An internal report by the University of Oxford has voiced concerns that high fee-paying “associate members” may be threatening the academic reputation of the University.
It states that the emphasis in the admissions process appears to be on finances rather than grades, claiming, “Although there is some assessment of their GPA scores before they are admitted by each college, the transaction seems to be one of a purely commercial kind.”
Most such students do not apply directly to colleges, but are accepted via a commercial company which takes a cut of their fees. The largest of these companies is the Washington International Studies Council (WISC), which charges $20,900 (£13,400) per term. The firm places students with a number of colleges, including Magdalen, Christ Church and New College, which receive around £4,000 per student per term.
Senior Oxford members criticised this cash-conscious approach. Associate members are said to “pose a severe reputational risk” due to “often low” standards of admission.
In defence of Oxford’s acceptance of associate members, a university spokesperson told Cherwell, “Associate members are not Oxford University students and do not take up student places. They do not receive teaching and do not gain an Oxford qualification. This is made clear upfront.”
The Oxford Study Abroad Programme (OSAP), a company similar to WISC, states on its website that associate members must have a grade point average of at least 3.2 out of a possible 4.0 to study. Visiting students also fall under the umbrella of associate members, with a GPA minimum of 3.7 out of a possible 4.0 according to both WISC and OSAP. To study at Magdalen through OSAP the minimum is 3.6.
The official academic criteria for visiting students has, according to the University website, “no minimum qualification…each application will be considered according to all the information available and in comparison with other applications.”
Most colleges require evidence of academic achievement by way of grades and references.
As well as evidence of academic achievement, associate members are also expected to pay fees (likely to be in excess of £5,000) on top of their college fees. Fees are adjusted according to the length of time in Oxford, but most colleges give priority to applications for a year rather than a single term. With EU fees capped at £9,000 per annum, the existence of visiting students programmes and associate members allows the University to make up the shortfall by charging a premium for college facilities.
A University spokesperson said, “Associate members…pay a fee to use college facilities for a term as a way for colleges to make their facilities more widely available and earn income.”
Associate members apply through the normal channels and receive an Oxford qualification for a similar tuition fee. NUS’s International Students Officer Daniel Stevens previously described some programmes as ‘cash cows’.