Tuesday, December 15, 2015

HERALDRY: Oxford's Rapid Expansion (Updated Dec. 19, 2015)

Is There Any More Room to Expand?
An Oxford college dean was tasked with breaking the news to the parents of a young man that did not make the cut:
We think he would be better suited for a smaller college... or, indeed, a larger one.
Oxford has been trying to refuse fewer applicants by admitting more of them.

The result? More and larger colleges.

This was the subject of letters to the editor of Oxford Today about my article on the coats of arms of the new post-WW2 Oxford colleges. One person wrote:
John Tepper Marlin’s informative article about recent Oxford coats of arms tells us that of Oxford’s 38 colleges, thirteen were created in the last century, almost all in the past seventy years. How many colleges does the university expect to have by the end of the present century? I shudder to think.
In an informal followup with him by email, he added that it's not just the growth in the number of colleges that upsets him. It is the size of the colleges themselves. (Also, growth is occurring in Oxford independent of the University!) He is concerned that Oxford University is becoming "impersonal, particularly now that the administration has so much power and such incentives to expand for financial rather than educational reasons".  He points to the "spoliation of Port Meadow" as an example of the consequences, and to Cambridge, where he says much of its beauty has been sacrificed to growth.

The Numbers

The numbers do show an explosive growth in number of university students in the 30 years between the Franks Report covering the Academic Year 1966 and the [Sir Peter] North Report covering  Academic Year 1996. During that period, five Oxford colleges were added along with one Permanent Private Hall. In addition, the median number of students in each college grew from 340 to 449. The median number of postgraduates per college grew from 75 to 107.

Yet the growth in Oxford students of 70 percent does not look so huge during a period when the total number of British university students more than tripled – from about 325,000 students in 1966 to more than 1 million in 1996. Clearly, the Oxford problem was part of something larger. What was going on? Is it over? I don't claim to be a certified expert or a divine prophet on this subject, but I have given it a little thought and I have looked at some data.

Expanded Secondary Education. The 20th century saw a huge expansion of Britain's commitment to educating children through secondary school. The numbers of primary school students did not change so much, but between 1905 and 1985 the number of secondary school students grew from 113,000 to 4.2 million.

This created far more applicants for positions at Oxford and Cambridge, as well as many new universities, and they have all grown to meet the greater demand.

More Government Support. World War II took many young people out of the civilian workforce workforce and out of universities to join the military. After the war, it was public policy in the United States to keep down unemployment by financing returning veterans and the universities that took them in. When the Labour Party under Clement Attlee came to power it did much more, creating the modern welfare state including the National Health Service.  Free education at all levels was part of the plan and added to the long-term growth of universities.

New specialties had meanwhile emerged through wartime research that were extended after the war. Professional and graduate studies flourished. University-wide teaching and research programs expanded at Oxford because of both government and private-sector support of students and new teaching and research options.

More Female Students. During the two wars the number of women in the workforce grew sharply because of the need for workers. Once peace returned, some of them went back to school. In 1920 there were 4,357 students pursuing a first university degree, and they were three males to every female. By 2011 the number had grown to 350,800 and the ratio was four women to every three men. Among graduate students the ratio was three men to every woman in 1920, and equal numbers in 2011.

At Oxford in 1974 all of the colleges were single-sex. By 1985, only two holdouts were. Now even St. Benet's Hall, the last all-male bastion, will be coeducational in 2016.

The Entitlement Problem for Fellows. Anthony Weale, former Secretary of Faculties and Academic Registrar, wrote in to argue that any discussion of the growth of colleges in the 20th century needs to talk about entitlement. That is what explains the University logic behind pushing to increase the number of colleges as well as expanding the size of existing colleges:
The new colleges were created to provide for the growing number of graduate students and, of particular importance, to provide college fellowships for the growing number of "entitled" academics who were without such fellowships. The need to tackle the entitlement problem was – although an esoteric subject in some ways (a very "Oxford" issue, one might say) – a very important matter in the history of the University in the second half of the twentieth century.
In a subsequent email, Weale elaborated on the specifics of the entitlement problem. Undergraduate education is provided entirely by the colleges. From the undergraduate tutorial point of view, the distinction between a tutor who is a fellow and a graduate student may be less important than how good a teacher the person is. But from the perspective of graduate students, their college status places them in the Middle Common Room (MCR) and they are still treated as students. They have access through the colleges to social and sporting facilities, accommodation sometimes and academic support in addition to what is provided by the department or faculty. But they lack the close connection that fellows have with the Senior Common Room.
Under long-standing University legislation, tenured academics are "entitled" to college fellowships. A fellowship is in part academic (with major teaching responsibilities if one is a tutorial fellow), in part social and, most important, carries trustee responsibilities for the governance of the college. As academic staff numbers grew, there were not enough fellowships to meet this obligation. This is why colleges such as St Cross were founded. 
The entitlement problem did not go away, but seems to have been resolved in the 1990s, at least temporarily, by an agreement between the colleges and the University.

What Is the Outlook for the 21st Century? 

The good news for those worried about the costs of growth is that in the 20 years since the North Report, the number of Oxford University colleges has shrunk by one (from 39 to 38) while the number of PPHs has remained the same, six. In other words, on the basis of the first decade and a half, the 20th century growth rate in Britain is unlikely to be equalled in the 21st.

Prices alone suggest that any increase in the demand for student places is likely to be channeled to other universities than Oxford. Competition for space means that Oxford's housing has become more expensive than London's. Meanwhile Oxford area governments are scrambling to plan ahead for renewal of housing and other infrastructure.

A late-2014 study by the British Council shows an expected tapering off growth in students in Britain, from 4.1 percent average annual growth in 2007-2012 to an expected 3.5 percent annual growth in students in 2012-2024. Even so, Britain is expected to take more than its share of additional students from overseas, to nearly half as many as will go to the United States.

The worldwide supply of students seeking higher education is expected to surge in the next decade or two, with the greatest demand in India, China, Nigeria and Indonesia. At present India has nearly 20 million undergraduates. China has nearly 13 million. The United States has more than 10 million.

Bottom line, higher education is expected to keep growing rapidly in Britain, but at a slower rate than it did in the second half of the 20th century. The cost and scarcity of space in Oxford will encourage growth to occur elsewhere. Oxford planners have long recommended to those seeking to create new office space that they seriously consider nearby cities like Milton Keynes.


Education statistics: Paul Bolton, Library, House of Commons, 2012.
Higher education statistics: British Council, 2014.

Other Posts on the Arms of Oxford Colleges and PPHs: Original Article in Oxford Today . Heraldry as Branding . Heraldry as Fun .  Coat of Arms vs. Crest . Sinister Questions . Visit to the College of Arms . Windsor Herald Talks to New Yorkers . Shaming of Harvard Law Shield :: Rapid Expansion of Oxford's Colleges and Halls . Oxford Stars . Links to Heraldry, Oxford, GW . Harris Manchester College . Linacre College . St Catherine's . St Cross College . St Edmund Hall . Trinity College :: Regent's Park College . St Benet's Hall . 

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