Oxford University’s hypocrisy in rejecting a student with not enough savings

8:58 am - January 22nd 2013

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by Jacob Williamson

As The Observer reported on Sunday, Oxford requires that graduate students demonstrate that they have £12,900 annually to live on.

Damien Shannon’s decision to sue St Hugh’s College, Oxford, on the grounds of ‘selection by wealth’ is vital and valid, as a graduate student at Oxford I want to add my views.

St Hugh’s plans to defend this requirement on the grounds that it is necessary to ensure that students will ‘be able to complete their courses without suffering financial difficulty and anxiety’.

Furthermore, St Hugh’s denies that this requirements falls “disproportionately within” the lower socio-economic groups. Shannon was only able to demonstrate that he had £9,000 to live on, and planned to make up the difference through part time work. But St Hugh’s, following university policy, deemed this insufficient, and so Shannon was refused a place for this reason alone.

The fact is that the requirement of a £12,900 living allowance is a farce. My accommodation, courtesy of my college, costs £4,500 for the duration of my academic year, and includes all utilities. This means that students need to prove that their income after accommodation costs is £700 a month, or £23 a day. Students could dine at the Randolph Hotel on a regular basis and still not need that much.

Moreover, even the scholarships reflect this. My personal living allowance, generously granted by the university, is £9,490 a year. The Arts and Humanities Research Council grants some graduate students the same amount.

That’s only £490 more than the amount Shannon had, and it’s a significant £3,410 less than the university’s requirement. And yet I know from experience that it is ample to live on. I am not suffering from financial difficulty and anxiety. I’m still perfectly capable of engaging thoroughly in university life.

The only difference is that unlike Shannon, I was fortunate enough to have parents who could vouch that they would make up that wholly unnecessary difference and bridge the financial gap for me. I do not intend on taking any extra money from them to supplement my allowance, but the reason I am here is that I showed that I could. Otherwise, I would have faced the same personal tragedy that Shannon did.

That should strike anyone as an obvious case of injustice. And it makes the claim that this doesn’t disproportionately affect people in lower socio-economic groups very doubtful indeed.

Jacob blogs about philosophy and politics here and tweets from here.

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Reader comments

Surely, other universities are available?

2. Chaise Guevara

@ Andreas

“Surely, other universities are available?”

Oh, problem solved. You’re a goddamn genius. No problems with a rich/poor divide or inequality of opportunity here, folks! Move along!

@Andreas – non-sequitur..? The fact that there are other universities in existence doesn’t legitimise the discriminatory behaviour of Oxford in this case.

There’s another half to the case, which I know is more controversial with Oxbridge students. Shannon hoped to include projected earnings from part-time/vacation work in his “proof” that he is financially stable, but Oxford don’t permit their students to find paid work on the basis that they don’t have time due to all the coursework they’ll be doing. This strikes me as absurd, given that at other institutions part-funding your studies through work is the rule not the exception.


And other seats on the bus, I guess?


The rule against working goes to term-time only, at least it did during my Cambridge days. Given the workload, it does rather make sense. There should be no reason Damien can’t work during his vacations, though; lord knows I did.

Should the fact that this is for a post grad course make a difference? Practically, might we need to draw the line somewhere simply to be able to push the greater part of resources toward those hoping to get an undergrad degree?

The university is making itself ridiculous here.

Either they are going to treat students as adults capable of taking responsibility for their own plans and decisions … or, as here, they are not.

8. the a&e charge nurse

‘St Hugh’s plans to defend this requirement on the grounds that it is necessary to ensure that students will ‘be able to complete their courses without suffering financial difficulty and anxiety’ – just goes to show how disconnected from reality some people are?

The financial climate surrounding higher eduction virtually GUARANTEES that for most ordinary students learning will take in an atmosphere of financial difficulty and anxiety – I read the other day an undergraduate degree will cost something like £100,000?

How on can earth can St Hugh’s deny that this requirements falls “disproportionately within” the lower socio-economic groups, do they honestly believe it is affecting the children of the rich?
Sadly some of the ivory tower brigade remain indifferent to good old class exploitation.

9. the a&e charge nurse

15% of post grad students turn down a place at Oxford – nothing to do with wealth of course?

The money conscious university seem more interested in ‘liquid assets’ or ‘future earnings’ rather than ensuring the best education to those who have worked hard, and done well ……… why?

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