Call for £30,000 tuition fees

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Oxford University students should pay university tuition fees of around £30,000 a year, according to a leading economist David Blanchflower.

Writing in Sunday’s The Observer, the former member of the Bank of England monetary policy committee, called for changes in the tuition fees system to allow universities like Oxford to charge their students more to fund their additional facilities and teaching.

Citing some parents’ willingness to fund an Eton education for their children, the economist stated that fees of around £30,000 would provide a workable solution to the issue of university funding.

Such fees would bring Oxford onto the same fee level as top American universities, such as Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, where Blanchflower is a professor. He argued that at the Ivy League university higher fees helped “focus the mind” of students.

In defence of this radical increase in price, Blanchflower claimed that the current system means that the “poor have been subsidising the rich” for too long.

The apparent inconvenience to the middle classes would, he argues, go some way to compensating those poorer students who have been overpaying to attend less prestigious institutions.

Higher fees would allow universities to continue providing bursaries to poor students, unable to afford them.

The economist has also criticised the recent announcement by Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, which outlined plans to cut government funding to universities by £135 million next year.

A spokesman for Oxford University said the university did not have a “settled view” on fees, but reassured students that “significant fee rises would need to take place gradually over time and be matched by bursaries” so as to continue financial aid for poorer students.

Student opinion seems sceptical of Blanchflower’s suggestions, with fears that such change would see Oxford return to the elitist institution it has long been accused of being.

Second-year Exeter student David Thomas commented that “one of the world’s best universities will once again become dominated only by those who feel able to pay” should the ideas become reality.

Ministers have refused to comment because of the ongoing inquiry into tuition fees, chaired by the former BP chief Lord Browne. The panel’s final recommendations on changes in the university funding system are not expected until autumn 2010.

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