One thing I’d change about Oxford: inequality of College endowments

This article was originally published in Cherwell on 4 November 2016.

If, like me, you were slightly overwhelmed and lost during the Oxford admissions process, you may remember clinging to the nugget of hope that “it doesn’t matter which college you apply to”.

While this may be true regarding teaching standards, there is a huge disparity between college’s respective levels of funding.

At first, this may not sound like the sexiest of Oxford’s problems. While white-male curricula, mental health issues and the state and private school discrepancy all, quite rightly, grab headlines, this issue is quieter.

Here are the facts: each college is financially autonomous. They spend their endowments on their students and teaching. This means their expenditure is directly linked to their income, independent of the University.

As of July 2015, St. John’s had an endowment of £423,321,000. By contrast, Mansfield’s was £12,614,000. This difference is eye-watering and unjust. When every home student pays £9,000 a year, it is insulting that money should not be parcelled out equally among them.

The impacts range from the supplementary to the grave. This year, St Peter’s JCR couldn’t afford to buy the pizza they advertised for their freshers. More seriously, my college, St. Anne’s, which has one of the lower endowments per student, couldn’t afford to buy land neighbouring their site which could ease their current accommodation crisis. When some colleges can’t afford to pay for basics, it’s hard to walk past yet another shop in the city centre which is part of the St. John’s discount scheme.

Easy steps could remedy this. A University-wide funding pot available for the colleges with the smallest endowments, abolish the current funding and donation system and ensure that funding is fairly distributed according to size of grounds, number of students, or academic attainment.

If Oxford is serious about its students, then it must be serious about levelling their students’ experiences. Who knows, maybe we’ll all get more pizza.

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