4 AUGUST 2001, Page 27

Oxbridge must cost more

From Mr Keith Wedmore

Sir: Are we really to watch the decline and collapse of Oxford and Cambridge without lifting a finger (`Eviscerating Oxford', 14 July)? The silence of your correspondents seems to give assent.

In my day, the college would bill me for whatever was needed. Some, or all of that, might be met by the county if we had merit and need. The rest we had to find. The government did not come into it. A brilliant standard of education was maintained.

Now my college cannot bill students, not even to supplement what it gets from the government. It must not top up, if it wants state help for any of its students. It gets basically, subject to a tiny discretionary subvention, what all and any other college/university gets per student. This, of course, is nonsense. It can only drag the colleges of Oxbridge down to a lower level; to cease to

be. Good education is expensive, and has to be broad as well as brilliant.

The colleges should tell the government that it is for the master and fellows, not the government, to bill the students, and that they, no one else, should decide and control that sum. If the government for the time being cares to help the poorer or even the moderately well-off students to meet the formidable fees and living costs, good. They should. If not, they will go down in history as the first for a long time to refuse help. I don't doubt that for a few years the student numbers might be small. But in these matters we think in centuries.

Is this generation of fellows to go down in infamy as those who sold out? If they do not. if they do declare their independence, how long could it take before shame came back and the students at Oxbridge at least got the same help as everyone else? My hunch is months or weeks, not centuries.

State control and the independence of England's two ancient universities are not compatible. They must cost more than redbricks if that is what they are not to become. A stand should be taken now. Who will be the first to fire on Fort Sumter?

Keith Wedmore

California, USA