Oxford University has come down in favour of raising tuition fees in a report advising the government.

The report is a response to the first phase of the government-commissioned Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance.

The University argues that fees should rise to allow universities to continue working at the level they do, and that bursaries can be used to counter potential negative effects on access.

It points out that “participation by under-represented groups has not been adversely affected” by the current fee regime.”

However, OUSU has responded to the Browne Review’s call for evidence with its own report against raising fees. They argue that research by universities, think tanks and the NUS all point to “fear of debt” putting off many potential university applicants. The report argues that this fear is likely to increase if the current cap on fees is lifted even if it comes with an increase in bursary provision.

Jonny Medland, OUSU’s VP for Access and Academic Affairs said, “The mantra of “raise fees and bursaries” ignores the fact that students will be put off by higher fees while not fully understanding improved bursary arrangements.”
The review itself, led by Lord Browne of Madingley, “is tasked with making recommendations to Government on the future of fees policy and financial support for full and part-time undergraduate and postgraduate students.”
It launched in November 2009 to investigate the impact of the introduction of “variable fees” in 2006, and Oxford’s response to its first call for evidence was completed last month.

The University’s report was split into analysing the “impact of current arrangements” and looking at “issues for future policy”. Broadly speaking, the University is concerned about the costs of the current scheme to the Treasury, and would like to see fees increased in order to help maintain the quality of Oxford and other universities in the UK.

The report notes that the current arrangement of additional fees have provided much needed income for universities to counter the fall in “average public funding per student… by 40% in real terms during the 1990s.”

However, there are worries over government costs, given the current fiscal climate: “subsidy is expensive [for the Treasury] while student support is not effectively targeted at those with greatest financial need.”

The report says that in the future, “maintaining the exceptional quality of Oxford’s provision will be a formidable challenge, if fee income is capped at the current level, while public funding is cut and fundraising remains extremely challenging.”

Oxford stresses its wish for autonomy on bursary provision and other attempts to increase applications for “high performing school-age students from groups currently under-represented at Oxford.”

However, OUSU believes there is a better way than raising fees. Medland said, “A sustainable and progressive funding system should be introduced – a graduate tax [for instance] will remove the incentive for graduates to take the highest paying job they can and ensure that those who benefit the most from university will pay the most for it.”