Speaking at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference annual meeting, the Chancellor of Oxford University called for the tuition fee cap to be removed entirely, dubbing the £3140 limit for home students "intolerably low". Lord Patten, who is most commonly known as the last British Governor of Hong Kong, accused the Government of interfering too much in university affairs, saying that universities are now treated as "social security offices" in an attempt to create social mobility.
Lord Patten admitted that any lifting of the fee cap would be politically difficult, but stressed that something had to be done if top British universities were to catch up financially with the Ivy League in the United States. It is thought to be unlikely that private donations will be able to cover the bill and an increase in taxpayers money is not popular. Lord Patten believes that the only viable option is to increase fees. He talked of the "mad world" in which parents were willing to pay over ten thousand pounds a year in school fees, but unwilling to pay more than three thousand in university fees.
Recently, the Ivy League has started to attract more British undergraduates. The fees may be over £16,000 a year, but a household income of less than £30,000 gains a full scholarship and fees are on a sliding scale, even up to a household income of £90,000. Harvard's £17.6billion annual alumni endownments go a long way: it is more than the annual funding for all British universities combined.
Lord Pattens' comment has sparked an explosive political debate between Oxford and the Secretary of State for Universities, Lord Denham. Denham has accused Oxford of setting it's sights 'too low' in the attempt to widen participation and has 'profoundly disagreed' with comments made by the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Head of Admissions. In a speech to an Aimhigher celebratory event Denham accused the Chancellor of being 'out moded' and stated:
"I think he is profoundly wrong. This isn't a debate about lowering standards or asking universities to take less able students. It's about the willingness to recognise that there is talent which isn't realised to the fullest extent and it's in universities' interest to find that talent."
With the gap in the University sector for controversial speakers, left after Sir Richard Sykes moved on from Imperial, Lord Patten has certainly stepped up to the mark with a certain amount of gusto.