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Government and reform at Oxford

Oxford remains a fabulous university, but it is not what it could be. As elite American institutions continue to move forward, it has become clear that being tethered to the government is the root of Oxford's problem. Here is Simon Jenkins, writing in The Times:

Forty years ago the Oxford sage, Lord Franks, returned from rebuilding Europe, setting up Nato and forging a special relationship with America to try something easy. He tried to reform Oxford. He failed. It still defies reform. And where Oxford refuses to lead, Cambridge, London and the rest meekly follow. They have collapsed into the arms of government. They are institutionally dependent. They simply beg for more.

What they get is resistance to tuition increases, and an under-funded institution. But the problem is more than insufficient tuition. Whereas Harvard alumni give liberally long after leaving campus, education in England is regarded as a right endowed by the state. In that culture it makes little sense to substitute your own money for the government's, and write a check to Oxford. The endowment - an enormous asset for Harvard - suffers as a result. Government money is thus a curse, not a blessing, for Oxford.

Complicating matters, Oxford's organizational structure - a loose confederation of colleges - retards change and reinforces the status quo. Here's more from Jenkins:

Both Peel and Gladstone lost their Oxford parliamentary seats for advocating reform. The place is, as Franks said, a "two-hatted monster", a government university composed of private colleges. Franks found the colleges self-satisfied, reactionary and decisive only in indecision. Most still are.

I wonder where Oxford will be a century from now if resistance to change continues its rule. Jenkins advocates a radical break from government, and I think he's right. But will the "other hat" allow such a break to take place? The combination of government and faculty can be fatal.