Oxford vice-chancellor calls for £16,000 fees at top universities

Elite universities should be free to charge £16,000 in tuition fees per year, the University of Oxford’s vice-chancellor has said.

Andrew Hamilton made the remarks in his annual oration, saying that the current system was “out of kilter” and hinted that it was not sustainable.

Hamilton said: The idea of a market – and that is ostensibly what is being created – in which every item, virtually regardless of content and quality, is the same price seems, well, a little odd.

“On the other hand, given the great diversity of the institutions in our higher education system, the notion of different universities charging significantly different amounts, doesn’t feel inherently unnatural. It is the current situation that seems out of kilter.”

Hamilton stated that the cost of educating a student at different institutions varied. He said that at Oxford it cost £16,000 per undergraduate and suggested that some universities were making a profit by charging £9,000 per year.

However, he also acknowledged that higher fees should not impede access to education, saying: “What matters surely is that an institution’s charges are clearly aligned with what it offers and that they are demonstrably not a barrier to student access.

“In other words that robust and generous financial support remains readily available for students who most need it.”

Hamilton said that the university had experienced a £70m gap in funding, as increased tuition fee funds had to be used to plug gaps in government higher education budget cuts.

He said that a system of fees “more closely related to the true cost of education… is something I believe in the longer run will have to be considered,” adding that such a system would have to have strong guarantees that price did not deter talented undergraduates and that loan repayment was aligned with financial capability.