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Oxford Bursar says cost of a degree is “just not worth it"

The cost of a degree from some British universities is just not worth it, according to a top Oxford Bursar David Palfreyman.

The Bursar of New College made the remarks as part of a seminar jointly organized by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

Mr. Palfreyman researches and lectures on higher education policy, management and governance. He is also the director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (OxCHEPS).

He told Cherwell, “At £27k plus living-costs plus lost/foregone earnings, some kinds of degree from some universities [are] just not worth it in simple financial terms. We all await the detailed analysis of degrees and earnings marrying HESA and Inland Revenue data. [It is] not worth it for such graduates, who then struggling to repay the debt over 30 years as Generation Rent and as Generation No-Pension, and still leaving the taxpayer having to write-off the cumulative bad-debt by 2040 or so.

“Hence I called for traditional universities to re-engineer themselves…to deliver skills & competencies, vocational degrees at £6k as do the new for-profit commercial universities, while – of course – STEM courses will need public subsidy (as now).

“[There is a] need for a more responsive and innovative HE industry – for example, part-time degrees; faster delivery if wanted by the student not needing long summer breaks.”

He did, however, state that, “Oxford students, of course, have nowt to moan” with regards to the teaching package “as subsidised by college endowment income”.

Under the current system, it has been calculated that 45p out of every £1 the government loans to cover the costs of tuition fees will never be repaid by students.

The House of Commons’ cross-party Business, Innovation and Skills committee expressed its concern in a report last July “that Government is rapidly approaching a tipping point for the financial viability of the student loans system.”

This followed the publication of research by the consultancy London Economics, who calculated that if the non-repayment threshold hit 48.6p per pound,  “the economic cost of the 2012-13 higher education reforms will exceed the 2010-11 system that it replaced”.

A Spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills said, “The reform of tuition fees and student support has protected our world class higher education system and last year a record half a million students entered higher education, including a record number from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Graduates earn well over an extra £100,000 across their lifetime and the OECD described our student loan system as a “good investment for the taxpayer”, due to the higher tax paid by graduates. In fact the OECD praised the UK as “one of the few countries to have figured out a sustainable approach to higher education finance.”

A first-year History student commented, “I feel like our degree is the most expensive library subscription. We get max 4 contact hours a week; compare that to scientists!”

However fellow History fresher argued, “I think you have to weigh the £27,000 against the amount extra you would be earning as a result of a university education. Hopefully, over your lifetime, it will be financially worth it; if not, probably don’t bother.”

When asked about free higher education, in the light of OUSU’s decision to endorse free education as part of its official policy during Michaelmas 2014, he commented, “No nation – well, perhaps Norway with oil money – can afford to provide free mass higher education. If it purports to, it will be a public squalor service. Hence OUSU is naive, but [the] exact balance of taxpayer and student funding is a highly political decision.

“All the more so in the context of Austerity and an ageing population, as well as protection of spend on schools plus NHS. But [the] job of OUSU/NUS is to dream!”

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