…I'd move Oxford up north. For a centre of worldwide academic eminence, Oxford’s founders were surprisingly stupid when deciding where to put it. If I were establishing a community of scholars and the only two spaces left on Earth were in Hell and the Thames Valley, I’d have to toss a coin. The unfortunate proximity of South-East England to the Continent ensures winters are ludicrously cold, while building a city between two rivers doesn’t seem like such a bright idea now that global warming means constant rain on North Parade (which is, typically of Oxford, actually south of South Parade). Starry-eyed Southerners will champion Oxford’s proximity to London nightlife as a selling point, but all I’m saying is that I’d never heard the phrase ‘I’ve been mugged again’ until I met a Londoner. Although possibly they’re just referring to paying £20 to get into a club.No – as we approach Oxford’s second millennium of academic excellence, it’s clear that drastic reform is needed. We simply must move Oxford up North.This might seem like the kind of radical governance that’d have Congregation forcing me out of the job by half-past nine in the morning (‘You’re going to do what to me? Write a strongly-worded letter to the Telegraph? Oh, please, Professor, anything but that!’), but a move up North would alleviate many of the university’s problems. Few colleges have the space to accommodate students on site for the duration of their course. Some build annexes, but space is at such a premium in central Oxford that many are closer to Coventry than Carfax. If Oxford were up North, living out would become affordable. Rooms in student houses cost about £60 per week in my home city of Liverpool, while at Edinburgh University, for £75 a week, I could live in the grand district of Morningside. Colleges would find acquiring land for annexes no problem, as derelict mills in Lancashire go for about a tenner, and are a damn sight more beautiful than the kind of sixties monstrosity erected by most Oxford colleges.The quality of food in Hall often evokes consternation, the catch being that colleges are either accomplished but too expensive (such as my own, with delicious formals that, at £8, cost about as much as a deposit on a house in Newcastle) or cheap but uninspiring (such as a certain rather academic college, where the fact that this is the JCR food rep’s third successive year in office can only mean that the students are too busy revising to eat in Hall ever.) Yet kitchen facilities in many colleges are poor or non-existent, and eating out in Oxford is prohibitively expensive for those on tight budgets. Up North, however, eating out is gloriously cheap.
According to a national newspaper’s study of various UK locations, Oxford has the unhealthiest air, more polluted even than in London, and breathing it is apparently the equivalent of smoking 60 fags a day – but minus the steadying effect on the nerves. In my first term at university, I developed a chronic asthmatic wheeze which disappears whenever I return to Liverpool, and recurs every time I come back to Oxford. Similarly, as a fresher I acquired a nasty rash on my arms and legs until I was informed that it was probably the drinking water, the River Thames being the most polluted in the country. I stopped, and the rash disappeared. If for no other reason then, as Vice-Chancellor my main concern would be the health of students, something which would be far easier to maintain just a little further from its unfortunate location.by Heather Ryan