Azara Blog: Cambridge should allegedly do what Oxford has not done yet

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Date published: 2005/10/22

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

Cambridge University should follow the example of its famous rival and introduce sweeping reforms if it is to remain a world-class university, Lord (Chris) Patten, chancellor of Oxford, has warned.

Lord Patten was speaking publicly for the first time in support of a controversial attempt to make Oxford more attractive to potential donors and to satisfy the modernisation demands of the government.

The radical plans suggested by John Hood, Oxford's vice-chancellor, have met with criticism from dons. Cambridge has so far not pursued a similarly controversial strategy.

Lord Patten told an audience of alumni this week that he hoped Oxford's efforts would "make it easier for Cambridge to follow us if we can get sensible proposals in place".

Dr Hood's proposals, which included plans to have university strategy decided by a powerful board of trustees made up entirely of outsiders, sparked controversy among Oxford's academic community and an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Congregation, the university's parliament, over a plan to introduce compulsory professional assessment for dons.

However, Dr Hood believes the reforms are the only way Oxford can tackle its chronic funding shortfall. He argues that the university needs to get its house in order before the government will allow it to charge more for its teaching, currently capped at £3,000 a year. Reform would also encourage Oxford alumni to donate more. "That will only be achieved if we can take off the table those things which Oxford is regularly criticised for, namely its governance, its strategy and financial management," Dr Hood told an audience at the Savoy hotel.

Lord Patten said a modern corporate governance structure was vital if Oxford was to meet the demands of the Lambert report. The study by Richard Lambert, a former editor of the Financial Times, called on Oxford and Cambridge to report to ministers by next year on the progress they had made in reforming themselves.

Cambridge financial management is a bit of a mess (if anything the colleges more than the university itself). But to say that the "governance structure" (currently only partially dominated by the administrators) or "strategy" is to blame is wrong. The real problem is that the administration has not been entirely up to scratch, coupled with the dreadful social engineering foisted on British universities by the third-rate educationalists who are in the favour of New Labour. What the administrators (such as Patten) seem to want is to turn Oxbridge into a typical American university, where all that counts is how much grant or commercial or alumni money you bring in to your department or college. Oxbridge could always do with more money (what organisation could not) but there is no point subjugating the researchers and teachers further to the administrators just in search of money.

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