He made the remarks in his annual Oration speech, saying that current funding “doesn’t add up for Oxford.” Hamilton stopped short of calling for immediate rises in fees, but said that Oxford faced a funding “chasm” because recent increases in fees had not met the funding gap for undergraduate tuition.
Hamilton also mentioned having read that other universities were “doing very nicely thank you” from annual tuition fees of £9,000.
An Oxford spokesman emphasised to Cherwell, “There is no suggestion that the entire shortfall Oxford faces should be made up through fee increases. What the Vice-Chancellor did was to raise the idea as an option the University might come to consider.” The Telegraph newspaper and The Tab both ran headlines on Tuesday suggesting Hamilton had asked students to meet the entire cost.
Vice-Chancellor Hamilton has faced criticism recently for accepting a pay package of £424,000 last year, an amount that could cover 60 funding shortfalls for undergraduates.
Tom Rutland, OUSU president, attended the speech and made his position on any tuition fee increase clear: “Students’ pockets have already been raided by this government when it betrayed them and trebled undergraduate tuition fees in 2010. The idea of students paying even more is unthinkable and will be wholeheartedly opposed by students in Oxford and across the country.
“It is extremely concerning to hear talk of fees increasing, especially from the Vice-Chancellor of our university… With such strides forward in our access schemes and bursary packages in recent years, the discussion about increasing fees further risks alienating and pricing out those people we are reaching out to.”
However Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU lecturers’ union told BBC News: “Prof Hamilton should perhaps be applauded for going after one of the rawest nerves in politics to try and get higher education funding back in the spotlight – something we fear no party will be keen to do this side of the general election.”
Currently the gap in funding is met by philanthropy and other incomes like the OUP, meaning that Oxford runs a 5% operating surplus. A spokesman said, “This is sufficient to sustain the current infrastructure of the University … we don’t need to borrow money.”
However, Hamilton also raised the possibility of Oxford issuing a bond to borrow in the future, in line with other top universities, to improve its facilities. He stressed that this would be only after “careful reflection.” The spokesman added, “And whatever happens, access must be regardless of finances.”