Cuts in government funding could mean some Oxford students will face tuition fees of up to £7,000.Oxford University is expected to lose £4.1 million if plans go ahead to reduce state support for second degrees and lower level, shorter courses by £100 million. Oxford, and other institutions such as UCL and the Open University, say this will leave them with no alternative but to increase fees.The government proposal has been criticised in Westminster. More than 200 MPs, including 86 from Labour, have signed a motion against the reallocation of government funding. The intention is to provide an extra 20, 000 places for undergraduates.Bill Rammell, Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education explained, “We are redirecting £100 million over three years from funding students studying for second degrees to support even more getting a first degree. And with 70% of the adult workforce without a first degree, this has to be the right priority.”Lesley Simms, Head of Planning and Resource Allocation for Oxford University, said, “We calculate that we have the equivalent of about 975 full-time equivalent students who are studying equivalent or lower level qualifications and are not exempt from this proposal.”Philip Healy, the Director of Public Programmes for Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, commented, “It is really very damaging… It will inevitably mean that students who already have a qualification that is equivalent or higher than the new one will have to pay higher fees.”However Healy accepted that “[Tuition fees] are a market –driven thing so there is a limit to how much the market can bear so we will obviously have to make other adjustments. It may mean savings also.”He added, “There is an inconsistency. On the one hand the government is urging people to undertake lifelong learning but this policy is going to have an adverse effect on certain groups who do this. People who already have a degree, who are well educated, but want to change direction or need to improve their skills will not necessarily be doing these courses at a higher level. So they are now being told that their employer should pay or they themselves will have to pay… The future is pretty grim if it goes forward.”Any increase in fees will depend on the outcome of a Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) proposal to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee. Under the HEFCE proposal, some university courses would be exempt from the change in policy. These would include medicine and teaching training as well as ‘vulnerable’ or ‘minority’ subjects that are nationally under-subscribed.Oxford University will also submit written evidence to the Select Committee inquiry. The Department for Continuing Education and the Theology Faculty are likely to suffer most from the changes.Oxford’s Physics Department is also looking particularly vulnerable, as it could lose 25% of its grant for particle physics and astronomy. This is a result of planned £80 million government cuts to the Science and Technology Facilities Council budget, which distributes state funding for scientific research.Professor Philip Burrows said, “If you find particle physics or astronomy exciting and motivating subjects, you might think twice about doing a physics degree if you hear that the UK is cutting back on its funding in those areas.“Since the Government has recognised the importance of a healthy supply of physicists to underpin the UK science base and the economy, the proposed STFC cuts in physics seem baffling.”
by Rob Pomfret