American students paying up to $50,000 per year to study at Oxford have accused third-party study abroad programmes who work with the University of charging excessively high fees.

Almost all American students studying in Oxford apply via a third-party study abroad provider. Such providers act as middlemen between North American university students and Oxford University, but charge extensive fees for the services they offer.

While students may apply independently directly to Oxford University, many claim to be unaware of this, while others say that their American university only gives credit if they apply through a third-party program.

Programmes such as the Institute For Study Abroad – Butler University, the Oxford Study Abroad Programme (OSAP), the Washington International Studies Council (WISC), Oxford Programme for Undergraduate Studies (OPUS), and Arcadia University Center for Study Abroad, accept student applications and help Oxford colleges in their selection process by recommending students.

IFSA-Butler, WISC and OSAP, and others all claim to offer the most comprehensive services, including an orientation program, weekend excursions to London and historic sights like Stratford-upon-Avon, medical insurance, and organised free dinners.
However, these services come at a price. OSAP charges students $50,700 per year for its scheme, while Arcadia charges $47,520 per year.

Jonathan Salik, a student from Amherst College in Massachusetts studying at St. Catherine’s through the Butler program for Hilary and Trinity terms, criticised the programme. He said, “At Amherst I pay $42,000 a year, including tuition, room and board, and a meal plan. However, at Oxford, my parents had to pay $37,000 for just tuition and a room and board for two terms, which is equivalent to half-a-year at Amherst.”

Michael Palbot, academic director of WISC and OSAP programs, defended the high prices that these programmes charge.
He said, “we are higher in cost because of the rent of our office and the staffing, in addition to the various services we offer.”

Palbot also denied accusations that the company was exploiting students through the high fees. He added, “we are a private company whose goal is not to make a profit, but to focus on providing American university students an opportunity to study at Oxford.”

Students suggested that the services provided by third-party companies were not adequate for the large sums involved. Salik said, “It pretty much cost me an additional $15,000 to pay for Butler’s ‘services’ like the weekend trips to London that are so inconveniently planned for students at Oxford.

“These trips require us to be at London at 9 in the morning to catch the tour bus. With a hectic workload, it is an actual inconvenience to have to wake up at 6 in the morning and pay the extra Oxford Tube fare to get into London. We get a ‘free’ dinner at Pizza Express each term, but is the food really worth it when I’m paying $15,000 extra?”

Jameson Williams, a student from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, agreed that the travel options laid on by third-party companies are ill-suited to the needs of students studying at Oxford. Williams said, “There is unneeded fluff that leeches your cash from your parents’ wallets. Many of the travel programs are based out of London and it costs extra money and time to even get to London.”

Given the high cost of the services, many students say they regret applying via third-party progammes. Salik, who applied through the Butler program, said, “I did not know about the option of applying to colleges or to the Oxford Admissions Office directly. Had I known about these options then I would have saved so much more.”

Keith Farrell, a student from Connecticut College, echoed these sentiments. He said, “I only used Butler because my home university forced me to, but if I had other options I definitely would have chosen to apply directly to the college of my choice, as opposed to going through these study abroad programmes.”

Other students feared that they wouldn’t get credits for their time in Oxford if they didn’t apply through a programme, rather than directly to Oxford University.

Dave Carper, a visiting student at Hertford College from Case Western University, said he was told that credits for his work in Oxford would only be acknowledged if he applied through the Butler program. Carper said, “I went to go to a study abroad official to talk about my options for going to Oxford and she pretty much told me that she wants me to apply through Butler because it cuts down her paperwork.

“I only used Butler because my home university forced me to, but if I had other options, I definitely would have chosen to apply directly to the college of my choice, as opposed to going through these study abroad programmes.”

Hayley Mirek, a student from George Washington University reading English and History of Art criticised the Butler programme, saying, “I don’t think we’re getting much out of it.”

College authorities have defended their use of third-party programmes. Visiting Students Administrator at St. Catherine’s College, Helen Alexander, said that the college associates with third-party study abroad providers because of their reliability.

“For the college it’s better to have students come through the third party because it cuts down on my paperwork and paperwork for students’ home universities.” She did, however, question whether third party providers do actually benefit students. She described it as “just entirely up to the student”.

Naomi Freud, Director of Studies for Visiting Students at St Catz, added that student participation in study-abroad programmes was not taken lightly. She said, “programmes like Butler give students some more people that they could talk to, when they need to. They also have someone to talk to in the U.S. as opposed to having to constantly talking to directors like myself.”

She added, “I think parents who are most of the students’ financial source would prefer having students go abroad through a service that provides their children with another safety net, so to speak.

“Visiting students are a vital part of college life. The contribution that I’ve seen is the vitality they bring with them.
“It’s not that our students don’t have that vitality, but visiting students coming for say a term, coming from another place can be a good catalyst for our students.”