Peak Inequality – My Fair London and Oxford

Peak Inequality – My Fair London and Oxford

Institutions must recognise the extent to which they are partly responsible for their cities and country’s problems.

If a university sees the city it is in as if the city doesn’t matter, other than for servicing the university. That creates all kinds of problems for the university.

It can become very hard for the university staff to get housing. But then the university thinks it only has to worry about that and doesn’t realise you also want to have local schools and shops that work – and if primary school teachers can’t house themselves, that’s not great either for the children of everyone who works in the university and also the few students who have primary school aged children. It’s is ridiculous that in England it is so often necessary to have to teach people in a university that they are part of something bigger, part of a society and a city – not above it.

In my home town of Oxford the oldest university is more culpable than any other actor for the city’s notoriously high property prices through its role in the creation of the city’s greenbelt and the constriction of Oxford, which mean that the city has seen almost no building in the last 30 years. The university for many years has increased house prices by giving housing allowances to academics:


The stunted growth of Oxford

If you’re trying to work out why the city of Oxford has a secondary school (or two) near the bottom of the league table nationally, a typical job of a mum at that school would be cleaning bedrooms in one of the colleges of the University of Oxford.

Neither the university nor any of the colleges recognise the Oxford Living Wage, a minimum set by Oxford City Council for its workers and agency staff that currently stands at £9.69 an hour. Instead, the university is committed to the rate set by the Living Wage Foundation, currently at £8.75 an hour. But approaches across colleges vary. Some colleges chose not to pay that wage. They could all afford to, and should consider paying £9.69 an hour instead, but some don’t even think that paying £8.75 for an hour’s work in Oxford is the right thing to do. And at the same time they presumably think they provide a good role model of education, knowledge, and understanding.

If the colleges are paying the minimum wage or a living wage but not the Oxford one, then the parent loses about £500 a year on a 22-hour term-time week. This can be equated to the price of a decent secondhand computer.Oxford University and colleges that choose not to pay the Oxford Living Wage are helping a child not to have a computer at home. Try today to get high GCSE results without a computer and access to the internet. It is nearly impossible although, of course, schools set aside computers for the children from the poorest of homes to use. Few people ask – who made the children poor? Or what it feels like for a child to be sitting in the poor room.

Oxford university’s draft strategic plan contains some priorities relating to local communities such as a commitment to “build a stronger and more constructive relationship with our local and regional community” including an aim to “increase the scale of innovation and translation in the medical and health sciences, including with our local NHS partners”. But how do such vague promises compare to concrete commitments to pay a decent wage and see local children as being important?

All English universities need to consider what might happen if we get a Labour government elected in 2022 (or before) in the middle of a post-Brexit crisis, with tuition fees abolished and perhaps levels of maintenance support reduced. Far greater numbers of young students would have to stay at home and go to university, which is the norm in Europe and it’s cheaper for individuals and government.

English universities should realise that they are slowly going to head, or maybe even quickly head, towards a more European model where a majority of children are going to go locally.

We only talk about the civic university in England because we, in all the universities in which I have worked, have managed to become so divided from the cities we are in.


This post is based on a conversation with John Morgan of the Times Higher Education is which available behind a paywall here; and which is itself based on an article available open access here.


The Times Higher article was published on the same day that a public lecture was given for My Fair London about how the moral sentiment changes as we reach, and hopefully begin to descend from: Peak Inequality.

And audio recording of that lecture is below:

A public lecture by Danny Dorling hosted by My Fair London,

University College Hospital Education Centre, 250 Euston Road, London, October 11th 2018