Oxford University Gazette, 9 November 2005
Proposals for Changes in GovernanceReport of proceedings in Congregation, 1 November 2005
Topic for DiscussionCouncil agreed in Trinity Term 2005 that the discussion on the governance proposals should take place in Congregation on 1 November 2005 (see Gazette, Vol. 135, p. 976). Under the regulation governing topics for discussion, no vote is taken but it is the duty of Council to give consideration to the remarks made.
This discussion is part of the continuing process of consultation on possible changes to the University's governance arrangements. The review of the governance system was initiated in Michaelmas Term 2004 with the appointment of a working party consisting of the following: the Vice-Chancellor, the Principal of Somerville, Professor K. Burnett, Mr B.J. Taylor, Dr J.F. Wheater, and Professor D.J. Womersley.
After an initial consultative exercise in which comments were invited on the operation of
the governance arrangements established in 2000, the working party produced, in the course
of Hilary Term 2005, a Green Paper which was the subject of extensive discussion in
colleges and university bodies at
The following is the text of the Discussion in Congregation on 1 November.
In the light of this Discussion, and the written comments to be submitted by 18 November from university bodies, colleges, and individuals in response to the request in the consultative paper, the working party will take stock and give its assessment of the position to Council for the latter's meeting on 5 December.
A new web site has now been established for the Governance Working Party. It is at www.admin.ox.ac.uk/gwp/. It contains, or has links to, the initial Green Paper, the comments on that paper, the legal advice given in connection with that paper, the Michaelmas Term discussion document and the verbatim report of the Discussion in Congregation. It will also contain the formal written comments on the latest paper which will be put up in batches.
Vice-ChancellorThe business before Congregation is the presentation of a topic for discussion, namely the paper on proposed new governance arrangements. Will you please be seated?
As explained in the notice published in the University Gazette with the agenda for today's meeting, the topic for discussion is the review of governance with particular reference to the report of the Governance Working Party published with the Gazette for 29 September 2005. I should first remind the House that the procedure entitled 'Topics for Discussion' was introduced as part of the 2000 governance changes, having been recommended by the Commission of Inquiry. This is the first occasion on which this procedure has been used. No vote will be taken but the relevant regulation provides that it is the duty of Council to give consideration to remarks made in such a discussion.
The procedure for today's discussion will be as follows. I shall ask Professor Burnett, as a member of the Governance Working Party, briefly to introduce the discussion and set it in the general context of the review. The matter will then be open to the House. At the end of the discussion I shall ask Professor Womersley, as a member of the working party, to make any final points which may be relevant and particularly to clear up any misunderstandings.
If I might be permitted to do so from the chair, I should like to ask that as far as possible today's discussion should focus on the proposals in the latest paper. This should not prevent the raising of other matters or issues relevant to governance and to the review since the working party began its task with the initial consultation exercise last Michaelmas Term. However, Council and the working party need, in particular at this stage, a sense of whether further detailed development of the current proposals should be undertaken.
I intend to close this afternoon's discussions by about 4.30 p.m. We have already asked those who have notified us of their intention to speak from the floor of the House to restrict their remarks to a maximum length of five minutes and I must emphasise that this is essential given the number of those who have asked to speak. I shall have to ask speakers to bring their remarks to an end if contributions seem to be extending beyond five minutes. Given the number who have asked to speak, I doubt I shall be able to call on any other members of Congregation.
I would ask all speakers to come forward and to speak into the microphone, first giving their name and college or department. As usual, I would remind any persons present who are not members of Congregation that they may not speak in the House.
I should be grateful if any speaker who uses a written text would afterwards lend that text to Ms Cowburn, the officer who is collecting such speeches, as this will be of assistance in preparing the published record of the discussion which will appear as a Gazette supplement as soon as possible, I hope, in the issue published on 10 November.
I now ask Professor Burnett to introduce the discussion.
Professor K. Burnett, St John's CollegeMr Vice-Chancellor and members of Congregation, when we were asked by Sir Colin Lucas in 2004 to be members of the Governance Group we were hoping, of course, that it would not be too onerous a task. However, reading the submissions convinced us that there were some fundamental issues that we needed to address.
Now, when you start reading about the subject, the idea of a university, which we have done a lot of in the last year, you soon arrive back at Aristotle and his view that we all by our nature desire to understand. He goes on to say that those who truly understand can teach. So, there you have academia in a nutshell for me. But we have to add our experience to Aristotle's view to say that we also have to be able to decide ourselves how we learn about the world and how we teach about it.
In Oxford we have to do that in a particularly diverse and complex community. We focused on this, the fact that Oxford is Oxford because of its colleges. Pivotal to our success and the uniquely valuable part of many, but by no means all, of our lives. How we make joint decisions is a problem that will not be solved by any system without the development of a deeper trust [than] we have at the moment. We tried in the Discussion Paper to make proposals we think can help us making the crucial decisions that we have to make together in the future.
But I am sure, however, that most will agree that defending academic freedom is the crucial role of governance, and before I turn to that I want to just make a personal remark that I think that in order to preserve the core of academia we are going to need to do a lot more. In particular I'm concerned how we find ways to prepare younger colleagues enough to be able to live and work in Oxford and we shall have to have a very, very strong explanation of our tutorial system to those outside who see it as an extravagance.
Now, the first Discussion Paper got a mixed response. There's a bracket here that says (groan from the audience) so if you'd like to say that it would be good. We've taken to heart the criticism we've not explained clearly enough the problems that we are trying to solve. We have taken the time in the new document to try and put this right. We've also included the legal opinions that guided us in the revisions of proposals but we're clear that there is much more work to be done. Our work is far from done and we're looking forward to this discussion. I particularly am looking forward to hearing people's opinions, along with the wider debate in the Oxford Magazine and on the Web and elsewhere. The substantial work done by my Physics colleague Susan Cooper, along with her colleagues who will speak, is particularly important and valuable to us.
And that brings me to what I see as the crucial parts in the revised proposal.
First and foremost we know that in order to be a successful academic community we have to be able to run our own academic affairs. So, one of the principal goals for the working group was therefore to propose a system that keeps academic matters in the hands of academics. But this has to be done in the context of the most likely changes to the regulatory framework we face. So we propose a Council with an initial equal number of internal and external members, chaired for the first five years ad hominem by the Chancellor, Lord Patten. This Council will delegate as far as possible academic affairs to the Academic Board. But governance must also bring effective and unimpeachable oversights to our activities. It needs voices that have to be listened to both inside and outside this House. So, for both these reasons we propose a Council of external members who we believe will assist us in improving our administrative and financial processes and essentially helping in the protection of the academic realm.
Of course, there is a great depth and range of expertise within this House and within this University. The particular role of the Nominating Committee will be to make sure we use that expertise across the University effectively.
But, in essence, the working party thought it had to propose a system that could maintain a break between institutional academic matters before we think others will make that decision about what's appropriate for us. We didn't think it was appropriate to sit on our hands in the light of the regulatory framework we think we'll be living in in the near future.
Now, some will say, and I really understand this, that this is the end of self-governance and we simply shouldn't countenance it. I suppose for myself I'm convinced that the danger lies more in assuming if we don't have a structure of this sort that we can protect the fundamental aspects of our academic life. It's a judgment we have to make.
We shouldn't, of course, think that we will simply get government off our backs by making us, as it were, 'clean' on governance and we all know it's much more complicated than that. But I do think that if we have more effective governance it will be easier for us to face off our critics. But, in the end, the most important thing is that we be convincedall of us be convincedthat it's the right thing for Oxford.
Now, there will be many issues that Congregation will discuss. Individuals and groups will want to give further advice to the working group and that is the purpose of this discussion and the next round of submissions. But before I let others get their bit in I want to return to, again, the issue I think very strongly about is that we, collectively, are not paid enough for what we do, both as teachers, librarians, technicians, contract researchers, administrators and all the other people who help to run this place. We need to change that desperately. I don't believe we can do it unless we have people who can defend it and work on that without being encumbered by the severe handicap of simply being us at Oxford.
Council has commended this paper unanimously for consideration by Congregation but we have a lot of work to do with regard to the major committees, the interaction of divisions, how communication goes through, but we feel we need to know more about Congregation's views before we work further on the structure. There's clearly a great deal to discuss and for us to respond to on these issues. We are looking forward to hearing our colleagues' views this afternoon.
VICE-CHANCELLOR: The discussion is now open to the House and I ask Professor Cooper to speak first.
Professor S. Cooper, St Catherine's CollegeMr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, in the last few years we've had some major problems, Osiris, Isidore and a financial muddle. These are problems in the administration and require urgent attention. The Vice-Chancellor has initiated a restructuring of the Finance Department. We should be glad of that and support the new team. However, he was able to do that within our existing governance. It is true that we should have done better at preventing such problems but does this call for a radical change?
We made radical changes in 2000. It takes a while for a new system to settle down and some adjustment is needed. Think of how even a grand piano sounds straight out of the factory without tuning. That is why wise people plan and actually carry out a review after five years.
Three of us have tried to do that and our paper is on the Web. We believe that tuning can fix our existing system. This avoids a period of disruption producing yet another untuned piano. It allows us to attack immediately the pressing issues facing us.
What are the governance problems? It is said that Council has not been doing its job. How could it? It is supposed to be the principal policy-making body of the University yet it only meets for twenty-two hours a year. We are told Council is overloaded so its work needs to be split between two separate bodies. A simpler cause and solution are obvious. Hebdomadal Council used to meet every other week, now Council meets only every four weeks.
Some say the wrong people are on Council. The Discussion Paper calls for a change from election to appointment by a small nominating committee. Certainly the current method of announcing elections in the fine print of the Gazette is not conducive to getting the best people nor to a healthy democracy. So, I have asked for more publicity and information to be provided. I believe that is by far the better way to get a Council that is dedicated to the core qualities of Oxford.
I do not believe that a clear separation between institutional and academic governance is either possible or desirable. If we need, for a short period, to draw on capital to preserve our academic activities until we get the benefit of student fees and full economic costing of research, that is very much a matter of academic governance. Clearly we should do so only with sound plans and reliable predictions and this needs improvement. We propose a strengthened Finance Committee, including external experts and independent of PRAC, to provide clear advice to Council.
It is said that we need more external members because externals can act without fear. Do we want to accept a continuation of the current climate? I am very aware that authorship on a governance paper doesn't help my RAE rating. It is said we need experts for their expertise, but we already have four [externals] on Council. The clearer need for expertise is in the full-time officers of the University. Those experts should be required to present their work in plain language so that it can be considered by all.
The administration needs to listen more to academics' needs, not be further removed by reporting to an appointed committee dominated by externals. Academics and departmental administrators predicted the hurried Osiris implementation would be a disaster, but no one listened. That is what needs fixing.
The climate of secrecy must be broken. Council papers are now classified as either strictly confidential or confidential, there is no third category. I don't feel that this allows me to do my job as a member of Council. I need your reactions and you need to check what I'm doing. Communication must be improved. It is good that today's speeches will be published but the official version may take time and the consultation deadline is rapidly approaching. I will unofficially put immediately on the Web text that speakers send to me electronically.
Some say that academics are not capable of institutional governance. But it is academics who are trained to ask piercing questions and scrutinise the logic of arguments. Please ask yourself if there is a logical connection between the problems that we have now, the proposals for changes in governance and the results that are supposed to come from those changes.
Critically, the question is not whether the working party's second Green Paper is better than the first, but whether it is better than what we have now. And if it is better than the improvements that we have suggested.
This is not about one or the other group pushing their particular ideas but about rationally discussing together what is best for Oxford. Thank you.
Mr N. Bamforth, Queen's CollegeVice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, Nicholas Bamforth, Fellow of Queen's and Co-Author with Susan Cooper and Gavin Williams of the Alternative Governance Paper.
I work as a constitutional lawyer. As such I spend much of my day thinking about the importance of open decision-making, accountability and checks-and-balances. My work tells me that the most effective, harmonious and sensible institutions are those which incorporate and respect those features. This being so, I am far from being an uncommitted fan of Oxford as it currently operates. Nonetheless, I amas a reformeropposed to much of the Governance Discussion Paper. So far as I can see Oxford's world-beating strength derives, in large part, from its position as a democratic university with a robust constitutional tradition. We take pride in our work as Oxford academics, precisely because we feelin a meaningful waythat we have control over our working lives. We are not subject to constant and thoughtless managerialism. I need only talk to friends who work in post-1992 universities to understand the extent to which this aspect of Oxford contributes to our continuing status as a world-beating university.
For me, the disturbing aspect of the Discussion Paper is that it contains, despite its rhetorical commitment to holding the University executive to a high standard of accountability, no proper appreciation of the importance of checks and balances. This can be seen from the language of draft Statute VIand I would urge you to read that statute as well as simply the text of the Discussion Paper itself. Draft Statute VI makes clear that members of Council will be nominated, that Council contains almost as much power to delegate as the trustees proposed in the Green Paper would have done, and that the key sub- committees of Council, and in turn the Council agenda, will be dominated by the Executive. Now, we already have a problem with checks and balances in Oxford. It strikes me that the present debate is the right time to think about rebalancing things to make the checks and balances work better to make our governance processes operate more smoothly.
This being so I am disturbed that the Discussion Paper rejects, in a cursory and somewhat ill-informed fashion, the idea of creating a Board of Scrutiny on the highly successful Cambridge model. The Cambridge Board of Scrutiny was created as part of that University's North equivalent process of transferring certain powers to a centralised Council. The Board scrutinises, on behalf of the Regent HouseCambridge's equivalent of Congregationthe Annual Report of its Council, the abstract of the University accounts and any report of the Cambridge Council proposing allocations from the University's financial reserves. In doing so, it has the right to examine the arrangements made for the implementation of university policies. It may consult official documents or accounts relevant to enquiries falling within its scope and these may not be withheld by the University, except on the ground of their irrelevance and when sanctioned in writing by the Vice-Chancellor. Now, the key functions of the Cambridge Board are to review decisions. It reviews decisions for their compatibility with university statutes and regulations, with best practice and with principles such as academic autonomy. It may review decisions already taken, [and] it may also, in advance, flag up warning signs about decisions that appear to be questionable to the Board. Under the Board model, Congregation would be free to act on or to ignore a warning signal from the Board of Scrutiny, as it chose.
Now, despite assertions to the contrary that have been heard around Oxford, the Cambridge Board has been remarkably successful since it came into operation. It delivers Annual Reports to the Cambridge Regent House. These are always discussed and published in the Cambridge Reporter. Members of the Board are free to express opinions as they choose in the Regent House but a convention has emerged that the Council will always secure the Board's agreement to its Annual Report before it is published. It's a worthwhile convention that allows effective working together.
Now, as I say, the Board has acted on a proactive as well as an after-the-event basis. It submits responses to internal proposals and it acts in pursuit of queries submitted by ordinary members of the Cambridge Regent House. Professor Christopher Forsyth, who was Chair of the Cambridge Board in 2003 to 2004 and also a former Cambridge Proctor, suggests that the Board's 'financial triumphs', as he puts it, have 'been considerable' and he says, 'I think it is perfectly accurate to say that the Cambridge Board has been proved right on all major issues'. 'The Board', he says, 'has avoided being seen as a talking shop for complainersinstead it has warned repeatedly, on an ex ante basis, against, for example, Cambridge's adoption of the loss-making CAPSA system' (its equivalent to Osiris). Sadly those warnings weren't considered by the Council but it seems that an equivalent Board could have played a significant and useful function within Oxford.
There are, Professor Forsyth says, occasional skirmishes between the Cambridge Council and the Board but nonetheless he is clear that the two bodies have learned to live with one another, promoting a culture of effective as well as accountable decision-making. There is no overlap between their roles, and no clogging up of the administrative system.
Now against this background, I find the Discussion Paper's rejection of the idea of an Oxford Board of Scrutiny deeply odd. The Discussion Paper makes the inaccurate claim that a Board of Scrutiny would overlap with the work of the new Council's Audit Committee. This cannot be right. The Audit Committee's remit would extend only to financial matters and it would report to and be appointed by, and be composed of, members of Council.
Furthermore, as Professor Forsyth has stressed, an Audit Committee scrutinises on behalf of the Council to which it reports. A Board of Scrutiny by contrast would scrutinise on behalf of Congregation as a whole. The accountability relationships involved are quite simply different. I believe that a Board of Scrutiny would be a key step towards establishing proper checks and balances and promoting democratically accountable and, in turn, effective decision-making within Oxfordwhether we retain one unified council or move to a divided Council/Academic Board structure. I hope Congregation will give this proposal very serious consideration.
Mr G.P. Williams, St Peter's CollegeVice-Chancellor and members of Congregation, the Green Paper before us amends the previous Green Paper on Oxford's governance structure but it shares two assumptions with its predecessor: an astonishing faith in experts and their claims to expertise and a distrust of directly elected representatives. At the core of the proposed structure are a management team of nine or ten, the Vice-Chancellor, four Pro- Vice-Chancellors and the four or five Heads of Division. They are all appointed or selected and are not elected. They form a bloc which is united by shared administrative commitments, by institutional interests, and by a sense of collective responsibility.
They are a clear majority of the sixteen- or seventeen-member General Purposes Committee of Council, which is surprisingly larger than Council itselfand Council will name only two of its own members to its own GPC. Only the Proctors and Assessor will be directly elected by their colleges to membership of the GPC, yet Council will delegate much of its business to the GPC.
Council itself is to have an external majority of lay members. Its meetings will not be able to proceed unless its external members are a majority of those present. Neither these members nor the academic members of Council are elected. Apart from the Vice-Chancellor and the Chair of Conference, they are to be appointed or reappointed by a Nominations Committee, who will put forward one name per vacancy for Congregation to approve. We are not, it seems, competent to choose for ourselves who will be responsible for the general control and management of the University. We shall be allowed to elect three, and possibly four, of the seven members of the Nominations Committee.
The management team will be in a position to define the agenda of the Academic Board and in a strong position to dominate its policies. They provide the critical liaison with Council. They form a bloc of members equal to the number of members directly elected by Congregation. The Conference of Colleges is also to elect ten members of Council. We may expect them to be elected primarily from among their own number and to consist mainly of Heads of Houses.
There are no provisions for the governing bodies of colleges, whose members all belong to Congregation, to decide how they are to be represented. If they wish to elect Heads of Houses they could do so as in the past by voting for them.
The Green Paper suggests that Conference should elect its Chairman to the Academic Board as if Conference needed to be guided to make the right decision. Though that choice would ensure that one of Conference's representatives was a member of the GPC of Council and also vice versa.
The Discussion Paper makes nineteen references to the word 'expertise'. The need for expertise underpins the argument for appointment and selection as against election. The draft statute provides for membership of the committees of the Academic Board. The Conference of Colleges has to be instructed as to the sort of people it should appoint to these committees. Whereas their representatives on the Budget and Capital Planning Committee are to have 'relevant experience', members of the Education, the Personnel and the Research Committees are to have 'appropriate expertise', however that is to be defined and by whom.
The assumptions that run through the Discussion Paper are consistently patronising to members of college governing bodies and of Congregation, who have to be guided as to how to vote or told whom they can vote for. Its approach is revealed in its own title, which adopts the evasive and managerial language of governance rather than referring to what we are here to discuss, the present and future constitution of the University. Thank you.
Mr D.A. Wood, University College, St Hugh's CollegeWhen I first read the March Green Paper as a former Head of House I immediately sympathised with two of the criticisms of the present system made by members of Congregation which were reported in that paper.
First, Council in its present constitution and with its present apparatus of committees, has always seemed to me to be overwhelmed with the burden of administering the University. Although I was never a member of Council, I attended some of its meeting and I was taken aback by the sheer amount of paper on the table. Members, it seemed to me, had limited time consistently with their academic and other administrative work to get to grips with the fine detail of much of the business which Council had to transact. I have no criticism of colleagues who serve on Council but I'm not surprised to be told that serious administrative problems have arisen to which Council has been able to do less than justice.
Secondly, I agreed with the point about remoteness of decision-making on matters of academic policy. The colleges, in my own experience, found it difficult to develop a close rapport with the divisions and faculties in the evolution of academic policy, especially in connection with the renewal or creation of teaching posts, in which they have a particular interest. We do not compartmentalise teaching and research at Oxford but, within the single compartment the colleges have sometimes struggled to have their voices heard and find it difficult to learn about the way in which academic policy is developed at the centre.
There were two main ideas in the March Green Paper which I was therefore able to support. The creation of a separate and strong bodycalled at the time the Academic Councilto formulate academic policy with much greater college participation and the creation of a smaller central bodycalled at the time the Board of Trusteesto deal with the rest of the business of the University, having no more than a supervisory role over academic policy-making, were up to a point attractive.
There were other proposals with which I could not agree. As a Head of House I would not have wished to attend meetings of an Academic Council of approximately 150 members. I could not see how it could sensibly conduct any real business. Secondly, the proposal that the Board of Trustees should consist exclusively of external lay people, not members of Congregation, was to my mind without merit. There was certainly no legal foundation for it.
The legal discussion, I hope, has now largely been cleared out of the way. My own views have been published as part of this term's Green Paper. In summary, three main points have to be kept in view. First, the University must maintain a central governing body, which has a sufficient degree of control and management over the administration of the University to qualify as 'charity trustees' for the purposes of the Charities Acts. Some element of delegation within that framework is permissible. In my view both the present Council and the differently constituted Council proposed in the Green Paper satisfy that requirement. The new Council would, if accepted, inherit the same powers of delegation possessed by the existing Council. There is no change proposed to the rules relating to delegation. Secondly, any change which might have to be made to Statute VI, to substitute the new Council for the present one will require the approval of the Queen-in-Council under the 1923 Act. Informal discussions with the Privy Council Office suggest that, if the University ultimately decides to make these changes, they are likely to be approved. Thirdly, if the present Charities Bill becomes law the way in which we govern our affairs will, whether we like it or not, come under closer scrutiny from HEFCE as our statutory regulator.
Within that framework, which is a flexible framework, a number of different constitutional options have been put on the table. I hope that we can accept that they are all reasonable proposals put forward by reasonable people. The choice ultimately to be made will be a balanced one, and it must be determined by the job which the central governing body of this University is called upon to perform.
In 2002 we restated the principal objects of the University as 'the advancement of learning by teaching and research and its dissemination by every means'. The University which promotes these objects today is a colossal enterprise. Lying behind its many attainments, at the highest level, we are told that it has an annual turnover (including the Press) of £880 million, 17,000 students and nearly 8,000 employees. I have previously pointed out that it is also enriched by other assets of great worth: the libraries, museums and scientific collections, the Press; intellectual property rights derived from research; historic buildings and other property of cultural importance open to the public. The portfolio of buildings which houses the academic enterprise is itself vast. In the private sector we would be a FTSE 100 company, managed in its several parts by wholly-owned specialist subsidiaries with a remit to return a profit to the centre. We are not a FTSE 100 company. We are an academic institution and a charity, and are not governed in that way. Nor do we wish to be. But we do have to remain fully aware of the size and complexity of the institution which is deployed to promote our objects. We need the model of governance which is best fitted to run it. My reasons for preferring the model proposed in the Green Paper are these.
First, it ensures that the central governing body contains a full range of experience and expertise drawn from inside and outside the University, equipped to deal with the entire management of its affairs.
I know that the involvement of outsiders in the conduct of the University's affairs is resented by some people. It is said that they will not have a full understanding of the way in which an academic community functions, and will lack the commitment of scholarship which Oxford upholds with such distinction. I am surprised and disappointed that this should be said. The colleges have a long record of appointing as heads of house people who have pursued careers outside the academic world. It is not for me to say whether, on the whole, outside recruits have been better or worse than their academic counterparts. But I would modestly suggest that they have not wavered in their commitment to promoting the highest standards in teaching and research. They take the job because of the high value they place on scholarship and attempt to support it with whatever abilities they are able to deploy. I cannot believe that the lay members of the new Council, elected as they will be by Congregation, will be any less committed.
The counter-argument, to my mind, implies a certain complacencythere is nothing that these people can contribute to the management of our affairs, we know bestwhich is both unattractive and unconvincing.
Secondly, the new Academic Board, reduced to a manageable size, offers a powerful and independent forum for the collaborative formulation of academic policy. It lightens the burden imposed on the new Council by predigesting all the business immediately relevant to the academic project itself. It must of course report to Council, which may overrule it. But under the draft statute Council must be sparing in the exercise of that power.
Thirdly, it introduces independent external voices into what would otherwise be an excessively internal, domestic discussion.
For those of us who think that it is important that Oxford should comply with what is generally recognised as good practice in the world of corporate management, charities or higher education, it also represents good practice for the reasons which I have given.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I prefer that to the contrasting model involving the appointment of a Board of Scrutiny. It seems to me odd that the conduct of business managed overwhelmingly by academics under the counter proposals should be scrutinised by a similar group. A Board of Scrutiny suggests that we are only interested in a police force that investigates and criticises after the event. I doubt that we need to put in place a regulatory authority of our own to add to the external regulators to which we are already answerable. Can we not view the processes of governance as creative?
The present discussion document is intended to introduce creativity into the conduct of the University's business but not put brakes on progress. It opens up decision-making in a way which we have not previously experienced. The University has always been willing to develop and change. I hope that this remains the case. The proposals in the second Green Paper, Mr Vice-Chancellor, in my view, offer the best next steps in Oxford's evolution.
Sir Peter North, Jesus College, Keble CollegeI intend to take a reasonably broad and, you will not be surprised, somewhat historical view of these matters.
It is over twelve years since the time when, as a new Vice-Chancellor, I formed the view that a major task for my period of office should be to address a range of important issues such as to the size, shape and development of the University, what its intellectual objectives might be agreed to be, how to ensure that we admitted the brightest and best whatever their background and to examine, critically but constructively, the ways in which the University, broadly defined, conducted its businessi.e. the issue of governance. It's not by chance that I put the matter of governance at the end of the litany. That's not because I believe it to be unimportant, far from it, but because I am of the firm view that it must not be forgotten that it is a tool, a means to an end, but not the end in itselfa distinction that can at times be clouded in a debate about the details of governance.
These concerns led to the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry which reported early in 1998. The Commission made ninety-three recommendations, most of which have been implemented in whole, or with variations, or in part. I do not say that out of a sense of smugness but rather because of a concern over context. It's important to remember that a range of major structural changes, based very substantially on the governance recommendations of the Commission, were adopted in 2000 and few of them are the subject of the substantial current debate.
On the other hand, I do not apologise for the history lesson because it affirms the fact that at least a decade has passed since the problems then to be reviewed were identified. There are major questions arising from that which are directly relevant today. What has not worked, and how is the governance environment changed?
The major area that has not worked well is, in my view, the integration of policy-making across the University broadly defined. I make that point particularly from long experience, now just ended, as the head of a college. All issues of change in, and development of, the academic life of the University involve, to differing degrees, the central university bodies such as Council and its committees, the divisions, departments, faculties and colleges. All have different but important perspectives. The issue of student numbers is a prime example. No rational decision can be taken without considering what courses or research programmes students should have available, how these should be resourced, how the students should be taught, how their progress and welfare should be addressed and where they should live. In my view we need to do better in the way in which we take these broad-ranging decisions which affect all aspects of the University. I do not think our current structures have delivered this wellfor whatever reason. I am convinced that some body, such as the Academic Board which is proposed, provides an essential way forward. You can say that size matters and that small is beautiful. I thought its proposed predecessor body, the Academic Council, was far too big. I think the new proposed Academic Board will provide the opportunity for more broadly informed academic decisions to be taken.
Let me turn to the changes in the external environment. These are important and significant, and go to the question of restructuring of the role and membership of Council. A decade or so ago it was regarded as a radical step to open the membership of Council to two (now four) 'external' members. Since then there has been widespread public concern over the shape of public bodies in terms of membership. This has sharpened in the case of universities, as Derek Wood has said, by the impending changes in the form and structure of the regulation of charities, of which the University is one. So we have a pincer movement of changed public expectations and a changing regulatory regime; the University is immune from neither. To that I would add a sense of unease, that whatever the external environment, some reassessment of the delivery of the audit function in its broadest senseand I do not mean just financialwould not go amiss. I am, therefore, firmly of the view that further changes in the constitution and remit of Council are timely and appropriate. The advice given to the University in May this year by Derek Wood and Judith Bryant makes this quite clear, and it is clear to me that there needs to be a majority of external members.
Were I to inhabit an ideal world, I would prefer to see a restructured Council still with a majority of 'inside' members. I am persuaded, however, that that option is not really any longer open to us in terms of broad public acceptance of our governance arrangements. I have concluded, therefore, that Congregation should accept the new proposed structure for Council.
Finally, I might mention that in recent weeks, and indeed today, the idea has been floated that some additional layer be added in our governance arrangements to provide a further element of scrutiny. The introduction of such a further tier of decision-making was not something which attracted the support of the Commission of Inquiry. It was not considered necessary or desirable then and, in the light of the other governance changes currently proposed, I am firmly of the view that it is neither necessary nor desirable now.
Professor D. Noble, Balliol CollegeVice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, it is just about two decades since I last addressed a meeting of Congregation as large as this one. In fact on that occasion we were even larger, we filled the basement.
I welcome this discussion because, in the past, Congregation has been used at a late stage when voting camps have already been formed. By contrast, a Green Paper debate serves a different and important role, and I hope this one sets a precedent and that is the reason why I think the large attendance today is important. I see the almost uniquely democratic institution of Congregation as the central feature of any debates on Oxford governance and I start therefore by seeking to strengthen Congregation's role and to seek to do so in a way that helps, not hinders, the central administration.
Let me start therefore by asking what is wrong with Congregation and how do we seek to put it right? The problem is very simple. It is that Congregation does not meet often enough to be a genuine and regular watchdog. Nor would it have been welcome to busy dons had it tried to do so over the last few decades.
What should Congregation do therefore?
Well, we could appoint a committee of a dozen or so trusted experts to carry out the watchdog function on our behalf and we would naturally insist that we must approve their appointment and be able to censure the committee or individuals on it if they are not seen to be doing the job on our behalf.
Wait a minute. Let's read the Discussion Paper again because that is precisely what the new proposed Council would be: a watchdog appointed by and answerable to Congregation, to this House.
I take the point that Gavin Williams has made about the method of election but anyone who thinks that this body with its democratic tradition would be a rubberstamp had better think again. Some of my colleagues in the University seem to me therefore to have got the wrong end of the stick. The proposed Council with external members would not be a stick so much to beat our backs. It would be the stick to beat that of the central administration. It needs strengthening. To run an organisation with a turnover approaching £1 billion per annum, we need a wide range of professional expertise working on our behalf to ensure the best practice in the administration.
The obvious question is: couldn't we do this by appointing such a Council entirely from within our own ranks?
I was one of those who supported the appointment of external members of Council when it was first proposed following the North Report. The reasons are as valid now as they were before. If anything, even more so, because if we have not learnt over the last two decades or so that we need powerful friends with no conflict of interestno perceived conflict of interestto fight on our behalf in the national corridors of financial and political influence then we have missed out on one of the major reasons for our failure to stop the slide towards a loss-making enterprise.
This matter is the one that is increasingly urgent. There will not be much academic freedom left to defend if we find ourselves effectively bankrupt. In my experience, and I was on Council for fifteen years representing this body, the external members who have been appointed to Council have been astute, committed and effective. They bring a range of expertise that is complementary to that of academics. They have shown absolutely no inclination to interfere in the academic affairs of the University or the colleges. Moreover, they don't need to be members of the body that governs the academic work of the University. It is largely a waste of their time to be on such a body and this is the fundamental reason why there should be two bodies. The Academic Board, containing only internal members, should govern the academic life of the University. The Council, containing external members, should hold that governance to account.
Here my arguments differ in emphasis from the Discussion Paper where legal arguments for external appointments hold centre stage. It is those arguments which lead to a view about the particular number of external members that should be appointed to Council. Now, I am not particularly competent to judge those arguments, although I am persuaded that they are serious.
My arguments come from a different perspective and they are independent of any legal arguments. Put simply, we need powerful professional friends who know from inside the organisation what we are trying to do, what the problems areand my goodness there are plentyand what we can do to react promptly to the Executive's proposal for action, and who carry the responsibility of holding the administration to account, on our behalf. Thank you very much.
Professor D.G. Fraser, Worcester CollegeWe are in danger, I perceive, of seeing consensus break out on all sides and we should look at that in detail.
Instead of a report on the working of the North reforms we've now had two new governance Green Papers. The scope and over-tight schedule of, in fact all four Green Papers, have been divisive and damaging to the University. They've diverted the University's attention away from the most urgent need which you have repeatedly and correctly referred tothe need to tackle the serious issues of income, financial management and financial planning problems of the University.
I shall, therefore, make three proposals. (1) That further discussion of governance be deferred at least until after the passage through Parliament of the Charities Bill. This is essentially and elementary good sense. (2) That Congregation reject the proposal to have a General Purposes Committee of the renamed Board of Trustees, and (3) the third proposal is radical but is a sensible consequence of the working party's own proposals. Oxford is a nearly £1 billion enterprise. Its business has a corporate side and an academic side. The working party has itself proposed in the Green Paper to separate the institutional side of the University's operation from its academic side. This does not go far enough.
I propose that the University should split the Directorships of these two Divisions. This would naturally divide the current combined role of the Vice-Chancellor into a President responsible for academic affairs; and a US-style Provost responsible for Financial Management (the names do not matter of course). As Provost of Stanford, for example, Dr Condoleezza Rice was responsible for a budget of about the same size as ours$1.5 billion, with 1,400 faculty and 14,000 students. She was not also Head of Academic Affairs.
I shall return to this at the end.
The Green Paper in its present form must be rejected for many reasons. Here are three.
It fails to make clear the legal obligations of external trustees. The draft Charities Bill currently before Parliament and reviewed in the Lords on 18 October states, in section 13(3), 'The compliance objective is to promote compliance by the charity's trustees with their legal obligations in exercising control and management of the administration of the charity.' In other words it omits the word 'general' that appears in the Green Paper, annexe B.
I have no difficulty with having independent external advisers at all but, by failing properly to consider the detail of the Bill, the University would fail to exercise due care and could forfeit its democratic tradition of excellence in one single irreversible step. It would expose us to the worst sort of cronyismand highly paid cronyism at thatif we're not careful. Giving away our assets to the control of a self-reselecting group: and one of the first tasks of this new group, as you can read in the Green Paper, is to recommend on the remuneration of our chief executives. This is the false openness, the false transparency and the false insider 'best-practice' that has led so often to corporate mismanagement, removal of assets from stakeholders and cover-up. If we don't mean it, we shouldn't say it.
The second reason concerns the proposed General Purposes Committee and has been discussed in detail by others, including Mr Williams. There is no need for a General Purposes Committee that would duplicate the business of the new Academic Board. The General Purposes Committee appointees would dominate effective power within the University. The GPC should thus be removed from the draft structures shown in appendix C of the Green Paper.
I should leave criticism of the Nominations Committee, that further removes freedom and trust from Congregation, to others.
Finally, on the question of the Lambert Report, the Senior Management Team of the University seems to have missed the point of excellence, summed up by Lambert himself in paragraph 751, 'Should we not have ideas other than becoming just another HEFCE-managed post-1992 further education college?' Is Lambert not really on our side?
In a world-wide peer review of top science universities published in the THES on 7 October, 2,375 international research-active academics were asked to rate the world's top science universities. Cambridge and Oxford ranked first and second, and that despite Oxford's smaller science base! Both these UK universities ranked above Berkeley and then Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Tokyo and CalTech. Not a single other UK university is in the same league. Oxford's and Cambridge's academics are demonstrably world-class. They return enormous value to the UK taxpayer and to the world community.
I therefore return to my proposals to Congregation. I propose that the working party return to the task it was set up to achieveto examine the working of the North reforms and that:
(1) Congregation reject the Green Paper on governance in its present form.
(2) the General Purposes Committee in appendix C be removed as a committee of the new renamed Council.
And most importantly,
(3) Congregation, recognising that Oxford's Corporate Division now requires separate leadership from its Academic Division, agree to split the historic combined role of the Vice- Chancellor into a new President responsible for academic affairsor Vice-Chancellor (Academic); and a Provost responsible for Financial Managementor Vice-Chancellor (Corporate).
The Vice-Chancellor (Corporate) or Provost might well come, as at present, from inside or outside the University.
Our Vice-Chancellor (Academic), however, should once more be a rotating senior internal appointment who knows the University.
Both would report to Council or a Board of Scrutiny. Thank you.
Mr B.A. Sufrin, Worcester CollegeMr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, I shall approach the question of governance via two concrete examples of technical project failure. They could just as easily have been academic project failures. Their relevance will become apparent.
Everybody, Mr Vice-Chancellor, who has ever had anything to do with the Isidore software knows that it is worse than useless. Let me read to you an error message from Isidore passed to me by one of our admission support staff recently. I will read it to you. 'The offered program offering option has no program offering patterns that are both offered and entry point.'
A bad joke. Everybody knows that it's worse than useless, [but] well it seems that there are still decision-makers in high places in this University who don't. At least in mid-September there were. For to the utter astonishment of nearly everybody else, the Admissions Executive decided that Isidore would be used 'live' during the Undergraduate Admissions round this year and that no fallback system would be run.
This decision was made at a time when some of the necessary software had not even been completed.
In light of the enormous risks to our functioning and our reputation it was gobsmackingly ill-advised.
Surely nobody could have taken the decision who was adequately informed about admissions data handling or properly aware of the long Isidore saga.
What has happened? What have been the consequences of this decision in September? Well, the first phase of the undergraduate admissions process has been set back by a week or more. Letters that would normally have arrived more than a week ago could only be despatched yesterday. Some of our entrance tests take place in schoolstomorrow!
Who knows what else will go wrong before January?
Let me turn to Osiris, our ill-starred University finance system. The story of Osiris will be instructiveif it's ever told in full.
Much of the work on it was done after the publication, in 2001, of the detailed and damning report on the £8 million disaster that the Cambridge University accounting system project had become.
But it seems Oxford thought it wasn't necessary to learn from Cambridge's mistakes. Oxford used the same consultants and the same underlying database system. And just as in Cambridge, Oxford decided that Osiris had to 'go live' without running a fallback system. In doing so, they ignored the unanimous advice of senior administrators in the departments and divisions.
But by then they were used to ignoring their clientele. Carefully negotiated designs had been ditched unilaterally shortly after the appointment of the database supplier. Does all this sound familiar? It's called 'the arrogance of ignorance' where I come from!
Osiris alone knows how many tens of millions these IT fiascos have wasted so far. Will Osiris tell us?
An administration that can deliver such disasters needs to be made more responsive and accountable to the University it serves.
But the governance structures proposed by the Working Party would not add one whit of accountability or responsiveness to Wellington Square.
The route by which informed questions will reach the Board of Trustees, now to be known as Council, is unclear; and its answers to them are not to be heard by Congregation. And how is Congregation to ensure that the new Council gives educated and critical attention to the matters before it? Instead of being able to elect freely-chosen, independent-minded members to it, we are to be permitted only to 'approve' people who are vetted for suitability by a Nominating Committee that is appointed largely by the Executive.
A younger colleague told me recently that our democratic structures are old-fashioned and cumbersome and that we should just appoint wise and sensible people and let them get on with it.
But even the wisest and most sensible people, Mr Vice-Chancellor, are likely to make mistakes if concerns from the workplace cannot readily be brought to their attention. The danger is much greater if they work within a small, charmed circle that is protected by an iron wall of patronage, and which does not have to explain itself to anyone.
The Osiris and Isidore fiascos seem to have started off just as cock-ups. But cock-ups turn into cover-ups when ranks close against scrutiny; and cover-ups can easily turn into catastrophes.
In the late 1990s a series of damning reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office showed decisively that governing bodies of solely external members had proved disastrously ineffective at protecting the financial interests of at least half a dozen universities. Last year we managed to stop Isidore going live for undergraduate admissions, only by determinedly raising concerns in the highest circles using routes we had to invent for ourselves. It must not be so difficult in future to get problems noticed before they become disasters. It must not be so difficult in future for us to learn the lessons of disasters before they spawn new ones.
Did an audit committee stop the Marconi fiasco or the Enron larceny?
Do you really think that an Oxford audit committee could have stopped these huge IT disasters unfolding?
I don't. I think Oxford needs a Board of Scrutiny.
Colleagues! The structures proposed by the Working Party show only that the Senior Management Team does not trust Congregation to act as responsible monitors of the University.
They don't even trust us to elect candidates for Council from our own ranks.
Well, if this Senior Management Team no longer trusts this Congregation to act responsibly, then perhaps they should elect themselves a new Congregation!
Dr S.P. Perry, Balliol CollegeI would like to speak particularly about the revised constitution of Council. According to the paper, and I don't know any better, this set-up is considered prudent by interpreters of charity law or likely charity law and it also conforms to a code of practice issued by the Committee of University Chairmen. Apparently HEFCE deems it good practice. What matters more than that is that, perhaps unusually for a course of human action so deemed, it actually is good practice.
The key question, I think, is whether or not it is a good idea for the University to incorporate external voices within the processes of its government. I think myself that it is a good idea, and that the counter-viewwhich is effectively that the only voices worth listening to are our ownis an example of that mindset sometimes known as Oxford exceptionalism. I agree warmly that Oxford is an exceptional place; but I don't think that the mindset of Oxford exceptionalism is responsible for that, or even especially conducive to it; and while I am not averse to insularity, generally speaking, considering myself a deeply insular person in most respects, I do think it is out of place in the running of an enormously complicated, and internationally answerable institution such as ours.
The parallel to Council offered in the paper is with the trustees of a charity and this seems to be useful as a cultural parallel as much as a narrowly legal one. Many of us here will serve as trustees of one kind or another. I myself am a trustee of a prominent charity in the Lake District. Being merely an academic, I bring not much more than my knowledge of Wordsworth and, alas, that sort of know-how comes cheapusually indeed, much to my chagrin, it comes free. But my fellow trustees volunteer, rather more usefully perhaps, long and proven expertise in finance, investment, planning, property, law, and fund-raising as well as innumerable connections to worlds outside, connections that otherwise would lie far beyond the possible reach of such an institution. And all this is permanently to hand, woven into the running of the trust in a way that could simply not occur without the existence of trustees or trustee-like people. Now, of course, the differences in scale and complexity between such an organisation and Oxford University are giganticand I don't mean to minimise them; and the proposal here is not for a traditional board of trustees anyway, rightly, I think, given the peculiarities of this institution. But upon the basic principlewhich is all I'm addressing this afternoonthe basic principle that we might usefully attend to friendly and expert external voices within the habitual processes of our government, on this principle there seems to be no difference at all.
But in any case to discuss these matters in the stark terms of 'external' and 'internal' is, I think, misleading: for in truth, the 'external' members of Council will, in the normal course of things, be alumniwhich is broadly to say, in a language we no longer much speak, they will be drawn from Convocation. One of the best ways of maintaining strong links with alumniwhich we all agree is importantis to involve them in the continuing life of the University; and these proposals seem to me a good way of setting about the taskwhich we all agree is a crucial oneof involving well-disposed, well- qualified alumni in what we do. Opposition to the proposals, by contrast, has sometimes evoked a dark sense of outsiders moving in to tell 'us' what to do, as though we have been all this time enjoying life in an efficient, responsive, and autonomous republic of academic self-government. I should report that, when I returned to Oxford in 2003 after five years away, the normal tenor of conversation was not typically along such cheery lines. I occasionally suspect, too, some Groucho Marx-like axiom at work, according to which anyone who might agree to serve on Council must be, by definition, just the sort of person we don't wantwhich, as a view of human nature, seems to me bleak. But even if, by some dark chicanery, a Nominations Committee were to put forward a list of people willing to devote considerable time to undermining Oxford, Congregation is empowered to reject them: and if, notwithstanding that, Council still began to act in some deplorable way, it yet remains bound to Congregation, which retains a watching brief. Whether Congregation chooses to act upon that brief is entirely up to its members, of course; and hardly the responsibility of the framers of this document anyway. But if anyone thinks that the powers of Congregation as set out in this paper are a normal sort of provision in the governance of a British university, then I think that person is misguided, and vastly underestimates the degree of real answerability built into these proposals.
Dr L. Lazarus, St Anne's CollegeI am grateful to be the second woman to talk to you this afternoon.
I speak to you as a college fellow, a University Lecturer and as someone who has tried to get something done in this University. My central challenge over the last four years has been to facilitate collaboration between colleges and the University in order to produce a fair, efficient and transparent admissions procedure in my faculty. Obviously, it's a very small job compared to the rest of you but it's been a rather revealing experience. It has made me convinced that our collegiate University urgently needs an effective, expert, and accountable system of governance which can face the complex challenges of the future. Today's discussion should help us to do this. After all, we're an old institution and we've survived and thrived because of our capacity to change.
So, I will detain you with only a few comments.
The first is the urgent need for genuinely effective expertise within the University and within the University Council. This is not simply a question of 'best practice' in a legalistic sense. It is a key ingredient of excellence in the University endeavour. Much as we invite criticism on our research from academic peers around the world, we ought to be curious about the institutional perspectives of outside experts. I do not agree that we have the requisite range of expertise, available in sufficient measure within the University, to meet the challenges we are facing. We are too quick to place the burden of responsibility for the administration of this University on those with available skills, too often at the expense of their own time for research. And we haven't been good at listening to those who have volunteered their expertise. Much of our administration rests on benign amateurism, mixed in with the occasional expert perspective. This isn't enough. I make no apologies for supporting the view that there should be genuinely available expertise from within and outside the University on Council. And why should they be on Council? Because their contribution should not be wasted in the interstices of this complex institution. It should have a central and immediate impact on the foundation of our thinking and development. It should inculcate in this University a culture of the highest professionalism in how we achieve our core functions of world-class research and teaching. For this reason too, I support a Nominations Committee to select appropriately-qualified members of Council. As for the fears of being usurped by outsiders: it is absolutely clear that Council, as it is now, is accountable to Congregation (not to mention the continuing existence of Conference of Colleges alongside this). Without these checks and balances we would, indeed, be in a different discussion. But accountability has also to be balanced with efficacy, and I am not persuaded that a Board of Scrutiny would either enhance the efficacy of University governance or greatly enhance accountability. We must be aware of adding yet more layers to this already complex institution. We need enabling forums, not those engaged solely in reactive criticism.
Second, I welcome the emphasis in the Alternative Green Paper on transparency in the activities of University committees. This process has already begun. I don't recall receiving any e-mails from the Vice-Chancellor's Office drawing my attention to Council proceedings before the beginning of the last academic year. And I have also been, along with all my colleagues, invited to more discussions on University policy this last year than I had the time to attend. But, more could and should be done, and there are valuable suggestions within the alternative paper which the governance working party could usefully consider. But I do not think that a practice and culture of openness will, under the proposed procedures, be difficult to achieve and I do not believe that the governance working party has suggested anything to the contrary.
My third comment is this: We are, whether we like it or not, both a public and private institution. We are accountable for public funding to the tune of £212 million a year from HEFCE and the research councils. Of course, we cannot simply capitulate to external regulators. But we also need to engage with them. I can only tell you from having supported colleagues through the painful experience of answering to challenges to admissions decisions, that we would have left ourselves highly exposed had we not engaged, professionally and wisely, with the outside world. The proposals of the working party, I think, are aimed at forestalling such risks of institutional, financial and operational failure.
Finally, the governance working party has obviously taken on the many views opposing dissolution of Conference of Colleges but the ball is now in the colleges' court. We must deliver the best possible collaborative solutions and acknowledge our increasing interdependence. Colleges that now work outside joint admissions criteria, for example, do so very much at their own risk. Colleges talk too easily about the split between colleges and the University, but too often college autonomy also means autonomy from each other. We need to enter into a genuine collective enterprise which can furnish proactive solutions to our shared problems. And I do not believe that Conference of Colleges as it is currently shaped delivers this mission.
So in short, we in this great collegiate University ought to be confident in ourselves and in each other, eager to engage in a genuine exchange about our collaborative endeavours and curious about the perspectives of experts in the outside world.
Professor M.J. Earl, Dean of Templeton CollegeI thought I'd give my full title in expectation of a frisson in the House because, yes, I possibly come with all the baggage of business and management.
Now, it may surprise some present that many in business, when they hear the word 'governance', to paraphrase Johst, Goering and Dietrich reach for their gun. This is in part because, inevitably perhaps, they don't like the onus put on them by current edicts of corporate governance. However, I venture that currently it is because organisational governance is seen as more important and therefore, perhaps should be the focusbecause this aspect of governance has more effect on performance. These two governance constructs are quite different and I'm relieved that the Discussion Paper makes a similar distinction, namely institutional and academic governance.
Corporate governance (or, if you prefer, for us, Institutional Governance) of course comprises the mechanisms of being accountable and responsible to owners and sometimes to other stakeholders. Organisational governance (or if you prefer, for us, Academic Governance) is the structure and process of decision-making in complex organisations. And, colleagues, is our organisation complex? It can be described as a matrix or a federal organisationor more clearly as a three-dimensional structure, comprising the central functions, the divisions and their departments and the colleges.
Now all these labels only describe our problem; they do not prescribe the appropriate mechanisms for our collective decision-making. In three-dimensional organisations you do need a decision-making structure as well as the normal formal and informal processes involved in any co-ordination and decision-making. And we can apply four tests to any such proposals for organisational or academic governance: effectiveness, efficiency, representation and transparency.
Effectiveness here is identifying the important decisions to make and getting them right (or mostly right). For me, an Academic Board which brings all three dimensions or axes togetherplus student membersshould avoid the haphazardness of our current parallel structures. My college had some concerns about the size and balance of the originally proposed body but these now have been well addressed.
Efficiency is not just about the cost of decision-making structures but also about the other resources consumed, especially time. Of course it is proposed to have obvious and necessary committees supporting the Academic Board and the Academic Council, but as a whole, the scope for each body and its channels are clear and thus inefficiencies should be reduced.
Representation in terms of representativeness of our three-dimensional structure is well- satisfied in the proposals for the Academic Board. There is a sensible balance of internal and external membership of the Academic Council too. Importantly to try and avoid colleges being a residual in policy-making, Conference is retained and the possibility of improving channels between Conference and the other bodies is recognised. I suspect that the nine graduate colleges would want to ensure that they were properly represented on the Academic Board and I assume that this can be arranged, either formally or informally. Above all, as regards the criterion of representativeness, we are all representedand remain, as Denis Noble has emphasised, empoweredin the supra-body of Congregation.
Finally, transparency. For many, especially for new Heads of House it seems, it has not always been clear where decisions are made, how they are made, and who makes them. These proposals provide some order and coherence.
I now turn to the proposals for Institutional Governance. It would be difficult to deny that universities, not least this one, are under external pressure and scrutiny, that we need public funding and are concerned with the public good, and that we often recommend to other organisations, don't we, the advisability of having external advice and challenge. Thus a Council with both external and internal trustees is a good idea.
However, for me and my college and, I know, others, the issue in the earlier proposals was scope. To have oversight of financial, legal and ethical matters was fine but academic matters were too important to be left to amateurs. This question is now resolved: academic matters rest with the Academic Board and its committees.
I start to conclude with another distinction, that between governance and management. I have enjoyed and valued the many articles written in our magazines on the governance debate. However, I have been disappointed by two frequent claims. The first is that recent administrative failuresin our financial control and in the introduction of Osiris and Isidoredemonstrate that management, business ideas and especially governance are not suited to this University.
Yes, these three failures unambiguously were management failures. Any student of IT projects and change management would have seen several early warning signals a long time ago. Indeed, as something of an authority on this topic, I should say that anybody who thought of the names Osiris and Isidore was guaranteeing failure. Anyone from businesseven from some failed businesseswould have been appalled at the lack of timely and reliable financial information available at all levels of the University.
However, these also were governance failings because I assume they were not properly visible and I expect that many of those concerned were not sure where or how to raise alarm bells or, indeed, suggest remedies. In short, our organisational decision-making structure was not clear, coherent or accessible. With these new governance proposals, the different constituencies would know where and how to shout.
The second claim recently is that the University is 'heavily managed' and power lies with management. Management in this line of attack is seen as bad news. However, we are all managersof time, teaching resources, research budgets, college and departmental affairs and our collective human capital. The underlying concern I expect in these articles on management and managerialism is that we are not a business. I agree.
In other words, we are different from business and in management studies, as in other disciplines I would guess, we recognise contingencies. That is to say, we believe that there is no one best way to organise and govern and that practices do not transfer easily across organisations or sectors. Thus, in this University sector, we must recognise the six statements of difference I have just enunciated.
This means we have to recognise the distinctive configuration, ethos and purpose of Oxford and this, in particular, means we should rightly want to run this organisation ourselves. I believe the Academic Board will allow us to do this. I believe the Council provides an acceptable check and balance on our own self-determination and a mechanism to instil confidence in our publics. I further suggest that the five-year transition period as regards the Chairmanship of Council can give us an opportunity to review our governance mechanisms and further evolve and adapt them if necessary. In short, the proposals before us provide coherent and fit-for-purpose mechanisms for the University's collective decision-making which should make it easier for us all to pursue our academic endeavours. Add to this the retention of this House, Congregation, as the supra-authority, and we have the assurance that ultimately the future of this great University continues to depend on all of us and what we do.
For these reasons, Mr Vice-Chancellor and colleagues, I commend these proposals to the University.
Mr A.W.M. Graham, Master of Balliol CollegeVice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, Andrew Graham, Master of Balliol and a new member of Council, but I joined Council after Council had already commended these proposals to Congregation. That may be relevant because I mainly wanted to come to Congregation to listen but I decided to speak because I found myself in the strange position of being urged to speak by groups of people who seemed to hold radically different views! I wasn't quite sure what they each expected. But I thought perhaps we might begin by being encouraged by this fact because I think that indeed we have already heard it in some of the discussion this afternoonwe are engaged not just in a battle but in a dialogue between us in which we may get to a better outcome at the end.
Within this context I offer you three points that go in one direction; three in the other; and three conclusions of my own. The three points that go somewhat in the direction of what I will call decentralisation and democratisationas in the Susan Cooper papergo like this. I was lucky to come to Oxford because I had a mentor in Economics, a somewhat mad Hungarian economist called Tommy Balogh. And I remember about twenty years ago we were discussing in Balliol who we might have as Master and we were inviting for interview somebody who was a rather trenchant Vice-Chancellor from another university. And Balogh said to me, 'Andrew, why do you want him?' And so I said, rather mildly, 'Well, Tommy, we think the college needs running'. 'RUN! The fellows don't want to be run. They want to be left alone.' And that is indeed much true of what ought to happen in Oxford.
My second point is one made by the eminently wise Provost of Worcester College, who said, 'What should this University's mission statement really be? It should be the promotion of heresy'. I think there's much to be said for that as well.
My final point comes from having been in Balliol now for nearly thirty-six years and while I've been in Balliol I've observed three things. Firstly, I've observed a college that takes democracy extremely seriously and therefore gets enormous participation from its members. Many people have spoken about the fact this University only operates because of our sense of involvement. I agree.
Secondly, Balliol has all kinds of checks and balances built in to constrain people such as the Master. Very important. And lastly, and certainly not least, we have somehow managed to have the ability when we are about to make a mistake to listen to the minority. We've been willing to reconsider. And that may be the most important thing of all. What matters about decisions is not whether they are effective in the sense of being fast but whether they're right. So, on all those points, I point towards the views of the Susan Cooper et al paper.
However, I have points that go in the other direction. It's really one point but it has three illustrations. The point is that I think we are grossly misjudging the role of the externals in the proposals that have been put in front of us. For about seven years I was a non-executive director of Channel 4 and I'm now a trustee of the Scott Foundation which runs the Guardian and the Observer. I choose both of these bodies because I think it will be agreed thatcertainly in the case of Channel 4it has an objective to break even but it has clear public service obligations. The Scott Trust also has considerations that go well beyond the simple making of money. And what I have observed in Channel 4 and in the Scott Trust is absolutely not 'externals versus the rest'. That is not the way well-functioning bodies operate. What's more, I cannot remotely imagine that either of these bodies would ever have taken a decision in which the eight externals outvoted the eight internals and anybody thought that this was a good basis on which to go forwards.
So, I don't personally care very much whether the balance is eight of one and seven of the other. And there are two interesting arguments to be considered. There are quite a lot of people in Oxford very nervous about these proposals and who want the internals to stay in the majority. The arguments I've just put to you might lead you to say, 'Well, let's go in that direction'. But it actually doesn't matter all that much whether it's seven or eight. We will gain enormously more in the external world, both in the eyes of those who might give us money in the private sector and in the views of the government, if we go in the direction of what is seen as 'best practice'.
My second point goes in the same direction about the externals, and comes from the change of view in Balliol about fund-raising. Twenty years ago we were very suspicious of all this private money and thought they'd all interfere with us. Most of these people have been my students. They care for us. It's simply ridiculous to suppose that they're going to interfere.
The third example is that Balliol has a bodyalthough I hadn't quite thought about it like this beforethat makes Balliol almost a bit bicameral. A large proportion of Balliol's endowment is run by a body of Appeal Trustees and I and a number of other college officers go every so often to talk to these Appeal Trustees to see whether we can put a case to them to hand over the requisite sum of money. This set of people is chaired by Lord Bingham, the senior Law Lord. Do these people ask good questions of us? Most certainly yes. Do I think they're going to interfere or not care about Balliol? Absolutely not. So I think we needand this is my most important point of allto relax about the role of the externals. They are much less to be feared than some people have supposed.
Indeed, I put it to you that, imagine that we had the situation that Sir Peter North's Commission had come forward to us and said, 'We have had Hebdomadal Council and the General Board and what we wish to do is to delineate the roles between them somewhat more sharply and to increase the number of externals'. Nobody would have remotely thought that was a revolutionary change. Yet that's basically what's in front of Congregation this afternoon.
But, of course, I have heard those other points about democracy and about taking the right decision not the fast decision, and there is much, much good sense in the other papers that have been put forward. We certainly need a much greater audit control, not just of finance but of processes. I think what's been said about the election or choice of Pro-Vice- Chancellors is very interesting; so too are the points about the openness of decision-taking; the needs for checks and balances in the system; the willingness to reconsider.
And, finally, as a new member of Council, what I'm going to be doing is to carry on listening; not trying to rush these decisions. I believe that the proposals in front of us, amended in the light of the good suggestions that have been made, will not be a poor compromise but be the kind of governance that a great university like Oxford needs.
The Revd Dr C.P. Thompson, St Catherine's CollegeThe Corporate Plan included collegiality among its values and objectives. It referred to the participatory democracies of the colleges and the representative democracy of the University committee system: to membership of a community, with a shared sense of responsibility, made manifest through formal structures and discharged through a sense of mutual obligation. It is they, not those which apply to other universities with a different structure, and certainly not those which apply to managing large corporations, which determine our life together. I therefore welcome a complementary statement of the principles which inform our governance but it is important that such principles are not words divorced from actions. Our governance needs to derive clearly and visibly from those values. That is not the case with the document before us.
Some things are repeated so often they take on the status of generally accepted truths without ever having been demonstrated to be so. One is that the decision-making processes in the collegiate University are clumsy and prevent us from embracing new opportunities. It's not many years ago that this House was told that if it did not agree to the one possible location for the Saïd Business School, the University would lose the school altogether. This House refused, and in due course another, incomparably better decision was made.
Decision-making processes, including those recommended by outside expertsabout whom I don't think actually there is really an argumentcan be improved. That is to say that is not the issue before us because most of us unhappy with these proposals are very happy about outside representation. Those processes can be improved in both directions with common sense leavened by goodwill. But proposals and decisions need proper scrutiny, which is why a system of checks and balances is vital, to ensure that the collegiate University isn't unwittingly led into decisions it will live to regret. I don't know what examples there are of useful and thoroughly detailed proposals being delayed or frustrated by colleges, but there have, as we have heard, been a number of decisions made recently by the University which might have benefited from such scrutiny. The language of threat and ultimatum should have no place in a community with values and objectives like ours; I'm perhaps not the only person here to be dismayed by the Chancellor's recent intervention in this debate, and to feel that we might have more confidence in a leadership more engaged in outcomes than appearances.
Over the last few months there has been a worrying breakdown in trust between at least some members of this Congregation and those we now call the Senior Management Team. It's something new in my experience of this University, and must be remedied. I use only one example: the quantum. The unilateral breaking of the carefully-reached agreement between the colleges and the University has inevitably created an atmosphere of distrust. Such an action is damaging to our common enterprise. It is no good robbing Peter to pay Paul and it certainly isn't good governance.
This House needs to have confidence in the executive bodies which serve it. More than that, it wants to have confidence in them. For that to happen, the Executive needs to conduct itself in a way that augments trust instead of eroding it. It would then have no need to fear an effective system of checks and balances. Regrettably, for some of us, this University has moved in just over twelve months from an atmosphere of great hope in a new chapter to one of some doubt, created by ill-considered execution, bolstered by some abuse of process. These twin defects persist in the proposals before us. They place too much reliance on patronage (by a nomination or appointment to office), and too strong a reliance on hierarchy (Heads of House, for example, are the servants of their governing bodies not Chief Executive Officers of colleges). Given the increase in their number and importance, Pro-Vice- Chancellors should not be appointments in the gifts of individuals or small bodies; they should be elected through a process which is fair and open.
Negotiating the territory between public policy and our core values is, I recognise, a delicate business. What I long for but do not hear from those in a position to make it, is an effective, informed defence of our values and mission in the public arena. I discern instead an increasing managerial eagerness to buy short-term economic advantage at an unacknowledged cost to intellectual and organisational independence. And what I long for but do not see in the Discussion Paper is a willingness to entertain a system of governance which is, like our core academic values, truly open, evidence-based, and receptive to scrutiny.
Dr K.J. Morris, Mansfield CollegeMr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, I've been following the discussions around governance with interest but also with a growing unease. The governance 'road shows' earlier this year offered slick PowerPoint presentations which, in effect, put forward the following 'argument': youthat's ushave identified these problems with governance, here is the solution.
I referred to these as 'road shows'; that was not their official designation; those who attended them, I think, find that description nonetheless irresistible. I've used the term 'argument' here; some might prefer the term 'sales pitch'. There's nothing inherently disreputable about a sales pitch, of course, but, first when a salesperson tells you that you have such-and-such a need, if it had never occurred to you before that you had such a need, you might feel a little bit worried. And when he tells you that you yourself identified that need you might wish to know where exactly and when exactly you did so. And, of course, the submissions to the governance review in which 'we' identified this need never were published.
But I think there are deeper concerns. You wouldn't expect a salesperson to tell you in detail about other products than his which might fulfil your need equally well. Nor would you expect a wholly objective assessment of their relative merits. Well, when the road shows told us and when the first Green Paper also told us that they had 'the' solution to the problems which 'we' had identified, they didn't do that. Indeed they didn't. And we might have wondered whether this was really the only possible solution, what alternatives were considered, what arguments form the basis of their being rejectedthese other alternatives.
We know those weren't the only alternatives; those weren't the only possible solutions. The very fact that there's a new Discussion Paper shows this. So does the existence of the very different governance proposal put forward by Cooper, Bamforth and Williams.
We're here to discuss what's been called the Discussion Paper and here I think there are yet further issues that get raised. It may be arguedand I have heard it arguedthat the objections made to the original Green Paper have been taken on board in the Discussion Paper. It looks as though massive concessions have been made. The new Academic Council is much smaller. There are fewer externals on the Board of Trustees. I've heard it argued that it would be churlish, if not unreasonable, for us to reject the new Discussion Paper. Well, one thing we might wonder is how massive these 'concessions' really are. One still hears some concerns about the degree to which democracy prevails. We've heard concerns about top-down structures. We've heard concerns about undemocratic nominating committees.
I used earlier, however, the word 'concession', and that term too I think is a bit worrying. That is the language in which many people are talking about the new Discussion Paper. But that term 'concession' has its home in business deals, not in arguments. We academics, who don't engage in business dealswe engage in argumentswe would like to know that the changes, such as they are, were made because the Senior Management Team, sharing our core values, had taken on board the force of the arguments presented to them over Trinity Term and the summer, that those changes were made for those reasons, not because they wanted to stop the natives from getting restless.
Now, I'm actually more-or-less neutral as between the Discussion Paper and the alternative proposal, and indeed between those and any new proposals that might yet be put forward. I must confess a certain temperamental inclination against the top-down sort of structure that we seem to see in the present Discussion Paper but that's mere temperament at the moment. I'm speaking here as an outsider. I've done none of the incredibly hard work that went into drafting the alternative proposal, but I'm speaking here as a philosopher. When I compare the Discussion Paper that we're asked to consider today with the alternative proposal put forward by Cooper, Bamforth and Williamsindeed, when I compare the two flysheets that appeared in the recent issue of the GazetteI have the sense that I, as a philosopher, as someone who is made uncomfortable by sales pitches and who feels happy when I'm presented with arguments and counter-arguments, feel much happier from that point of view when I look at the alternative proposals than when I look at the Discussion Paper before us.
Dr J.F Wheater, University CollegeJohn Wheater, Theoretical Physics, Tutorial Fellow of University College and, by the serendipity of being Senior Proctor last year, a member of the working party.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, it's clear from the discussion this afternoon that we almost all of us agree on one thing, which is that at the moment it's not working too well. The question which really lies before us is whether this is a problem which can be tweaked away or whether it is a problem of something systematic and fundamental in the way our affairs are organised. Now, members of Congregation will not be surprised to hear that I adhere to the latter view. Fundamentally, the role of the governing body of the University is a complicated one and it contains several elements. But two of the most important are to provide the external face of the University to the government and institutions outside. We are not an island. We cannot live in isolation. We have to deal with these people. And the second one is the monitoring of the performance and the role of the Executive. And this is something which has to be done with a considerable degree of moral fibre, I think.
Now the Green Paper proposes that the Chairman of the Council, as it would be newly constituted, should be a different person from the Vice-Chancellor. This has not been remarked upon so far this afternoon. But the reason for this is very fundamental. At the moment and in all recent times the Vice-Chancellor has been in the position of extraordinary and, as one or two people have indicated, almost unfettered power. He is not only the Chief Executive of the University but he is the chief repository of what one might call the audit function. He is responsible for checking up on himself and for controlling his own executive functions and checking that he is performing them properly. Now, this cannot be right.
Professor Fraser referred to the need to maybe separate the roles of the Vice-Chancellor. Well, of course, that is exactly what the Green Paper is suggesting that we do. We are not suggesting that we do it in precisely the way Professor Fraser is suggesting but nonetheless we are separating them between two clear functions. One of them is the audit, the scrutiny of what is going on and the bearing of responsibility, and the other is the executive role, the day-to-day running and management of the affairs of the University. I think that that would be a great improvement in the way our affairs are managed.
Let me come to the membership of Council. The external face of the University is a very important one. We are constantly being bombarded with requirements and requests and demands and so forth from the Government and outside bodies. Most of these don't arrive in your pigeonhole and they don't arrive in my pigeonhole. They arrive by the sack full in Wellington Square. It is, on occasions, the case that really the University should just say 'no'. And if we are going to just say no we have to have the credibility to do so. If it's just you and me, who are salaried employees of the University, and we just say, 'No, we don't like this', well, of course, the reaction outside is, 'Well, they would say that, wouldn't they, because it's not in their interests?'
We need people who can say no for us who cannot be accused of being parti pris. And that means we need people who can say no for us who are not dependent on this institution for their livelihood. If you are dependent on this institution for your livelihood and you say no to some unpalatable demands from outside you will inevitably be accused of being biased. It may not be true but the fact is that you want to be able to say no in a way that you can demonstrate it's not true. And this will be accomplished by having a Council which consisted of a majority of external members. Of course, it goes without saying that a large number of internal members are also required because of the degrees of expertise which are needed, as we were so well-advised by Mr Wood.
The Nominations CommitteeI find it quite extraordinary that an institution which takes extraordinary care over the appointment of its academics should be so unrigorous in the way that it appoints its governing body. On the former we take a great deal of care; we have large numbers of applications; we check out people's careers; we talk to them. We often have many very strong candidates and it's difficult to make a choice. But why should it be that the members of the governing body should not be appointed by a similar process? It is vital that the governing body has the requisite expertiseI'm sorry to use that wordand it is also vital that they have the time and the energy and the commitment. And it requires considerable investigation to establish whether this is really true. When I see a flysheet and I'm required to vote for a member of Council well, if I know the person individually then maybe I know that it's okay. If I don't know the person individually then I don't and I have very little means within the twenty-four hours in the day to find out.
Finally, Mr Vice-Chancellor, I'd like to turn to something that Dr Perry said when he talked about alumni. In the original Green Paper we suggested that the externals on Council should be alumni and in the current paper of Michaelmas Term we argued that, although they may not be alumni, on the whole it would be desirable if they were. And I'd just like to close by saying something about the alumni. The alumni are people who we admitted. I've been doing it for twenty years. Some of you have been doing it for a lot longer. We know that they are smart people. They are people who we taught. We know that they are very well-trained. To imagine that these people cannot make any contribution to this institution is to undermine the very purpose of the institution itself. In fact, they go out into the world; they acquire all kinds of expertise and all sorts of knowledge and all sorts of experience which, by definition, we who stay here in Oxford and continue to teach and research, cannot. One of my former students is even a lawyer. It is quite extraordinary for a theoretical physicist to end up with a lawyer as a former student. These people owe a debt of gratitude to this place. They respect and they admire us and they will fight for us. To pass that by is just missing a trick.
We all of us feel from time to time that the enemy is at the gate and probably sometimes it is. However, it's a great mistake to imagine or to proceed on the assumption that everybody outside the gate is an enemy. They're not. Many of them are friends and we should use them and we should use their knowledge.
Professor A.J. Ryan, Warden of New CollegeIn the interests of giving other people a go, I think I ought to say that Nick Bamforth's views are my view about most of the landscape and that on quite a lot else I think Professor Foster [Fraser] and I are of one mind. That gets rid of about four minutes of what might otherwise be said.
First, the defenders of the current version of the Green Paper are fighting on territory where nobody is opposing them and failing to pay attention where there is a real problem. As far as I know, nobody is hostile to the idea of external persons in appropriate places taking a benign interest in the operations of the University. I couldn't run an endowment committee or an appeal fund without having externals helping me do it and they are for most purposes in the majorityand a good thing too.
I think, speaking on behalf of at least some members of the folks who put the 2000 governance system in, we got it wrong by settling for one Council. The nostalgic among you will hope this means that the General Board and Council are going to reappear. But all I have to say is, 'God help us if they do'. But the notion of splitting so that there is, as it were, a smaller body to do certain kinds of audit, statute, external relations and what in other universities would be called an academic senate, that seems to me to make good sense and be a proper tidying up of 2000.
Now, there are two things where I'm going to make disagreeable noises. One, the working party has never done the job it was set up to do. It has not given us a compte rendu of what did and didn't work in the 2000 reforms. What Pollyanna-ish average people like me hoped was going to happen was that the chairman of PRAC would be a Provost; the chairman of EPSC would be a Dean of the college/Dean of arts; that Heads of Division would behave like Deans and that there would be some rational central policy which these persons would bit by bit implement.
Well, it doesn't seem to have happened. There is a difficulty about the working party really having a look; and this is that too many members of the working party were deeply involved in all this and it is both brutal and impossible to expect people to stare in the mirror and interrogate themselves as if they were somebody else entirely. I mean, it's very hard to do it. But somebody really should give us the long list so that we can actually form an intelligent view about which of the defects would be cured and which of the things we hoped might happen we could still manage, and where the working party of some years ago was simply out to lunch.
The thing on which I wish to be entirely disagreeable is the Nominations Committee. The Nominations Committee seems to me to have all the independence of the management that the remunerations committee of Enron had. If it's as firmly in the hands of the SMT as it is it is not going to nominate people who would really give the SMT grief. And asking six members of Congregation from among the payroll vote to sign the papers reminds one of Sir Robert Walpole. The rational procedure is the obvious one, which is wide open nominations. If the Senior Management Team is doing its job properly its nomination is going to win in a landslide and the views of the eccentrics are going to lose. If the Senior Management Team isn't doing its job, then we are in trouble.
Now, Boards of Scrutiny, which is what I really mind about. If Council were what Derek Wood thinks it's going to be then it is just possible we wouldn't need a Board of Scrutiny because then it would be the agent of Congregation to keep an eye on the SMT. But it's not going to be that and I don't see that it has to be that in the least. What it's going to be is something to help the Senior Management Team run the place. And a good thing too. If that's what it's going to be, then wethe troops, the rank and fileneed a Board of Scrutiny. A Board of Scrutiny would have told us, for example, about Osiris and Isidore and other bits of garbage. The Board of Scrutiny would have got Wellington Square out of the habit of finding the nearest rock to hide under when there were any questions being asked. If I were the Vice-Chancellorand I say this because I have a much nastier nature than he hasI would very much like a Board of Scrutiny. Because in terms of keeping an eye on my Pro-Vice-Chancellors a Board of Scrutiny would be extremely useful.
I think at that point I decently ought to stop and let other people have a go.
Lord Butler of Brockwell, Master of University CollegeMr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, I want to address my remarks to the proposal for a Council consisting of a substantial proportion of people not employed by the University and of an Academic Board, and the relationship between them.
The Warden of New College said that he thought that there was no disagreement about this; that there was no disagreement about our being willing to introduce a greater element of external advice. If that is so, I can really save my remarks altogether. But with great respect to him, I don't think it is what the paper by Susan Cooper, Nicholas Bamforth and Gavin Williams says, and so I will just trouble you with a few remarks about it.
Now, I enter this debate with some hesitation. Unlike the Master of Balliol, nobody urged me to take part in it. And although I spent my childhood, and I'm spending my dotage, in Oxford, I am conscious that I haven't spent the whole of my career here. I am, in that sense, an outsider. Moreover, I really do think that I sympathise with the importance which so many people attach to the historic principle of self-government of an institute of academics administered by academics. Nevertheless, I do come down in favour of a Council with an equal number of internal and external members and I would just like to say very briefly why. I don't need to say very much because it's been extremely well put by Sir Peter North, by Derek Wood, by Professor Perry. But if one looks at our obligations as trustees of this great institution, there is something uncomfortable about a set-up in which the trustee responsibilities for our long-term future are so predominantly in the hands of its current employees. There is clearly a potential conflict of interest between the present and the future, and such conflicts of interest are likely to become the more acute when, as at present, circumstances are changing so fast around us and difficult decisions have to be made.
I take just one example. I happen to think that the greatest threat to academic freedom that
we face at present is the growing interference of government, of government which has a
different agenda from the academic agenda. And it really is to be, I think, hardly expected
that the people who are in the best position to withstand that sort of pressure are the people
who are desperately in need of the government finance which they need to keep themselves
going. And I do think that it is likely that a board which consisted of a greater number of
externals would help the University to be more robust in resisting the interference of
government than one that is entirely drawn from within it.
Now, I'm not suggesting for a moment that this change in the governance of the University
would make us proof against disasters. No system of governance can do that. No structure
is proof against disasters if bad or incompetent people get in charge. So we do need checks
and balances. But with the check provided by the longstop powers of Congregation, powers
which other institutions with outside boards of governors do not have, I wonder whether we
have anything to fear from a greater injection of external oversight and expertise. I speak in
this debate because, although I'm an outsider, I feel I need yield to no one in my admiration
and love and care for the future of this University. It's for that reason that I urge
Congregation to move in the direction which is recommended in the Green Paper.
Professor D.A.Vines, Balliol CollegeVice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, let me first of all begin by congratulating Susan Cooper, Nicholas Bamforth and Gavin Williams for their paper called 'A Democratic Approach to Governance'. I admire their paper. It contains many admirable suggestions about how to fix our University.
However, I disagree with it on threeand only threevital issues. Firstly, the issue of bicamerality, secondly, the use of outside help on our Council and, third, the question of whether we should have a Cambridge Board of Scrutiny. I want to persuade you that we can actually find common ground on these three issues and that's why I asked to speak today, because I came to that view having read their document. I think, actually, that we can then declare that peace has broken out, and that we can get on with the really important, detailed business of fixing the place that we care about so deeply. So, my three issues.
[First] Why bicamerality? I was persuaded of the need for this the very first time I heard John Hood talk in public at what my notes describe as 'open day meetings', not 'sales pitches'. We heard him say, first, that the present University Council has too much business and never gets around to dealing with financial issues properly and, second, when they do, [that] too few of those on Council know enough about financial management. A Council which sets and manages the University's financial framework is absolutely essential and it's true that genuinely outstanding institutions really do have boards of governors that do this. If we'd done it, we would have prevented the Osiris mess-up because, within a proper financial framework, you will be able to manage financial administration properly. And more generally, in this University, it has taken much too long to get workable management accounts for any of us. Chaotic management has left departments unable to know where they stand. It's true of my own Economics Department and I've heard Susan Cooper say that exactly the same is true of her Physics Department, which is much more expensive and much more complicated to run than mine. These financial management practices in the University are just not acceptable. This isn't just the Osiris problem and it's certainly not John Hood's fault. I believe that we can fix these things and that a well-designed bicameral system, with advice and help from skilled non-executive directors, will be a means of doing that.
Second, why have such outside members on our Council? As I've just said, they'll help us manage our finances. Of course, as Denis Noble argues, they're also sticks which can beat management when necessary. But my own experiencealso on the Channel 4 Board, I have to say, I was [on that Board] in the late 1980sshowed me that they can do more than this. At the time, the channel was fighting Thatcher's plans to privatise it and thus wreck its commitment to public service broadcasting. The channel's internal executives prevented this butcruciallytheir brilliant moves were carried out with real assistance from the Board. This is Robin Butler's point. Outsiders can help those inside an institution win battles in the wider world.
Third point: why not have a Cambridge Board of Scrutiny? The answer is that with clear oversight of Council by Congregation, such a Board is not necessary. Above Council and the Academic Board, we should have a reinvigorated Congregation, chaired by the Chancellor, I think, which would, for one thing, allow the Vice-Chancellor to speak. I think it's extraordinary that he hasn't been able to speak to us today. There could be separate meetings, at which the Vice-Chancellor could be questioned, just like Prime Minister's Question Time. And there could be regular meetings, so that our Congregation doesn't go on seeming like a whole lot of cancellation notices in the Gazette. And at the same time, below the Council, there will be an Audit Committee. It's not an original idea but I would call it the Audit and Scrutiny Committee. That would, one, do the kind of risk analysis which an audit committee does for the Board of any good company and which has never been done for Oxford. Secondly, it would be prospective, sniffing out strategic issues on which audit was required. And three, it would be composed of people who aren't somewhere off in outer space but are, at the same time, also members of Council and so responsible for implementing the Audit Committee's recommendations. The Cambridge Board of Scrutiny has none of these three advantages. Now, we've heard quite a bit today which told us that you could push something in each of these three directions. Not enough. I therefore think, actually, that Alan Ryan's support for this proposal is just misjudged and I personally find this disappointing because his thoughts about the Federal structure of Oxford and also about the Oxford appointments process I [have] found [to be] so valuable in our discussions over the last six months. So I've discussed these three things which we need to get right and I think, when we agreeand I believe we can agree on them, actuallywe can get down and read Susan's, Nick's and Gavin's document carefully and get on doing in detail what they recommend for us.
So let me conclude by just asking you allwhy this animosity to what's been proposed? I think the reason is really anger at the weaknesses of our old regime. But it's simply incorrect to project these past management failings into the future. Oxford's a wonderful University, but it's got some problems. However, it now has a new broom with which to fix these problems. Let's not make the mistake of blaming the broom for the problems.
Thank you very much.
Dr E.J. Frazer, New CollegeI do want to talk a bit more about values. I know that there are alternative structural proposals on the table. I think that a lot of people are very worried about any changes at all.
I actually want to recommend to Congregation that we accept the current Green Paper and move forward, making sure that we get our values right. I think that that Green Paperanother structure might do it just as well but this is the one that we've really got to work withthat within the framework that's proposed, we can actually make sure that the values that we really cherish, that we really want to live by, we realise. I think a lot of people are worried about the loss of collegiality, democracy, equality and academic freedom. They're worried about them being squeezed out by alien managerialism, financialism and hierarchy, instead of equality.
I think that some people have fastened on oversight and scrutiny for the wrong reason. I think they've fastened on it because they think that, that way, the academic values can batter the managerial values and that we can make sure that academic values always win, which is a contestual way of looking at it. It seems to me that, with the proposals on the table, we have the opportunity to really try to forge in this place an ethos of accountability, a culture of accountability. There is a worry that with the abolition of the old General Boardand people that I've talked to over the last few weeks have mentioned the General Board in a way that isn't just nostalgicwe have lost an ethos of collegiality.
The problem that I have with that is that collegiality in this place has only gone so far. The collegial system of the old General Board or, indeed, the Council of the last five years, hasn't included numerous contract staff in the Science Area who do not have membership of colleges, who do not enjoy the kind of equality and reciprocity and, indeed, the freedom that some of us enjoy. We haven't been able to work out a rational allocation of resources between undergraduate and graduate education, for example. Colleges and departments and faculties haven't been able to find a reasonable way forward. A multiplicity of veto points has always seen off coherence.
People are worried that a new efficiency ethos threatens academic freedom. I think there are two kinds of academic freedom. There's the basic, core freedom to research, to write and to speak in publicnot just inside the University but out to the publicwithout loss of employment or civil liberties. That's invaluable. I think what a lot of traditional Oxford academics are worried about is that other freedom, the freedom to have absolute discretion over your time, to spend your time doing more or less what you want to do. Arguably, that is a necessary condition of genuinely creative work. But let's remember when we think about the value of equality that most people in this University do not enjoy that amount of discretion. And many academics, whoas Gavin Williams pointed out in one of his editorialshave no talent for management or administration, have effectively lost their academic freedom to pursue truth fearlessly because they've been struggling to run units with multimillion pound turnovers, with insufficient administrative resources, with poor service and support from the centre, in desperate financial uncertainty and they've been dealing with intractable problems of free ridingthe wrong kind of academic freedom. It's our lack of structure and our lack of a real, genuine ethos of accountability that I think has allowed that to happen.
If I was going to talk about external members, I think that that issue has been aired a great deal. It seems to me that one of the fears that people have when they think about external members it that it conjures up a picture of a particular kind of bloke in a particular kind of suit. One thing that I would really like to remind us of is that those external members could be women. They could be people who come from the charitable sector or the public sector and one fear about managerialism I think we could decide to lay to rest. We could go for it and go for equal opportunities, which is one of our core values, and we could do it when we look at the constitution of our new Council.
If we are going to realise these values of attention to the general good, to proper academic freedom and democracy, we've got to have a clear structure which enshrines financial responsibility, strategic decision-making, encourages administrative and managerial professionalism, professional values, and embodies the principle of accountability. And I want to say that accountability is going to have to run in all directions. It cannot be a one- way street. Of course managers must be accountable. All of us as employees have a direct interest in managerial capability and we want to make sure that people who are in managerial positions are doing that job effectivelypersonnel management impinges on us whether we're trying to supervise or we are being supervised. We are all deeply interested in management that sets the secure procedural and financial framework that we've been talking about this afternoon. But we can't demand that the Executive and the administration be accountable to the academic body if academics are not willing to be accountable to each other. We have got to be accountable too to the University as a whole including all of its staff, including those who do not enjoy the conditions of work that people like me enjoy. And we have got to be accountable to the public.
That takes me on to my last point, which is about scrutiny. It seems to me that no group with a scrutiny brief can be successful unless the bodies and functions that they are scrutinising are actually scrutinisable. That is where we've got to put all our energy, and all our imagination and all our effort. Bolting a Board of Scrutiny onto the proposed structure or onto any other structure won't solve our accountability problem. If we get accountability right, we do not need any kind of bolted-on body. Now, I think there's a good deal more work to do before we get an ethos of accountability right. I do think that it can be done within the structure that's in the revised Green Paper. We have got to pay attention to process. We've got to put accountability first, so that we can get on with our work and further those core values of freedom, democracy and collegiality. Thank you.
Dr M.J. Collins, University CollegeMr Vice-Chancellor, members of this House, there are two key issues which we should be facing today as we have seen both how the University is administered (I use that term rather than governed) but also by whom. Like the Warden of New College, I was once Assessor, but longer ago than the living memory of some here, and when we were on Council and General Board, those bodies actually met every week and there was too much business for them then. It is really for this reason that I fully support the bicameral approach to governance. Maybe the abolition of the old Hebdomadal Council and General Board was a necessity in order to reinvent them in the correct fashion.
But in looking at the general administration of the University, we should not forget that you have what happens up here but alsoand I don't want to get involved in details herethat all the tentacles down here, which are just, quite frankly, at the moment like a spider's web. They have to be dealt with and I'm sure that many of the frustrations of members of this House come from that. But moving to the top, we have to look very carefully at the duties and responsibilities of those bodies and their relationship both to each other and, as has been pointed out, to Congregation.
I am a mathematician. Mathematicians live by theorems and by their proofs. If you think you want to prove a theorem, you test it, to start with, by examples. And, therefore, here, we should be saying, 'Let's not take the disasters like Isidore and Osiris, let's take the greatest success of this house, mentioned earlier, to move the Saïd Business School from green fields to the station area, where it actually rejuvenated the city'. And let us not forget that this University is part of the city. Congregation has a major role to play and I would hope that a subsequent document to this actually shows us how the structures filter through and how Congregation retains its ultimate responsibility to this University.
We should ask, perhaps, who administers this University and what is the role of these external trustees. I am a great friend of Derek Wood. I sat in front of him once in the Court of Appeal [reference made to a case that he cited] and I value his opinion. His Opinion is quite straightforward when it comes to outside trustees. 'There is no legal requirement ... and no breach of the law involved if it consists wholly of insiders.' The issue as a matter of law of 'inside vs outside' trustees is void. And in consequence, the logic of a lot of the Green Paper starts to evaporate with a great deal being contingent on the use of the term 'best practice'well, we think of Cadbury and Hicks, and Cadbury didn't last very longin terms of how one should manage.
But I also have doubts about this idea that, as employees, we should not be in the majority of trustees. I think [that] the concept of employees is what is essentially wrong here because what characterises this Universityor used tois that we are here today as Senior Members of a Corporation to which we owe allegiance, not a worker mentality. I hope that the University can return to that corporate sense in the soonest possible time. Many of my colleagues in leading universities where I have held visiting appointments over the years have often envied the fact that Oxford is self-governing and that here one is not subservient to an administration. That, I hope, will always be preserved. But I think it absolutely right that we should have outside members of the Council for their special expertise, whether it be finance, law, political influence, even property or even, dare I say it, the ability to identify potential failures of Isidore and Osiris. There are even people in this University who can build computer systems like one known to a number of us called Socrates, that was tested to destruction and worked first time.
That said, how are these external members to be appointed? And that is where I have a great problem with the proposal as it stands of this Nominating Committee. Because what the University needsand there is no reason why these outsiders need a majority if they are the right outsiders[is that] by sheer power and force of character they should be able to lead the University both inside and out. So the numbers should not be material. It should not necessarily be just a majority. After all, what happens if someone is ill and the majority swings? But there must be the ability to appoint exactly the people whom the University needs and I think the nominating process proposed is wrong.
Why do I think it is wrong? Because first of all, will the people you really want in fact be prepared to stand if they know [that] they are up against some sort of possible internal opposition? Conversely, is that ability of the members of Congregation to propose outsiders for Council simply going to be a figleaf? These are issues which are not addressed and where, I think, the logic of the Green Paper falls down. I think it would actually be far better to have a Council with a majority that is from inside because, on that basis, a strong group of outsiders will actually be more influential in that they will actually be forced to express their opinions in order to persuade people that really their skills are right.
I would hope, Mr Vice-Chancellor, and one reason to bring in outsiders is, of course, to enhance the role of the Chancellor. You share with Sir Richard Southwood the distinction of having the process for your appointment taking place in the absence of a Chancellor. In 1987, when Harold Macmillan died, I actually wrote an article in the Oxford Magazine entitled 'Whither the Chancellorship?' and my basic thesis then was that one should seek a positive role for a Chancellor, not merely a figurehead; a man or woman who could speak for Oxford in the outside world so that, with all due respect to you, the Vice-Chancellor can actually manage the shop back home. I think that here we are creating a role for a Chancellor and I welcome that.
But in the same way, in general I believe that the University should have the strength of purpose to demand that to which it is entitled and that which it itself thinks right, and not merely to cave in to vague political threats.
Professor J.L. Meakins, Balliol CollegeVice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, thank you for the opportunity as a strangerI've only been here for three yearsto comment on this very important governance Discussion Paper, with which I am in general agreement, as are my personal contacts in the Division of Medical Sciences. I'm the Nuffield Professor of Surgery and I work in Headington, not in Oxford itself, and come from a Times Higher Education Supplement well-ranked institution, McGill University in Montreal.
Overall, Oxford has moved to fourth behind Cambridge, MIT and Harvard. One might say that all is well and why change anything? However, these are yesterday's rankings on yesterday's data and we are in financial difficulties, which will require years of excellent management and access to the outside world, both financially and politically, to resolve. Oxford's made up of two, it seems to me, intertwined but separate units: the collegiate body and the University, which is largely a research and administration function, and manages hundreds of millions of pounds, a significant amount of which is public moneyresearch grants, charitable support and Government grants. No corporate body with this cash flow, whether a charitable foundation, public company, a hospital or a world- class research-intensive university manages these sums without the equivalent of the proposed Councili.e. a board of directors, effectivelyexcept Oxford and Cambridge.
We are presented with the opportunity to pre-empt any central body from forcing change by creating it ourselves to suit Oxford's unique culture, specifically a Council, essentially a board of directors with a balance of executive and non-executive (i.e. external) members plus an Academic Board each with Congregation oversight. External members are powerful friends, who will bring vast experience in management of complex organisations and experienced leaders of large corporate bodies which, whether we like it or not, research- intense universities have become.
External Council members will have four roles. First, to link to and work with the UK's very powerful centrist tendencies of politicians and civil servants in Oxford's best interests. Second, to hold the administration to account for the management of the financial affairs of the University and its human resources, for which academics have little time or interest. We spend money better than we manage it. Third, to ask the administration the difficult questions in a timely manner. And fourthly, to stay out of academic affairs. That is the job of the Academic Board. Carpe diem. Thank you.
Professor R.W. Ainsworth, Master of St Catherine's CollegeOur institution is a very complex and organic beast, which we need to take the time to understand fully in order to help its development in the most sensible way. There are three themes which I would like to highlight today in the context of reforming our governance. We need to ensure the community has confidence in due process across the piste of University business. We need to insist that the Vice-Chancellor is properly supported by sage technical and political advice from a broad base. And we need to take whatever time might be needed to absorb the features of all proposals, allowing further consultation and the building of confidence.
If I take the first of thesethe confidence of the community in due process. As far as the governance reforms are concerned, quite some effort has been expended by the working party, governing bodies of colleges, departmental and divisional committees and, of course, those who have proposed alternative arrangements. Compared to the original proposals in the Green Paper, there are those who would say that the reduction in size of the Academic Board from 150 down to thirty-odd indicates that the working group is totally in touch with the community. Others use this change as a demonstration of how poorly thought out the initial proposal was, calling into question their confidence in the process by which the proposals have been developed.
This issue of confidence in the proposals for governance reform could be addressed by calibrating the reforms against some of the recent challenges which have confronted the Universitythe proposals will need to produce improved outcomes, and to do this testing we need to be honest enough to want to understand where things could have gone better. A prime example of this must be in the deployment of Osirisrather like John Cleese and 'don't mention the war' so, one has to acknowledge, we are with Osiris. We recognise full well that introducing software systems into complex institutions is a challenge too far for many organisations, but we do need to face the recent past, to see if and where our governance was flawed, and to examine the proposals in front of us to see if they might have produced an improvement. Would a Board of Scrutiny help here, is the question. Clearly, from the responses published to the first consultation, the vast majority believe having one to be important.
My second point, insisting that the Vice-Chancellor be supported by broadly based technical and political advice, is linked to the first, the need for engendering the confidence of the community. Broadly based, rather than narrowly polarised is hugely important. The Vice- Chancellor has at least two choices, in promoting rapid changehe can put his head down and go in the direction he thinks to be right, or he can spend some time developing a broad consensus and taking people with him. The latter may not necessarily be the inefficient way in the long run. Few would disagree, I think, with the statement that the issue of the quantum has been badly handled this year. It is not surprising that a new Vice-Chancellor, particularly one with a background used to executive action, could find himself puzzled by the history of what had gone on before. But we have a right to expect that he will be properly advised. Has the agreed process been unilaterally disregarded, and if so, how could his advisers let this happen? We will only successfully introduce a JRAMhugely important to maximising the use of our slim resourcesif there is confidence from all sectors in the process by which it is considered, and seeing process fall down in one area has introduced anxieties in others.
My third point is about the importance of being more relaxed on timescales. In terms of timing, the working party has perhaps itself displayed a little lack of confidence. It would have been better to publish the responses to the initial Green Paper when they were available back in May rather than waiting for the publication of the revised proposals in September. It is not enough to go through the motions of consulting peopletime must be spent in absorbing what has been written. The whole community must have time to do this, not just the working party. I therefore urge Council to have the confidence to publish the further responses which have been requested to the revised governance proposals as they arise and to be very measured in assessing the appropriate timescale for contemplating further steps.
As small boys we engineers perhaps dreamed of driving steamrollers, steam locomotives or maybe even bulldozers when we grew up. But, even as youngsters, we probably realised that pulling all the levers simultaneously was not inclined to produce the action we desired, and that sometimes if the machinery was getting out of control, it was quite in order to use the lever marked 'brake'. Thank you.
Mr A. Dilnot, Principal of St Hugh's CollegeSpeaking from what was once five feet seven inches but with the passage of time, I think, is now less than that, I find it hard to imagine that Professor Ainsworth was ever a small boy. Of course, we all know that to move in a car you have to press and take careful control of more than one lever at the same time. Nonetheless, let me be brief since time is pressing on and we all have other things to do.
I really want to make three points, two of which I think have been made at great length already and very well. The first, made powerfully by Andrew Graham, was that we of all people should be confident that we will win any arguments. We believe in the power of arguments; we believe in the power of persuasive points well put. I think the idea that a Board, a Council, set of trustees with some externals on it might be driven along by a particular group seized of an incorrect idea, particularly when we now have the good fortune of having our objects so clearly set out, is one we simply should not fear. We all know that wenot for ourselves but for the world at largeare committed to the pursuit of knowledge, of truth, of understanding, of teaching. I don't think we need to worry that any group of externals might divert us from that.
The second point I want to make is with respect to a Board of Scrutiny. Now, scrutiny of decisions is of course absolutely vital and I think we all believe there might be some evidence that that's not always been done well in this institution, as in many others. But that really ought to be the job of entities within this institution already. We may well needindeed, I think we do needto do some work to make those institutions work better. But the real issue that this University faces is not 'have we made decisions that we have made well or badly?' It's much more important to ask which decisions have we not made that we should have made. Which strategic questions have we failed to address that we should have? In what ways are we putting at risk the extraordinarily noble and long traditions of this place? Is there a real chance that we will slip from the marvellous position that we have? I think there is. That is what the job of Council should be. Not simply the day-to-day checking that the right decisions are made, but asking the question where should we be going? What are the challenges that we must face as we go forward? In thatas Robin Butler, among others, so eloquently describedthe role of those from outside may be especially important.
Thirdly, I've asked myself this central question. What have we not done or what is unlikely to be done or done well, if we stick with roughly the structures we have at the moment? What would be done better if we moved to a structure with a large numberand eventually a majorityof externals? Our key job is to maintain the excellence of this institution, which transformed my life as a student and transformed the lives of those of us here and transforms the lives of many thousands of people, year by year, both directly and indirectly. How can we maintain such an extraordinary place?
Well, I think the key problem in this University is resources. Academic work is under- resourced. It's under-resourced in most ways because the burdens are too high and bluntlyand I'm sorry for this but I am, after all, an economistbecause academics are paid too little in this University, much too little. Is that an issue that a largely internal set of trustees is well-equipped to tackle? No, it is not, possibly legally and certainly in terms of the taste it would leave in the mouth. I think the biggest challenge for this University in the next five or ten years is working out how we are properly to resource academic work. If we don't do that, we will slip from the position that we now hold. If we are to do that, we rely on external members of our governing body because only they, as not being employees and trustees of the institution, can possibly take that forward. That, I think, is a clear example of why it is that we need to move towards a large representation of externals. While I'm entirely with all that's been said this afternoon about the need to generate consensus and rebuild trust, I think we may have done some of that work this afternoon in what's been an extraordinarily good tempered, helpful and fruitful exchange from which I've learnt.
I'm also very wary of taking too long because I think that these issues are urgent. I don't think that we can be sure that if we do relatively little, this University, which has meant so much to so many of us, will continue to be secure in its great position. So I commend the proposals set out in the Green Paper, much as they need great work still done to them, to this group because I think we do need to move forward. Thank you.
Professor D.J. Womersley, St Catherine's CollegeMr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation. History tells us that when a general returned in triumph to Rome, he paraded through the city to receive the adulation of the people, but in the chariot with him was a slave, whose task it was every now and again to whisper in his ear, 'And remember, you too are mortal!'
Sir, I think we can all agreeit maybe one of the few things on which this afternoon we can all agreethat the experience of those who have in recent months risen in Congregation to speak on behalf of Council has fallen some way short of that of a triumphant Roman general. Indeed, it has been almost its exact opposite. Reminders of our mortality have been served up in large quantities to our faces, and we have had to wait for any whispered words of commiseration or consolation until we have returned to our seats. All of which is exactly as it should be. But when our democracy is fermenting with the vivacity that it's shown over the past six months, an unintended consequence of that energy may be the creation of caricatures, which, although never explicitly stated or overtly deployed, nevertheless condition our exchanges by the way they tug at the language and the tone we employ in argument.
Our debates on governance have been haunted by two such caricatures. On the one hand, there's the caricature of those who support the proposals: ruthless managerialists, strangers to every true academic value, grimly determined to trample on every hallowed tradition in their headlong rush to seize, or tighten their grip upon, the levers of power. And then there's the caricature of those who oppose them: incorrigibly backward-looking, irremediably uncreative, reckless in their willingness to jeopardise the future of the University by blind opposition to the necessary reforms which alone can preserve it. Do either of these caricatures in fact exist, outside the twilight realm of shadowy assumption? I think, in both cases, absolutely not.
But even if those unlovely extremes did exist among us, it would not be to them that I would wish to address my remarks this afternoon. Instead, I wish to speak to those I take to be the overwhelming majority of Congregation. How do I characterise that majority? In the first place, they share a commitment to the University which goes far beyond anything which could be captured in the terms and conditions of a contract. They're aware that in the recent past the energies driving through the University, and the influences exerted upon it from outside, have created powerfully deforming pressures to which our inherited institutions have struggled to accommodate themselves. They feel remote from the fora within which decisions are taken in the University. They recognise that our collegiate structurewhich is, of course, in the first place our greatest strength and our defining featurecan nevertheless sometimes work so as needlessly to complicate or frustrate the flow of business. They would welcome more effective, and therefore less dramatic, ways of exercising a proper surveillance over the executive branch of the University than are currently available within our constitution. Indeed, they're probably in some doubt as to exactly what the constitutional powers of the Executive are.
I believe that the revised governance proposals directly meet the concerns of this majority of Congregation. The involvement of a greater number of external members of Council, willing to advocate the University's cause and to represent it both nationally and internationally, while at the same time competent to exercise searching oversight within, will add further robustness to both our internal controls and our ability to withstand external shocks. The proposed Academic Board is not as large, and therefore not as inclusive, a body as I had originally hoped it might be. But, even in its revised form, and taking into account its dependent committees, it offers the opportunity for a larger number of members of Congregation to be directly involved at the highest level in the more unified academic direction of the University. Finally, the clarification of the powers and delegations attaching to the office of Vice-Chancellor and, in particular, the rendering precise of the standing of that office-holder vis-à-vis the Council of the University, drastically reduces the scope for the exercise of vice-cancellarial prerogative. In our debates on the governance proposals, I've been surprised by how little comment there's been on one aspect of them, although I was pleased when John Wheater touched on it earlier this afternoon, namely the Vice-Chancellor's surrendering of the chairmanship of Council, with all that that entails in the way of the diminution of the Vice-Chancellor's power quietly to control the various agenda of the University. If, as I have sometimes heard it asserted, these proposals represent a naked bid for power on the part of the Senior Management Team, then, it must be said, coups d'état do not come much more subtle or oblique than this.
Two more brief comments, and then I've finished. Many voices have been raised in favour of a Scrutiny Committee, and the virtues of Cambridge's have been loudly praised. I suppose that I am part of a sizeable minority here whose first degrees are from that great, but younger, University. Everything I've read describing and extolling the Cambridge Scrutiny Committee has had the pleasing effect of taking me back to my late teens and early twenties, and I've seemed to breathe again the exhilarating air of the Fens. Why do I find that Scrutiny Committee so typical of the Cambridge I knew? It's because, in its largely retrospective principle of operation, the Cambridge Scrutiny Committee maximises the opportunity for rancour, while reducing institutional effectiveness. By all means let us learn from the experience of other universities. Let us in particular learn from Cambridge, where the broad similarities of organisation should teach us much. But please, do not let us follow Cambridge in what is almost the defining confusion of that University, namely the mistaken belief that intellectual and institutional probity can be purchased only at the price of perpetual self- lacerationan error which I find crystallised in their Scrutiny Committee.
All long-lived institutions undergo periodic episodes of self-renewal, and Oxford has been embroiled in just such an episode since the formation of the Commission of Inquiry under Sir Peter North, as he himself mentioned earlier this afternoon. So although some of the results of the North Report would be undone were the revised governance proposals to be adopted, I nevertheless see our current debates as part of that same impulse of self-analysis and reform. In all such acts of self-renewal, our aim must be to identify the permanent, legitimate interests of those within the University; to preserve them by bringing them into an appropriate relationship with shifting external circumstances; and to achieve this by, where necessary, remodelling the arrangements and institutions which have been bequeathed to us. This is what we must mean by the maintenance of tradition. The maintenance of tradition is not the fetishising of an inherited dispensation. Rather, it involves the sifting of what is vital from what is adventitious, and the preservation of what is vital in a form well- adapted to meet current emergencies.
Sir, I believe that the revised governance proposals perform that act of sifting and
preservation. In so doing, I believe that they meet the legitimate, permanent, concerns of the
majority of Congregation. For that reason, Mr Vice-Chancellor, I hope that they will, in due
course, receive the support of that majority.
Registrar's note on the process followed in relation to the Quantum for 20056
Reference is made in some of the speeches above to the 20056 Quantum. It is important to ensure that there is a correct public record of the process followed.
The process followed in relation to discussion of the Quantum uplift for 20056, and as reported to Council, was as follows:
At meetings with Heads of House on 10 May 2005 and Estates Bursars on 19 May the Vice- Chancellor proposed that an uplift of 4.1 per cent be agreed for the Quantum for 20056. The Estates Bursars' calculation was that the uplift should, on the basis of the Agreement in place, be 8.64 per cent.
At its meeting on 26 May the Conference of Colleges supported (with one dissenting college) a proposal drawn up by a group of Estates Bursars (EBC 05/34). This proposal, which was for acceptance of a 4.1 per cent increase on the basis of certain conditions, was subsequently considered by the Governing Bodies of colleges.
The Chairman of the Estates Bursars' Committee reported to the Standing Committee of Conference at its meeting on 14 June that most colleges had accepted this proposal. At the same meeting the Chairman of Conference reported that the Vice-Chancellor had serious difficulties with the conditions set out in CONF 05/34, and shared with members of Standing Committee a draft letter that the Vice-Chancellor had prepared to send to Heads of House. After discussion in the Standing Committee it was agreed that the Chairman and the Vice- Chairman of Conference should seek a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor for further discussion of these issues.
Following this meeting, which took place on 15 June, the Vice-Chancellor wrote to the Chairman of Conference thanking colleges for their acceptance of the 4.1 per cent figure, referring to his difficulties with the conditions in CONF 05/34 and proposing that a way be sought to reach agreement for 20067.
This letter was tabled at the meeting of Conference on 23 June. After a lengthy discussion twenty-one colleges supported (six against) a proposal that the Chairman reply to the effect that Conference accepted the Vice-Chancellor's proposal that the Agreement, to whose existence Conference attached great importance, should be reviewed by Officers of the Conference and of the Council with respect to the Quantum for 20067. Nineteen colleges were ready to vote on behalf of their colleges in favour of the proposal that such a letter be sent. Eleven colleges wished to consult their Governing Bodies on the matter.
Subsequent responses from colleges indicated that a total of eleven colleges had dissented from the Chairman's letter being sent to the Vice-Chancellor.
At Council on 11 July Sir Victor Blank confirmed the point which had been made by the Vice-Chancellor in his detailed letter that the group of three provided for in the BuddMacmillan report to adjudicate annually on the Quantum uplift (Sir Alan Budd, Professor Iversen and himself) had concluded that because of changes in the HEFCE allocations it was no longer possible to apply the formula derived from the July 2000 agreement in order to calculate the uplift.
Members of Council expressed concern if any colleges believed that the University was seeking to breach the 21 July 2000 agreement as opposed to University representatives taking the view that the agreement was no longer capable of full implementation. The 2000 agreement had indicated that parity of treatment between the University and the colleges was expected to be the result of its implementation and if that was no longer possible within the confines of the Registrar's note of July 2000, then a new way forward was necessary. All agreed that it would be important to arrive at a JRAM as soon as possible. Council confirmed Conference's proposal that its representatives should meet with nominees of the University to consider the position for 20067.
Footnote1 Members of Council at the meeting which agreed to commend the report to the University were Mr Vice-Chancellor, Principal of Linacre, Principal of Somerville, Master of St Catherine's, Sir Victor Blank, Professor Fallaize, Dr Fleming, Dr Gregory, Mr Hay, Professor Iversen, Dr Judson, Dr Macmillan, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, Professor Softley, Mr Taylor, Professor Thrift, Dr Walker, Professor Womersley, Senior Proctor (Professor Grafen), Junior Proctor (Professor Daniel).
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Supplement (1) to Oxford University Gazette No. 4749. Wednesday, 9 November 2005.