Oxford has reacted strongly against claims in the Sunday Times that it has frozen the number of places it offers to British undergraduates in direct response to a funding crisis.

Other universities, including Cambridge, Durham, King’s College London, Imperial College and Warwick have all announced that they will be forced either to freeze or to cut the number of places available to undergraduates in 2010.

However a spokesperson for the University told Cherwell, “It is misleading to imply that Oxford is ‘freezing’ places as a result of government cuts. We have had about 3,000 places a year for many years and this remains unchanged.”
Despite the face that this policy is consistent with the past, increased competition for places is inevitable as the demand for higher education increases.

Jonny Medland, OUSU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, commented, “While undergraduate numbers would ideally be expanded, there are a range of outside pressures which make this difficult. The City Council has a limit on how many students can live out and colleges are also constrained by their own capacity. The Oxford tutorial system is also expensive, meaning that taking more undergraduates means the university has to find more money from somewhere.”

Elsewhere, universities have announced that they will be cutting the number of places available. The London School of Economics and Essex universities will both be offering fewer places to students next year, and Edinburgh University will be reducing its intake by 1,300 – nearly a third of this year’s total.

Such moves have been prompted by the announcement of Peter Mandelson, the First Secretary of State, that universities will have their funding cut by £914 million under a Labour government. The Conservatives have hinted at plans for similar cuts.

This year there was an increase of 12% in school-leavers applying to university, bringing the total to around 720,000. A similar increase this year will leave several hundred students without university places at all; moreover the 10,000 extra places offered by the government last year will not be made for 2010 entry.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said, “Universities will be faced with a choice of recruiting more students with lower amounts of money, which will inevitably damage quality; and on the other hand, cutting student numbers, which will be very hard on potential students.”

This year some British universities reported that the numbers of applications they had received from abroad had risen by over 40%. Bekhradnia said, “Most universities are frankly taking as many overseas students as they can.”