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October 24, 2003
How Oxbridge built during the downwave

Here's an interesting little educational aside on the financial and managerial strength of two of Britain's most distinguished educational establishments, Oxford and Cambridge Universities. It's from a Telegraph article of 1999 in which Giles Worsley looks back over the architecture of the previous decade. He refers to the way their long-term attitude enabled Oxbridge to build when others weren't.

Few professions felt the impact of the early Nineties recession more keenly than architecture. The Lawson boom of the late Eighties had seemed a moment of infinite promise as the property market soared and there was plenty of money for architecture. Bright young architects left the security of the big practices, only to see the market collapse and with it their prospects. Older firms that had expanded exponentially were ruthlessly cut back to size. Even leading architects began to wonder where the next commission would come from.

There were beneficiaries, particularly Oxford and Cambridge Universities, whose perspective stretched beyond immediate building cycles and who were able to take advantage of falling building prices and architects' keenness to build. The wave of new building included John Outram's Judge Institute, Jeremy Dixon Edward Jones's Darwin Study Centre, Norman Foster's Law Library and Michael Hopkins's Emmanuel College Common Room in Cambridge; Richard McCormac's St John's College building and Demetri Porphyrios's new quadrangle for Magdalen College in Oxford. The results revealed the diversity and strength of British architecture when working within tight physical constraints but to a relatively generous budget.

Despite all the attacks on them by governments like the one we have now, Britain's two top universities have evidently retained quite a lot of their financial independence, or they wouldn't have been able to buck the trend like this.

Too bad there aren't more British educational establishments able to think in this way.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:09 PM
Category: Higher education

It depends on which parts of the universities you are dealing with. Essentially the colleges are private universities with a great deal of autonomy and financial independence, whereas the actual university departments are public and have no financial independence, except in those instances when they are actually given money by the richer colleges. (This happens quite often). Sadly, the government doesn't like this peculiar arrangement and is trying to reduce the autonomy of the colleges in the name of "equality", and in the name of conforming with dreadful management theories. (When the government attacks Oxford and Cambridge because some well qualified student from a depressed state school is rejected, this is the subtext, because admissions are controlled by the colleges and not by any centralised body).

Comment by: Michael Jennings on October 25, 2003 12:23 AM
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