairs) of the Oxford University Student Union): Mr Vice-Chancellor, first of all I also would like to assure the Principal of St Anne's that I certainly will not be earning as much as the proposers of the amendment, considering that I have decided to do graduate study, which is a difficult decision for me because it means that I have to put off paying back my £10,000 of debt for another four years.
I am a full-time sabbatical at the Student Union with responsibility for access issues. There are two main facets to my role. Firstly, I represent students on the University's Access Committee, and secondly, I co-ordinate Target Schools for the Student Union's Access Widening Scheme. We organise four open days a year, three regional conferences, an Easter School Visiting Scheme, and we produce our own publication, copies of which go to every state school in the country. I have been involved in Target Schools since my first year here at Oxford. I believe that this work gives me an insight into access issues from both sides.
Outreach work that the University, the colleges, the Student Union, and the Access Scheme do is immensely important in encouraging people to apply and in dispelling some of the misperceptions students from lower socio-economic groups hold. But outreach work can only go so far: to truly deepen as well as widen participation we need outreach work to be backed up by a fair system of student support, as my colleague Will Straw has already argued.
When I talk to prospective students I find that the misperceptions they hold about Oxford fall broadly into three categories. Firstly, there is a fear that they will not socially fit in at Oxford; secondly, there is a fear that it is just so competitive it is not worth the chance; and thirdly, there is the perception that Oxford is much more expensive to attend than other universities because of its academically elite nature and because of its media image.
Myself and other students involved in outreach work find the first two myths relatively easy to dispel. Firstly, the concept of fitting in socially at a university with 16,000 students from all walks of life is fairly meaningless, and I think that we students involved in outreach work are the best example of that. One of the comments we often get at the end of our events is, `But you are so normal,' which we always take as quite a compliment.
Then there is the second myth, about how competitive it is. But we say to students, `It is always worth a chance: statistically you are more likely to get into Oxford than many other universities, and if you have got the predicted grades it is worth giving it a go. Tutors are not looking for geniuses, and the admissions system that Oxford uses, the interview system, really does assess you as an individual rather than as a set of statistics on a UCAS form.'
But it is the third area, student finance, which is the real sticking point, and the Government's funding plans will make the third misperception that many students hold, that Oxford is a lot more expensive to attend than other universities, a reality. University is now a lot more expensive to go to than it once was, and under the Government's funding plan it will become even more so. Not only that, but we will have different universities charging different amounts. It is right that it is misleading to call top-up fees `top-up fees': they are actually differential fees, different amounts being charged by different universities. As my colleague Will Straw has already argued, debt deters, and it does so disproportionately for the lowest socio-economic groups.
I would like to draw your attention for the minute to the flysheet that was produced. It is all very well to argue that applications in the maintained sector have gone up over the last few years. Yes, that is wonderful, but I think we need to look deeper than that: we need to look at participation from the lowest socio-economic groups, and research has shown that, since the new government funding system where students have to pay fees has been introduced, participation from the lowest social group, social group E, has gone down from 13 per cent to 7 per cent. This shows that in this country we have moved backwards when it comes to increasing access.
For somebody involved in outreach work, I can tell you how difficult it is going to be to persuade somebody whose parents have never been to university, whose combined parental income is low (perhaps not low enough to get them the £1,000 grant but low enough that they might not consider it anyway), and whose peers do not go to university, to take on debt, to persuade them that taking on debt in the order of £20,000 to come to a university like Oxford is worth it. It is going to be very difficult, although of course everybody involved in outreach work will try. And it is all very well, as the speaker just said, to say that once people are at Oxford we will make sure that they have the money to get through. The problem will be in encouraging these people to apply in the first place.
The grant is also so low that it will not help at all. It is also means-tested, and I believe that means-testing embeds the middle-class value that parents should support their adult offspring through higher education. Why should they if they have never been through higher education themselves? You can just imagine the scenario with parents whose combined parental income is over £20,000. Maybe they have got that far in life without going to higher education; they are less likely to realise the benefits of higher education, because they have not been through it themselves, and it means that the Government are missing out one of the groups that they are targeting, those whose parents have not been through higher education. It is why Council's amendment is contradictory: within a few sentences it talks about means-testing and an independent 18-year-old adult in the same amendment.
The Access Regulator, if this pans out how we predict it will, will put those of us involved in outreach work in a very difficult position. All students involved in outreach passionately care about widening and deepening participation (that is why we give up our free time in the first place), but if the Access Regulator pans out as we expect, this means that the outreach work that we do and how we encourage people from lower socio-economic groups to come to university would directly lead to a glass ceiling being imposed on us by the Government.
That glass ceiling is the Government's new funding plan. Of course we will continue our outreach work, and of course we will continue to do the best we can, but it will only go so far. Trying to encourage students to take on debts of £20,000 from lower socio-economic groups is going to be an incredibly difficult task, and that is because the Government's funding plans make the third myth, the third misperception that many students hold, a reality.
I believe strongly that those of us involved in the higher education sector have a responsibility to represent the voices of prospective students who do not have a voice themselves. And the reason that those prospective students do not have a voice, and this is the real key, is because they will not apply, and they will not even consider higher education under the Government's new funding plan. So we, as people who have all benefited from the sector, have a responsibility to represent those views to the Government, and that is why I would urge you to vote for this resolution.
DR R.C.S. WALKER (Magdalen College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I feel a great deal of sympathy, both with the speakers who support the resolution in its unamended form, and with the unamended resolution itself. I say that despite speaking as a member of Council. My sympathy with the speakers on the other side in this matter is largely due to the very great extent with which I think we are in agreement. Certainly we must all, and I think we do all, take extremely seriously the problems of outreach, the risks of student debt that the last speaker has so graphically spelt out. These are very serious issues, and we have been addressing them and we will continue to address them. I feel sympathy with the resolution in its unamended form for a slightly different reason, though. My sympathy for it arises, I am afraid, out of nostalgia: nostalgia for a time which Dr Collins has recalled to us, a time when students and universities were properly funded by public money, without undue bureaucracy or state control. Those days have gone. The circumstances which made them possible have gone. There was a time to protest about their going, and a climate in which it might have done some good. Some of us, perhaps many of us, who are here today did so vigorously, not only in Oxford but through national organisations of various kinds. But since then, the whole situation has changed. What is politically possible, and what is politically sensible, have changed with it.
In present circumstances we have to ask a different question. Not: do we want to get back to a happier past? But rather: what would be the political effects of our saying, now, that we are opposed to top-up fees of the kind suggested? What would be the political effects of taking, now, what Dr McGuinness describes as pre-emptive action? That pre-emptive strike may not be quite what Dr Woodin has in mind, but the fact that there appeared at least to be a gap between what Dr Woodin was saying and what Dr McGuinness said indicates the ambiguity in the unamended resolution, the ambiguity to which previous speakers on behalf of Council have drawn attention.
In fact there would be two effects of passing the unamended motion. It would weaken the hands of those in Government (for they do exist) who are best disposed towards universities and university students. They are the ones who at least do begin to recognise how serious our funding problem is. They are prepared to work with us to continue improving access, and to help us in various ways to find funding for those students who must be able to come here with our needs-blind, merit-based admissions policy and who might otherwise be deterred by the threat of debt.
There are suggestions in the White Paper about ways in which that could be approached, suggestions about the way in which taxation on gifts from alumni might be eased. Support from alumni is one of the key things upon which this University must rest its plans for ensuring that students in future are not deterred by the problems, and the threats of debt, that have been described to us. We must make sure, and indeed we are doing our best to plan to make sure, that Oxford is not the most expensive university, but indeed cheaper than our competitors. But we can do that only with the assistance of funding which we must ourselves raise.
The first effect then was to make it more difficult for our supporters in Government to help us to achieve good and worthwhile ends like that: objectives that all of us share.
The second effect is a more direct one. If we passed the unamended resolution it would inhibit our capacity to negotiate with Government and its agencies about how research and teaching are to be funded. We are losing money heavily both on publicly funded teaching and on publicly funded research. This is an urgent matter: we are in an unsustainable situation. It is particularly urgent for us at Oxford because we need to preserve all that is best in the tutorial system, while at the same time maintaining and enhancing the high international standing of our research (and here I take the liberty to disagree with Professor Mayer, who is speaking on the same side, for it seems to me entirely clear that our international standing in many subjects, certainly in sciences and in the humanities, is very high indeed; we must not let it decline). But all universities, and not just Oxford, are in dialogue with Government about funding, and it is only if we can play our proper part in that dialogue that we can properly defend our research, our teaching, and the welfare of our students.
In these discussions there are not just one or two possibilities that need to be discussed. It is not as though there are a small number of discrete alternatives, one of which is neatly labelled `top-up fees'. There is a wide range of possible solutions to the funding problem, and a wide range of variants on the basic ideas. In real life, discussions about matters like these are not advanced by slogans. Intelligent discussions about complex issues are generally resolved through compromise. To commit the University to a generalised opposition to top-up fees would be unhelpful, because it would make it more difficult for us to achieve the objectives which all of us share. To declare such an opposition, at this stage, would be equally unhelpful, for the reasons that I have given. Amongst these objectives there has to be a resolution of the funding problem that allows us to teach students without incurring a loss of several thousand pounds on every student taught. Unless we can resolve that problem, we cannot long sustain the tutorial system in its present form, or the high standard of education that we provide to our graduates, nor indeed can we sustain the high international standing of the University of Oxford.
I therefore invite Congregation to support the amendment.
PROFESSOR A.D. SMITH (Lady Margaret Hall): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I did not intend to speak but sometimes, you know, you sit through these debates and you feel you are in Parliament. We have heard a lot of very cogent arguments that might be made to voters in a democracy, which we are proud to be, but surely this afternoon we have to focus on the key issue for this body, this Congregation, this University. That is, as has been said by several speakers and is in the first sentence of the amendment, to maintain and improve the standing of this University in the highest levels of scholarship, research, and teaching. I feel that the only way we can do that is, rather than see the Government's recent proposal as a calamity, which I think the proposers of the resolution do, to take it as an opportunity. It is an opportunity for this University to move slowly but surely towards more independence from the Government.
We heard from the Principal of St Anne's about the wonderful days in the 1920s when it was Greek; while when I was here it was Latin you had to do. We have moved, but I am not suggesting we move back: I am saying we should take this opportunity to move forward into a more independent way of operating, and this independence can only be secured if we get the funding. One way of getting funding is through fees. I do not want the students to think I am in favour of pushing them into debt: I think this very independence will allow us to be creative in the ways that we solve this problem for the individual student. We had several suggestions today. I am quite sure that the expert economists in this body can come up with very clever ways of making this University actually more attractive to people from poorer backgrounds, not less, by creative financing of the loans and grants.
I would move to support the amendment.
DR S. GODDARD (St Edmund Hall): Mr Vice-Chancellor, like the previous speaker, I was not actually planning to speak this afternoon. I found myself impelled to do so by a number of the arguments made, and I appreciate that this has been quite a long afternoon. It looks very nice outside, and I certainly will not occupy your time for the full five minutes, which I believe are supposed to be allotted to speakers in the debate.
I would like simply get back to some of the basic considerations which, I believe, apply in these issues. What do we want students to get from higher education in general? What do we want students to be getting from Oxford in particular? It is about the time of year when those of us who have a lot of contact with undergraduates tend to be asking (finalists in particular) the question, `What are you going to do after it is all over?' if only to distract them from the immediate problems that they have over the next few months. And I must admit I find, when I ask them that, the most depressing answers are those on the lines of, `I am going to do a conversion course and become a lawyer in about two years,' or `I am going to move on and become an accountant,' or whatever. I find that perhaps particularly depressing because of course what I teach is French. But a surprising number of my students do make precisely such answers.
Perhaps it is near-egoism, but I prefer myself the answer which I would have given if asked that, which is, `I do not know.' That is probably how I have ended up where I am! I would hate to think that the majority of undergraduates were here with a view to getting the most remunerative job they could possibly get. Once again, if they were, I doubt whether very many of them would read French, or Literae Humaniores, or any number of other subjects which I sure we could all name. However, the top-up fees system (I do not know what else to call it; I think everyone here knows what it means, whether or not the term is intellectually correct) would ensure precisely that to get the most remunerative job possible would be a priority for all students.
Let us think about what a student is actually doing in coming here, or coming to any further or higher education institution, and what they would be doing if we increased the debt they are likely to accumulate. They are not only facing the prospect of accumulating debts of up to £20,000, but they are also of course removing themselves from any serious job market for three years, four years, how ever much it might be, and to put the question quite frankly, why would an intelligent, intellectually ambitious student bother to do that, unless they could be absolutely certain that they would move on to earn a darn sight more, certainly than I, and I think than a great number of us do earn in the jobs that we do?
I would urge Congregation, yes, to move on to a dialogue with the Government; but I find baffling the notion that dialogue means effectively saying `Yes' to the White Paper. I find it hard to see how that squares with our much vaunted and extremely precious independence. But I fear that that is precisely the effect that the amendment which has been put forward today would have, and I therefore urge Congregation to reject the amendment and to support the resolution as it stands.
PROFESSOR P. LANGFORD: Mr Vice-Chancellor, I think you required me only to discuss those items which have come up in the course of the debate. In some ways the one that looms largest in my mind is the salary of the Rector of Lincoln, on which I do have some views, but I am disinclined to discuss them in public with Congregation! I should be happy to talk about them in private with Mr Straw. I have no idea what career he wishes to pursue, but I would be happy to talk about it with him.
I think the arguments are actually quite limited in number, though the ramifications are almost endless and have rightly absorbed us this afternoon, and I have heard things and understood things that I did not before. But at the end of the day I think it all comes down to two central arguments which lie behind the resolution and which have caused the concern that Council now feels. One is to do with access: we have talked a lot about that, and heard a lot of arguments on both sides, and we are going to hear a lot more in the coming years. The impact of state action in addressing social injustice since the Second World War is one of the most significant of all subjects that historians and sociologists have studied in recent years, and in new forms it is going to go on and on and on. I think we all have a profound sense of the enormous commitment, particularly that students have made, to the access endeavour and initiatives in recent years. All of us have tried to put our shoulders to that wheel. I know, thinking in terms of my own college, that colleges certainly have.
At the end of the day Council is not convinced by the argument that we must not charge any kind of fee in order to encourage access, and in particular we are not convinced by the argument that we should refrain from charging those who are able to pay in the future through a graduate contribution. There is in fact no compelling argument or evidence in that direction; there is much discussion, many points, and they need weighing very carefully, but I do not think that the resolution and the case of those proposing the resolution has at all been proved in that respect this afternoon. I will not attempt to go over their argument now.
The second major argument concerns public spending, and the question of a cornucopia of public spending, of Government `having the cash and being able to spend it on higher education'. Like Dr Walker, I felt transported for just a magic moment or two to a distant landscape that was somehow familiar. It was the landscape of the 1960s and 1970s, and with much regret, like him, I think that it has gone. The question is, what we can do now? Well, plainly there are possibilities. No one is suggesting that today's debate, if the amendment is approved, results in any one precise logical conclusion. We do not know what will happen within Government or within the Labour Party or within the House of Commons in the next few months and years. But none of us on our side believes that it would be likely to result in significantly addressing the real reduction in university funding terms in recent decades.
When I was an undergraduate I was part of a national cohort attending university that was below 5 per cent, and we are now talking about something approaching 50 per cent. It is just not credible to us that any government, let alone the public at large, are really going to finance any university, especially this kind of university, to the sort of standard that would enable it to compete in the league that it belongs to on that sort of basis.
Council is not dewy eyed about the next steps (it would be an interesting question what would make Council dewy eyed!), but I think Council is concerned that the opportunity should be taken to debate with the Government. Dr Woodin talked about the debate to be had. It is in considerable measure a debate not just among ourselves, but with those who rule us, and with all the other stakeholders and interests involved. We would like to be able to approach that in a thoroughly constructive way. It does involve the issue of fees, it certainly involves the Access Regulator, above all involves the whole question of how we can improve the access position. And it is unlocking in particular the enthusiasm of the alumni as well as Government that is so crucial here. As head of a college speaking to alumni, the one thing that comes across repeatedly from them, the single thing they most value, is the opportunity to support the experience they themselves had as generations change and as circumstances change.
So we do not really ask Congregation to say `Yes' to the White Paper. I think, if I may say so with great respect, the last speaker did not put that quite fairly. What I said earlier on was that we do not at this stage want Congregation to say emphatically `No', because that rules out all kinds of possibilities on which we think we can build. What we do say is we will talk about the broad direction indicated in the White Paper, we will not at this stage exclude any of the options, and we will try and use that to the best advantage, not only of this University and its competitive interests but of our students and our prospective students too.
In that spirit I hope Congregation will vote for the amendment today; the stakes are quite high.
DR M.E. WOODIN: Mr Vice-Chancellor, I would like to thank you and all members of Congregation who have, I think, provided a thoughtful and well-mannered debate. I too would suggest that there is agreement on many principles. In fact I was going through the amendment, and there are two paragraphs I would have hesitation about supporting. The rest, save for the fact that it deletes the original, I would be happy to support. But it does delete the original, so I would not be happy to support it on those grounds. I am told not to introduce new material, so I will repeat something that I said, and it is to do with whether or not the debate that we have today ties the policy of the University when the Government's consultative proposals are finalised.
Now some speeches were premised, as I predicted, on the assumption that we would be tied and would be unable to charge fees should we vote for the resolution, and should fees be introduced. At an earlier stage I invited you to edit those speeches, on-line as it were. I trust that you did so, but may I remind you that we are not tied if we pass this resolution, and that remarks that were premised on that assumption really were not germane to the debate that we are having. I would ask you to ask yourselves, as the people who will eventually decide what the University should do should fees be introduced, whether or not it is credible that the resolution, if passed today, would prevent Council and perhaps ultimately Congregation to introduce fees if they are the Government's decided option. We are the people who will decide that, so I leave it with you today to answer for yourselves whether it is credible that we are tying the University by adopting this resolution today. I suggest that we are capable of making a decision in principle today and then reacting in practice when we know exactly what the Government is putting to us, once they have made up their minds.
The amendment itself is premised, in the text of the amendment and the statements put out by Council, on an argument that I will paraphrase in this manner: that it is regrettable, inevitable, and unrealistic to suppose anything else. However, that is not the argument that we have heard today from people supporting the amendment. We have heard different sorts of arguments. We have heard a couple of arguments, interestingly, in support, I think, of the principle of fees. From the Principal of St Anne's we have the argument that private funding brings independence. Now I hope that if you just consider extending that argument to its logical conclusion, that in itself would be enough to frighten anybody from supporting the amendment because what the Principal of St Anne's is really arguing for is that we renounce any public funding in order to attain this perfect state of independence. Really, I do not think that is a very sensible course to steer the University in.
The second set of arguments came from the Principal of St Hugh's, and in a way it is perhaps a shame that he did not have a greater hand in writing the amendment, because then we might have had a good debate in principle for and against fees. His arguments were clear and well argued and convincing, yet there are boundaries to his arguments which he did not mention, and in particular the nature of taxation being regressive if public money is then spent on goods which go predominately to the better-off. Well, there is a boundary to that argument which proponents of the graduate tax should be advocating, which is that if that taxation is only imposed upon the better-off in the first place, it limits the extent to which that taxation is regressive, and if you get your calculations about access and level of graduate tax right, then you could ensure that that system indeed is not regressive.
Similarly, in debating whether a tax or a charge should be imposed, well, the boundary condition there has something to do with the debate about universal benefits or means-testing, which would limit the power of his argument and sadly was not raised. The substantive argument, though (I will be brief as this is my final point), raised by many members of Council is that somehow to adopt this resolution would limit the University's ability to negotiate with the Government. We need, according to the Rector of Lincoln in his first speech, intelligent negotiation and principled negotiation; and we need to negotiate in a constructive way, according to his closing remarks. Of course I agree with that, but my definition of negotiation that is intelligent and principled and constructive does not rule our the possibility of saying things which the Government do not want to hear, which are opposed to what the Government are initially proposing. My definition of negotiation actually starts off with opposed positions from which you then try and reach an agreement. Now in that context it is vital that Congregation provide a steer to Council as they undertake the negotiations on our behalf, as I am sure they will do very ably in the future. My steer, and I hope it will become our steer in the very near future, is that we oppose in principle the loading of the costs of higher education in the form of personal debt on individual students, and would seek to see that element of funding which we are debating raised through public funding.
I believe it is politically possible, I believe great changes in government thinking are brought about, particularly on issues of taxation, when the public do not support those proposals in large numbers. That is exactly the situation we have here, and I suppose I am asking Oxford University to take a slightly more optimistic view of its role in public affairs, a slightly more courageous view, and to engage in that debate slightly more energetically.
Please support the resolution.
The amendment was carried on a division [For, 93; against, 48]. The amended resolution was subsequently carried on a division [For, 97; against, 45]. As fifty members of Congregation then demanded a postal vote, however, neither the approval of the amendment nor the approval of the amended resolution was confirmed.
Ballot papers for the postal vote are being sent to members of Congregation and must be returned to the Registrar not later than 4 p.m. on Thursday, 8 May, the date fixed by Mr Vice-Chancellor for holding the vote.