from The Oxford Magazine, 1992
I am no good at accounts. Going through the college accounts is a penance. My mind is still stuck on how to calculate the return on the herring-bone milking parlours at Little Hogglesthwaite while the collective consciousness has gone to concentrate on the excessive consumption of water in the ladies' bathrooms. Nor am I wise to the ways clever bursars can manoeuvre items into Statements IV or V as the need of the day requires. But without being au fait with the subtle distinctions between what goes into Statement IV and what into Statement V, I remember the general principles of the Franks Report, that Statement V was essentially a housekeeping one, and Statement IV showed what colleges were spending on education and research. And deficits on Statement V, therefore, worry me: they suggest that instead of spending endowment income on education and research, as we should, we are frittering it away on sloppy housekeeping and bad management. In my own college we have managed to reduce It a bit: over all the colleges last year the total deficit ran into millions.
It is easy to see how this has come about. Undergraduates since the war have been paid for by the State, and scholarships have become increasingly peripheral. Tutors have been increasingly subsidised by the CUF lecturerships. The two prime charges on endowment revenue have ceased to occupy the centre of the stage, and it has been natural to spread our benefactions across the whole student body. Moreover, donnish feebleness in the face of the student movement has led many colleges to buy off trouble by not increasing rents and charges in line with those elsewhere how many governing bodies would back their bursars through a rent strike just to recover ground lost in the 1970s? The result is that rents are far below those charged to young people in digs elsewhere, and other charges heavily subsidised too. But, as Timothy Leunig pointed out in the Oxford Magazine last term (Noughth Week, p. 6), what we give to one set of people, we cannot give to another; and it is the responsibility of colleges to a make reasoned choices about the disposition of their endowment revenue.Our present policy represents an indiscriminate subsidy to all 'junior members, particularly those lucky enough to be living in college. That may have been a proper policy once, but is no longer so. Two important differences have emerged in recent years: the grants no longer set out to meet the whole cost of being at Oxford, and many undergraduates have parents who are paying much less income tax than was paid by the post-war generation.The official line is that student loans are an acceptable alternative. No doubt, they are acceptable to some: those with rich fathers used to taking out large mortgages against future income; those who have their sights already firmly fixed on a prosperous career in the city or as a chartered accountant. No evidence has come my way that the aspiring schoolmistress who hopes to teach RE in Newcastle-underLyme will be undeterred by having to borrow, and it stands to reason that, whatever the merits of the loan scheme, we shall, as in centuries past, need to pay poor people enough to live on if we are to have them in Oxford at all. There is plenty of evidence of some junior members being strapped for cash, just as there is fairly visible evidence of others having all they need and more. I have no means of accurately assessing the relative numbers, but incline to the opinion that Iabout 30 per cent of undergraduates are seriously short of funds, and 70 per cent have enough to live on at a reasonable, unextravagant standard of living.
We ought, bit by bit, to raise our charges until we are not subsidising the rich, and concentrate our largesse on the deserving poor. Hardship funds help those already here, but do nothing to make Oxford accessible to clever people, who were, however, not clever enough to choose rich parents. In the end we shall need to reintroduce entrance scholarships, awarded on merit but assessed on need, making sure that they are enough to enable an undergraduate to live reasonably while here. That will be a large exercise, probably for the first decade of the next century. But we should take the first steps now.We need also to think about our stipends. They are too low. junior academics are not paid enough to compete in the Oxford housing market. There is no realistic prospect of getting more money from public funds. The next government may bear less ill will towards us, but will have more urgent things to spend money on. The underlying truth is that the taxpayer no longer thinks universities a good buy, and is showing increasing reluctance to pay for them. The Appeal has raised some money, but mostly for new projects, not for paying more to those already in post. If dons are not to go the way of the clergy and the school-teachers, we are going to have to find more money to pay ourselves more, in part by making better use of our endowment income, in part by charging more for teaching and examining, which, in turn, will increase the need for scholarships for those from poor families.Again, we cannot move quickly. The UFC grant, like the student grants, will not be cut off suddenly, but only gradually eroded. But it will be eroded, and we need now to work out how we shall cope. One thing that could start to happen now is for the richer colleges to shoulder a greater share of the cost of paying tutors. It would be a much better way forward than the contentious exercise suggested last week by Colin Matthew (Oxford Magazine, Noughth Week, p. 5). It would preserve college autonomy, and would enable the CUF system to fulfil its original intention of helping the poorer colleges, rather than be an indiscriminate subsidy to rich and poor alike.
We cannot move fast. But the programme of eliminating deficits on Statement V, raising rents to realistic levels, giving effective help to those undergraduates who really need it, and slowly weaning colleges away from dependence on CUFs is one that can be implemented step by step, and will lead us ultimately to financial independence and stability.
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