In 2006, some four hundred years too late in our opinion, public schools (that’s private schools in less Orwellian language) were finally challenged to justify their charitable status. This charitable status allows them to avoid paying taxes (currently about 90 million pounds of revenue lost to UK public funds). Since 2006, however, it appears that, under government pressure, all public schools are having to justify their charitable status. Unfortunately, the charity commission responsible for reviewing such status is itself peopled by the very products of such elitist schools. They have a view where the perpetuation of elite institutions is okay as long as they provide the odd scholarship for less well-off students or let the local comprehensive share some facilities. Imagine the sacrifice, letting the “great unwashed” use their Olympic size outdoor swimming pools.
Little wonder then that the charity commission never casts its eyes on Higher Education. And it is here that we come to, perhaps, one of the greatest beneficiaries of this “education” loophole in tax legislation: Cambridge University, and its highly profitable commercial operation, Cambridge Assessments. Cambridge University is said to be the richest university in Europe with a financial endowment of 4.9 billion pounds. Cambridge Assessments, responsible for Teacher Training certificates (CELTA/DELTA) and the Cambridge suite of ESOL examinations (KET/PET/FCE/CAE/CPE) generated a “surplus” for the university of 25 million pounds for the tax year ending April 2008. Now, of course, such surpluses are all for the “public good”. This money helps maintain those beautiful buildings and helps create new dynamic research centres like the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics (3 million donation). For those of you who wish take advantage of this particular public good then you only need apply to the post-graduate programme. For those British and European candidates successful in their application (you will need a first degree), it will cost you 3,492 pounds per year for an M.Phil (only post-grads allowed in the centre). “Overseas” students will have to pay 10,752 pounds. Moreover, non-native English Speakers will, of course, have to demonstrate their ability to undertake the course by passing an IELTS exam, price 105 pounds payable to Cambridge Assessments (who else?). Fortunately, Cambridge University Press, another non-profit making arm of the university are on hand with a copy of Objective IELTS (18 pounds) Objective IELTS workbook (8 pounds) Cambridge Vocabulary for IELTS (8 pounds) and Common mistakes at IELTS (6 pounds) … to help you through the exam.
All in all, everywhere you look you see the tentacles of Cambridge University stretching into all aspects of the language industry, squeezing out profit wherever possible. And if you associate what they do as in the public good, then you can have little quarrel with them making a “surplus” to reinvest in their palaces of learning. Not surprisingly, we at Marxist TEFL do not believe an elite, unaccountable, self-serving organisation, dedicated to the accumulation and expansion of capital, can serve the needs of language learners. Cambridge University is no different from Microsoft plc, (in fact, it is considerably less generous than Bill Gates in returning some its enormous profits to the less advantaged) and no amount of shiny publicity about research can hide this truth. It, like all the public schools, should be stripped of its charitable status immediately. Perhaps with the extra revenue, English as a Second Language really could be taught to all those in the UK who need it and programmes started to regularly send British school children from working class families abroad to learn other languages.