Last week, it was reported that the disparity in the endowments of colleges has widened once again. Whilst all colleges saw their endowments increase, wealthier colleges have had a larger percentage increase on their portfolios. This is expected, but analysis by Cherwell has shown that it is having a significant impact on the academic results of students.
Students from wealthier colleges tend to do better in examinations than students from poorer colleges. Whilst the collegiate system generally works very well, endowments are one area where it needs to be reformed and unified.
College endowments have immense and wide ranging effects on student experience. It affects almost everything: accommodation rent, meal costs, bursaries available, sports funding, exhibitions, tutors hired, and how well stocked the libraries are, to list only a few. The library at Wadham stocks only 40,000 volumes compared to the 160,000 stocked at Christ Church. Mansfeld, which only has total assets worth £27 million (2017), unsurprisingly ranked 27th in the Norrington Table. In contrast, New College with total assets of £287 million (2017) managed to top the Norrington Table in the same period.
The quality of education should not vary this much within one institution. Furthermore, the effects of this widening gap in endowments disproportionately affects students from low-income backgrounds. The financial costs such students at less wealthy colleges have to undertake are more than their peers at richer colleges.
This is where this difference in funding really affects the university experience of students at this university. They have to spend more on vacation residence come exam time. Less support is available to buy crucial textbooks. Their meals tend to be less subsidised and so cost more. Ultimately, this issue means that two students can graduate from the same university, and one could not only have a better grade, because their college could afford better tutors, but spend significantly less doing so.
Lastly, the lack of information available on college websites and the pooling system has given students very little choice over this. Students apply to colleges unaware of the true impact their choice can have. And even then, if they do decide to do some research, they may get pooled.
When we applied to Oxford, we were told that all colleges are more or less the same; that we would receive the same Oxford education regardless. Evidently, this is simply not true. The gulf is growing, and the disparity is far too great to ignore.