Balliol College Annual Record 2004

The Master’s Letter

Other articles published in the print version of the Balliol College Annual Record 2004.

Visitor, Master, Fellows and Lecturers, Preachers in Chapel
John Prest The van Linge Windows
Dan Rubenstein Zebra Sociality: Different Stripes for Different Types
Kenneth McRae Balliol in Wartime: Letters of F E Simon
John Jones Lewis Masefield and Edward Rodd
Obituary: Sir Bernard Arthur Owen Williams
Book Reviews: Adrian Moore reviewed by Alan Montefiore
Antony Wynn reviewed by Bernard Wasserstein
Ian Ker reviewed by Carl Schmidt
Philip McDonagh reviewed by Oswyn Murray
Poetry: Gwyneth Lewis
Karen Harrison
Balliol About: Andrew Sutton on It’s Grim Up North – a visit to North Korea
Kathryn White on A World Apart – her recent experiences in India
Letter: Amanda Wrigley on the Balliol Players
Gazette: First Year Graduates and Undergraduates
The Coolidge Atlantic Crossing Trust
Firsts and Distinctions
University and College Prizes
College Scholarships
Doctorates of Philosophy
The Library
The College Archives
Two Old Common Room Occasions
Rosa Luxembourg
The College Staff
College Societies
College Sport
Members News:

Births, Marriages and Deaths
News and Notes


The Master’s Letter

Much of this year Oxford University has been discussing its academic strategy, particularly the size and distribution of its prospective student numbers. How large should we become and, if we continue to grow, where and how will the new students be absorbed? Stated briefly, the reasons to grow are the quantity and quality of the applications (graduate and undergraduate) and the plethora of exciting research ideas. The main reasons not to grow are that, for a large number of the students, fee income is way, way below costs* and the difficulty of fitting further expansion into a city that is already crowded and into colleges whose historic buildings cannot just be knocked down to be made larger. The scale of the problem can be seen from the fact that, if the University simply continues to grow at the same pace as it has, it will expand by 2020 by some four to five thousand students – the equivalent of seven or eight new colleges.

A closely related issue is the undergraduate/graduate mix. It is currently two-thirds undergraduate to one-third graduate, but graduate numbers have been rising faster. What should we do? The case for expanding graduate numbers is that the reputation of the major international universities (and thus their ability to attract the brightest people) depends heavily on their research strengths and the quality of their graduate students. At Harvard, Yale or Stanford, for example, graduates constitute two-thirds of the students. On the other hand, one of Oxford’s most distinctive strengths has been the intense tutorial style teaching of undergraduates – probably the best in the world. Moreover, a university such as Princeton, which has a mix much like that of Oxford, shows that success can occur without large graduate schools. Oxford is also a collegiate university, so, if graduate numbers are to continue to rise both absolutely and proportionately, colleges have to work out how to integrate them successfully.

To discuss in Balliol what views we should put to the University and, more importantly, to decide what we would, ourselves, wish to do, we combined a College Meeting with an Away Day, meeting at Eynsham Hall one day in May. In the College’s long history, College Meeting has only once before taken place out of Oxford: in November 1563, during the plague. And where was the meeting? At Handborough (today’s Long Hanborough), hardly a mile from Eynsham Hall!

Whether environment or history did the trick, I do not know, but it was time well spent both in the sense that Fellows considered it a success (giving it an average rating of more than 4.5 out of 5) and because we emerged with a clear consensus. We decided that we want to increase the proportion of graduates and, more importantly, we think we can do this in ways that build on our existing success with graduates at Holywell Manor, while reinforcing Balliol’s distinction for undergraduate education. Our goal is to provide an intense undergraduate education alongside a uniquely multidisciplinary environment for graduate work, each complementing the other. As a result we have decided that over the next five years we will expand our intake of graduate students by some 50 per cent, whilst reducing our intake of undergraduates by between eight and ten per cent.

We think this is the right strategic move – over the long run the arguments about research reputation are convincing. We are also conscious that our early lead in graduate work is in danger of being eroded. Since 1985, the number of graduates at Balliol has barely changed, yet at our traditional competitors (e.g. Magdalen, New, Merton) it has grown by a quarter and in the new competitors (e.g. Lincoln, Keble, Worcester, whose graduate numbers are now comparable to those of Balliol) it has grown by nearly 70 per cent. We also have a significant opportunity. Our current reputation in the graduate world is still so high that, staggeringly, of all graduates being admitted to Oxford, nearly one quarter are putting Balliol as their first choice. In other words we have a chance at the moment to expand our graduate intake with the very highest quality students.

The overlap currently works reasonably well in Balliol with graduates and undergraduates in the same academic societies, drama productions and sports teams, but we know we can do more, especially on the academic side, for example, by giving graduates more teaching opportunities and by encouraging the development of research communities. Of course scientists will do their main work in the labs, but it is in the discussions outside that the mix of disciplines can bring the greatest benefits. The new buildings that are growing around the Master’s Field are also beginning to give us a ‘third site’ (in addition to Broad Street and Holywell Manor) that will encourage this overlap yet further. The rooms there are, for example, already being used especially by fourth year undergraduates (beginning on research) and first year graduates. Expansion in this area has the added attraction of being close to many of the labs in South Parks Road as well as to the burgeoning social science buildings spreading down towards St Catz. In short, our vision is to be a balanced graduate and undergraduate college, large enough to provide an exciting, multidisciplinary climate offering the highest standards of teaching and scholarship, while still being on a human scale.

The other major issue on our minds this year has been finance. Nothing new there, I hear you say, but the debate has moved on. As you will know if you live in the UK, the Government was nearly defeated earlier this year on its proposals for financing universities. At the centre of this debate was the claim that universities, in general, are under enormous financial pressure. They are. And neither Balliol nor Oxford is immune. Indeed Oxford University estimates that its current deficit (just on teaching and without including any deficit facing the colleges) is £25 million per annum, whereas, even if the new fees are introduced at the maximum permissible level the extra gross income to Oxford will only be £19 million and it will not reach this level until 2010.

That is the downside. The upside is that almost everyone is now convinced that universities need more support and that a substantial part of this must come from fundraising. Moreover, all the signs are that, you, our Old Members, understand this especially well and are responding brilliantly. Our Annual Fund is going particularly well. Established only five years ago, already more than 25 per cent of Old Members contribute (we think the highest proportion of any college in Oxford). This year, helped greatly by the 1971-74 Gaudy Committee, the Fund looks likely to bring in more than £400,000. Thank you – and please keep it coming and growing.

Our funding to build up our endowment is also increasing. At present, we are concentrating on securing long-term funding for posts and are focusing on History and Classics: two subjects in which Balliol has an exceptionally strong reputation but insufficient internal funds. By the time this letter appears, History will have passed its halfway mark towards its target of £2.5 million and Classics, which we started later, has already raised over a quarter of a million. Overall, in the last year we have been able to add more than £2 million to the endowment.

Current students are being equally supportive. In last year’s Annual Record I wrote that, in agreement with the students (both graduate and undergraduate), we have put in place internal changes, including substantial increases in rents, that will improve our finances by about £500,000 per annum. More work is needed to find further economies, but your support, via the Annual Fund, for students who face hardship has been an extremely important part of putting these agreements in place.

Of course, we still have a long way to go. Balliol’s total endowments are only about £50 million whereas the average wealth of New College, Merton and Magdalen is over £80 million and St John’s has over £200 million. As I have said before, we are much more famous than we are wealthy – and we must put this right by altering the wealth rather than the fame! I am convinced we can do so, but our strategy has always been to build the endowment gradually. Much better to do this than to find that expectations have jumped ahead of returns.

The progress already made is worth noting. The gains from the Annual Fund and the internal economies together provide some £800-900,000 per annum. Capitalized at four per cent, this is equivalent to adding in excess of £20 million to our endowment.

One indicator of how much you have helped us can be seen in the new Tutorial appointments this year. No less than six, covering everything from Ancient History to Theoretical Physics, and in the case of four of them the College is bearing either the entire cost, at least for the first year or so, or has had to make other special arrangements.

So far so good: cohesion in the Governing Body about our goals, successful new appointments and, with your significant help, an improvement in our finances. However, what jumps out at me looking back over the last year in Balliol is the incredible amount of other good news. Start in the Sheldonian Theatre. On the evening of Thursday, 4 March, one of our Organ Scholars, James Holloway, led the College Choir in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem. In advance a few sceptical voices were heard, but he raised funds from P&O, who used the occasion to mark the retirement of Sir Bruce MacPhail (1958). James supplemented the Balliol Choir with singers from across the University, he brought in professionals for the lead roles and involved almost everyone in the College. Marketing and pre-production planning, lighting and acoustics, set design and the website, all were Balliol. The end result was a packed house, large sums donated to charity from the profits and, overall, a wonderful Balliol triumph.

Move on just two days, but nearly 5,000 miles to the east and the College featured again. Aware that both the Irish Ambassador and the British High Commissioner to India are currently from Balliol, we held the first ever Master’s Seminar in India (or Asia). Some 40 Old Members, drawn from as far afield as Orissa, Calcutta and Kerala, gathered in Delhi to discuss Globalization and the new technology. The lead speaker was the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University, Deepak Nayyar (1967). He has been recently been an expert member of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization and he gave a brilliantly clear and well-balanced account of the problems.

A couple of months later and we are in the midst of two elections in Oxford: one for the position of Public Orator, the other for the Professorship of Poetry. Those elsewhere in the University, who felt that Balliol’s presence at Encaenia must decline (with the retirement this year of both Jasper Griffin as Public Orator and Colin Lucas as Vice-Chancellor) will have been disappointed. The next Public Orator will be Richard Jenkyns (1967) and a pupil of Jasper’s, and the Professor of Poetry, the only other person who makes a speech at Encaenia, will be Christopher Ricks (1953).

Last November we were delighted to hear that Anthony Leggett (1955) had won the Nobel Prize for Physics, having graduated from Balliol with a first in, well, in Classics, actually. Then, recently, has come the news that, out of only seven people from the whole of Australia appointed to the Companionship of the Order of Australia, two are former Fellows: Hugh Stretton (1946) and Peter Morris (1974); while, back in the UK, Richard Portes (1962 and Fellow 1964), Maxine Berg (Fellow 1974), and Simon Hornblower (1969) were three out of this year’s 35 new Fellows of the British Academy.

Meanwhile, Justin Frishberg (1991) has been selected to join a 12-man squad to compete for Great Britain in Wheelchair Rugby at the forthcoming Athens Paralympics and Matthew Syed (also 1991), three times Commonwealth Table Tennis champion, will compete in the regular Olympics. Alongside this, current students continued to produce a new journal, The Oxonian Review of Books, pushed us up to 4th in the Norrington Table (if that table can, any longer, be believed), won quiz and bridge competitions (Balliol’s bridge is of such quality that Balliol plays Cambridge) and Cricket Cuppers for the third year running.

In addition to the Gaudy and the Balliol Society Dinner (both well attended), events this year included an evening at the British Museum in January, the biennial gathering in New York (with another record turnout), a final gathering of the Connection Lunch, a Deans’ Dinner to thank our major benefactors (again the largest so far), a Greville Smith Society lunch, a Master’s Seminar in London (on corporate governance) and a Family Day.

In thinking about all of these events that are added to the regular work of term, as well as the heavy load of conference business in the vacations, I would like to make special mention of the staff. The quality of the catering, the cooperation and good humour of everyone on top of an enormous volume of hard work is a great asset – and one which I know most Old Members who visit would wish to recognize.

The good news has provided plenty of highs, but the lows also stretched down too far. As I was starting this letter came news that two long-serving lecturers have died too soon. Michael Comber (Classics) was only 59 and Mike Woodin (Psychology) a mere 38 and with young children. Both were highly dedicated teachers. We mourn them both and know that their loss will be felt beyond Balliol. Somehow, Mike Woodin combined holding Psychology teaching together more or less single-handedly for more than a decade with being the chief spokesperson for the UK Green Party, as well as a City Councillor respected on all sides.

The Fellows’ Retiring Dinner this year was also a moment, if not for sadness, at least for sombre reflection. No fewer than ten Fellows left this year. Some of the departures reflect the normal turnover of Visiting and Junior Research Fellows, but this year five senior Fellows retired: Carol Clark, Richard Gombrich, Jasper Griffin, Oswyn Murray and Denis Noble. Jasper has been at Balliol since 1956 and, between them, these five constitute 159 years of Balliol experience. That we have the new appointments mentioned earlier is a consolation, but we will miss our long-term colleagues. We hope to see them back as Emeritus Fellows in the near future.

We ended the year with the pleasure of electing new Honorary Fellows. They range across countries, disciplines and talents. Their names, as well as a summary of their distinguished contributions, can be found on page 77 of the printed Record.

Next term, I shall be looking forward to seeing many of our new Honorary Fellows at a special dinner, to welcoming the new Tutorial Fellows, to opening the two new blocks of the Jowett Walk Building (still on budget) and to meeting a fresh intake of students. If 2005 turns out as well as 2004, Balliol will be doing all right.

Andrew Graham
July 2004


* Non UK readers need to know that tuition fees for EU students are either set by the Government or, in the case of graduates, strongly influenced by them via the funding bodies. The tuition fee for an EU undergraduate for 2003/4 was £1,125 per annum. Under the legislation about to receive Royal Assent, universities in England will be able to raise this to a maximum of £3,000, a maximum that will not be reviewed before 2010. The approximate cost of teaching undergraduates in Oxford is £8-10,000 per annum. The graduate fee for EU students for 2003/4 was £4,644, with the approximate cost being double or more. The large ‘gaps between income and costs is somewhat reduced by inflows of public funds, but, even so, there is, at the moment, no financial incentive whatsoever for Oxford to take more EU students.