Commission of Inquiry - Summary of Responses to the Commission's Consultative Paper on the University's Objectives, Structure, Size and Shape - (3) to No 4403



<br /> Ox. Univ. Gazette: Commission of Inquiry: Summary of Responses<br />

Oxford University Gazette

Commission of Inquiry: Summary of Responses to the Commission's
Consultative Paper on the University's Objectives, Structure, Size,
and Shape

Supplement (3) to Gazette No. 4403

Monday, 3 June 1996



Contents of the supplement:



  • Introduction


  • (i)

    The Commission's assumptions


  • (ii)

    Should the University continue to seek to restrict
    growth in student numbers to one per cent per annum, or should it
    instead seek
    either to limit growth completely, or to contract, or to expand at a
    different
    rate?

  • (iii)



    Whether or not there is any overall growth in
    student numbers, should there be any change in the balance between
    numbers of
    graduate and of undergraduate students?


  • (iv)


    If there should be growth in total student numbers,
    should this come primarily from growth in undergraduate or in
    graduate
    students, or a combination reflecting the current proportions of
    each?

  • (v)



    If a policy of growth is to be pursued, should the
    present colleges increase the size of their membership, or should
    more
    colleges be founded? If the latter, how should the necessary funds
    be
    obtained?

  • (vi)


    Should constraints on the availability of space be
    regarded as setting a limit on how far the University could (whatever
    other
    considerations might apply) grow any further?

  • (vii)


    If growth is to continue, should the University
    consider developing sites outside the centre of Oxford? If so, which
    activities might be located outside Oxford and which not?

  • (viii)


    If growth in research activity is to continue,
    should this be at the expense of teaching, or in addition to it?

  • (ix)


    How far (if at all), and in what ways, would it be
    sensible for the University to encourage more focusing of research
    activity on
    particular areas of priority, perhaps providing a greater degree of
    central
    direction?

  • (x)


    Should colleges specialise—to a much greater
    degree than present—in the subjects which their students study,
    and if
    so, should any distinction be made between undergraduate and graduate
    students
    in this respect?

  • (xi)


    Do you consider that all graduate students should
    continue to be required to be members of a college?

  • (xii)


    Should graduate students continue to be admitted
    by colleges which also admit undergraduate students, or should they
    only be
    admitted by (a possibly enlarged number of) graduate colleges? What
    would be
    the implications of the latter course? Should admission be
    restricted in any
    way by field of study?

  • (xiii)


    What, if any, should be the colleges' academic
    role in graduate provision?

  • (xiv)


    What do you consider to be the advantages and
    disadvantages of the present system of joint appointments? Do you
    have any
    concerns about the current operation of the joint appointments
    system?

  • (xv)


    What kind of international links should Oxford
    promote?

  • (xvi)


    What benefits do you believe can come from
    such links?

  • (xvii)


    Other points

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June 1996)

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Introduction

1. In February this year the Commission issued a consultative
paper on the
University's objectives, structure, and future size and shape.
Overall, some
3,500 copies of the paper were distributed. A total of 108 replies
was
received, 70 responses coming from individuals, 26 from colleges, and
12 on
behalf of faculty boards, sub-faculties, departments and committees.

2. The Commission has agreed that members of the University may
find it
helpful to have an idea of the views which emerged from this
consultation, and
accordingly is publishing for information the following summary of
responses
to each of the questions posed in the consultative paper. Headings
and
question numbers refer to those used in the consultative paper.

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(i) The Commission's assumptions

3. A large majority of respondents supported the Commission's
assumptions.
However, a significant minority (about 20) either sought to qualify
the
assumptions or to challenge them. The five commonest points may be
summarised
thus. First, a number of respondents suggested that the assumptions
were
bland, largely unexceptionable and thus usually difficult to
challenge, and
that they failed to address the serious and difficult issues which
lay behind
them.

4. Secondly, there was a view that the Commission should not
dismiss the
further development of part-time courses, or the possibility of
non-residential provision. There was particular interest in the
possibility of
part-time/non-residential provision for graduate students.

5. Thirdly, several respondents argued that it was unrealistic to
expect
the University to attain the highest standards in both teaching and
research
across all subjects; there would increasingly be a need to prioritise
different subject areas and different areas of activity within them,
if only
because of resource constraints. Fourthly, on the assumption that
Oxford
should continue to be a democratic institution, some respondents
strongly
endorsed this point, whereas others challenged it. Those in the
latter
category did so either on the basis that Oxford was not at present a
genuinely
democratic institution at all, or on the basis that it was too
democratic and
that it had as a result become `unmanageable'.

6. Finally, as regards the assumption that Oxford should continue
to be a
collegiate University, there was generally warm support for this from
colleges, but a few respondents (all individuals) suggested that
colleges
enjoyed too much autonomy, and attention was also drawn to problems
created by
inequalities in the resources available to different colleges. The
position of
those excluded from college life (especially research staff and other
academic-related staff) was also cited as an important issue.

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(ii) Should the University continue to seek
to
restrict growth in student numbers to one per cent per annum, or
should it
instead seek either to limit growth completely, or to contract, or to
expand
at a different rate?

7. Almost all those who commented favoured either a steady state
University or the restriction of growth to a maximum of about one per
cent per
annum.

8. Of those favouring steady state there were varying degrees of
concern
about or hostility towards the prospect of any further growth. One
college
favoured steady state coupled with a `vigilant commitment to abolish
the
obsolete' so as to make room for new developments. Other respondents
also
suggested that in order to incorporate new developments, there had to
be the
prospect of running down certain activities. One wanted to stop the
growth in
graduate numbers, although this view was not common.

9. Of those respondents favouring a policy of limiting growth to
a maximum
of one per cent per annum, some saw growth along these lines as
inevitable
rather than desirable, whereas others thought it was a positive good
and was
the only realistic way of providing for the development of new areas
of
teaching and research. Some commentators favoured growth in graduate
numbers
and in research activity, rather than in undergraduate work. There
were,
however, a number of concerns about the implications of further
growth. Some
were worried about the impact on the quality of the University's
work, and on
the nature of the institution. Others were concerned that growth
should not be
allowed unless sufficient resources were available, and suggested
that it
would be difficult to countenance without adequate increases in
public
funding. Others were concerned about the implications of growth for
colleges.

10. Two respondents wanted the University to contract. No one
favoured a
policy of substantial growth, although several suggested that any
rigid policy
should be avoided so as to enable growth to occur where it was
desired. There
was also the suggestion that growth should be permitted in numbers of
part-time students.

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(iii)Whether or not there is any overall
growth in
student numbers, should there be any change in the balance between
numbers of
graduate and of undergraduate students?

11. Of those responding to this question, there was a tendency to
favour
some increase in the proportion of graduate students at the expense
of
undergraduates. However, there was also a feeling (almost as strong)
that the
current balance was about right, and that it should not significantly
be
altered. A few respondents thought that there should be fewer
graduate
students, whilst others argued that the question should largely be
left to
individual faculties and departments to determine, and that a fixed
overall
ratio would be inflexible and was unnecessary. Otherwise, there was
some
concern about the quality of provision for graduates in some subject
areas,
and the view was expressed that there should be no further expansion
in
graduate numbers without adequate resources.

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(iv) If there should be growth in total
student
numbers, should this come primarily from growth in undergraduate or
in
graduate students, or a combination reflecting the current
proportions of
each?

12. Responses to this question, where offered, broadly reflected the
thrust of
replies to questions 2 and 3 above. Those advocating some growth
generally
suggested that it should come mainly from increases in graduate
students,
although this was by no means the exclusive view. Overall, while some
respondents believed that there must be some continuing growth in the
proportion (and total numbers) of graduate students in Oxford, there
was no
widespread desire for any significant change in the current
proportions of
graduate and undergraduate students, and one or two respondents would
positively oppose this. Finally, there were some comments to the
effect that
the expansion of undergraduate syllabuses, and the tendency towards
longer
degree courses (which in one case was regarded as a positive
development),
were nonetheless putting additional pressures on the resources
available for
undergraduate teaching, and that this point should be borne in mind
in
considering the balance between undergraduate and graduate work.

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(v) If a policy of growth is to be pursued,
should
the present colleges increase the size of their membership, or should
more
colleges be founded? If the latter, how should the necessary funds
be
obtained?

13. By no means all respondents commented on this question, but of
those who
did a majority took the view that for one reason or another it would
be
undesirable for new colleges to be founded. This was either because
they were
opposed in general to any policy of growth, or because they believed
that
there were now sufficient colleges, and that growth should be
concentrated in
the smaller ones or those which needed to increase their student
numbers to
improve their financial position. There was also some concern that
colleges
were an increasingly uneconomic proposition, and that any further
expansion in
the number of colleges should be opposed because of the high
overheads
involved in their establishment, and the general diseconomies of
scale which
this would represent. There were other concerns about the financial
problems
of certain colleges.

14. One or two respondents suggested that a small increase in the
number of
graduate colleges might be desirable. Several advocated a laissez
faire

policy, arguing in effect that only through private benefactions
would new
colleges be founded, and that if such benefactions appeared then
there was no
reason why there should be a general policy of refusing them.

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(vi) Should constraints on the availability
of space
be regarded as setting a limit on how far the University could
(whatever other
considerations might apply) grow any further?

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(vii) If growth is to continue, should
the
University consider developing sites outside the centre of Oxford?
If so,
which activities might be located outside Oxford and which not?

15. Many respondents did not comment on these two questions,
regarding their
answers to earlier questions to the effect that the University should
not grow
any further at having covered these points by implication. Of those
who did
respond, most took the two questions together. There were four main
strands to
the comments submitted. First, a number of respondents thought that
growth
outside the City of Oxford (or beyond the ring road) would be
undesirable and
would have a deleterious effect on the character of the University
and on the
working lives of students and staff. Some of those making this point
readily
accepted that space was therefore a constraint, but since they did
not favour
any significant growth then this was quite acceptable. Some comments
were made
to the effect that priority should be given to maintaining existing
buildings
and facilities. A second strand of comment was recognition on the
part of some
respondents that some growth outside the city was inevitable if the
University
was to continue to develop and grow. Sometimes this view was adopted
reluctantly, but in other cases more positively. Arising from this
was a third
point, namely that there were already successful examples of
developments away
from the centre of Oxford which might be followed in future and in
other
cases. One or two respondents suggested that the University should
look to new
sites within the ring road. Finally, a point made by several
respondents was
that if expansion outside Oxford were to be found necessary in order
to
overcome constraints on space, then it should be pursued cautiously
and
carefully, looking at each case for such expansion on its own merits.

16. Overall, therefore, views were mixed in response to these two
questions. On the one hand were those who thought that for whatever
reason
growth outside the city was undesirable or unnecessary. On the other
there
were those who believed that some growth outside Oxford would be
inevitable,
but that this would be a necessity rather than a virtue in its own
right.

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(viii) If growth in research activity is
to
continue, should this be at the expense of teaching, or in addition
to it?

17. Of the straightforward answers to this question, those believing
that
growth in research should be in addition to teaching outnumbered
those who
believed it should be at the expense of it by about four to one.
However, other
respondents either wished to qualify the question or offered no
direct answer,
and the following were amongst the points which arose.

18. First, a significant number of respondents argued (in one way
or
another) that more time for research could be provided by more
efficient
organisation of teaching. The point was made several times that the
present
tutorial system, and the division of responsibility for organising
teaching
between colleges and the University, was inefficient and took up far
too much
time. More class teaching, and better organisation of teaching
resources,
would enable research to increase without any diminution in the
numbers of
undergraduate or graduate students. Another point made in a number of
different ways was that rather than seek to increase research
activity at the
expense of teaching, more time should be made available for research
by
reducing the administrative responsibilities borne by individual
academics.
More flexible allocation of duties to individuals, better
administrative
support for academics, and the creation of some specialist research
and
teaching posts, would all help to enable both research and teaching
to
continue to exist or to grow together. It was suggested that the data
being
obtained from the survey of teaching staff might well provide
important
information to help deal with this issue.

19. Another point made by a number of respondents was that,
arguably,
research was already growing at the expense of teaching because
increasing
amounts of undergraduate teaching were being undertaken by teachers
employed
(often by colleges) on an ad hoc basis and at piece-work
rates. This was seen
by some as a serious problem. One respondent argued that both
teaching and
research could continue to grow provided it was recognised that the
traditional model under which those who taught also did research, and
vice
versa, was no longer workable.

20. Other comments made included the view that research and
teaching were
interdependent, and that the dichotomy posed in the consultative
paper was
therefore a false one. High class teaching was said to depend on good
research, whilst teaching was thought to be an important way of
disseminating
research findings and ensuring that students absorbed an inquiring,
investigative research culture. Another respondent argued that the
Commission
should consider the implications of Sir Ron Dearing's proposals for
16-19
education for the University's undergraduate teaching.

21. Thus the general view was that teaching—both
undergraduate and
graduate—should not be reduced in order to provide resources and
time to
increase research activity. Rather, more efficient and flexible
organisation
of teaching and reduced administrative responsibilities would provide
most of
the answers to the question posed. There was however concern that
Oxford's
undergraduate teaching was already suffering because of the growth in
research, and that the problem of the `casualisation' of much
undergraduate
teaching had to be faced.

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(ix) How far (if at all), and in what ways,
would it
be sensible for the University to encourage more focusing of research
activity
on particular areas of priority, perhaps providing a greater degree
of central
direction?

22. There was considerable—although not unanimous—hostility
to the
idea that the University's central bodies should determine areas of
priority
in research. It was argued that the determination of such priorities
must be
set at the subject level, which might in many cases mean the level of
the
individual. However, there were some strong statements to the effect
that the
University must find a mechanism to facilitate better coordination
and
planning of research priorities at the subject level, with consequent
implications for resource allocation. Several responses from outside
bodies
involved in funding research in Oxford also emphasised this point
strongly.

23. Overall, therefore, there is little or no support for the idea
of a
higher degree of central direction, but there is support for the kind
of
approach to this question set out in paras. 316-330 of the Coopers
& Lybrand
report.

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(x) Should colleges specialise—to a
much
greater degree than present—in the subjects which their students
study,
and if so, should any distinction be made between undergraduate and
graduate
students in this respect?

24. Of those giving a straightforward response to this question, a
majority
(just over 20) were clear that colleges should not specialise (in
two cases
the answer ` no' was accompanied by a `resounding'). However a small
number of
respondents thought that in one way or another colleges should
specialise to a
greater degree, one respondent suggesting that there should be
`experiment'
along these lines.

25. Where responses were elaborated in more detail, the commonest
view was
that in the case of undergraduates, greater specialisation was
generally
undesirable, but that it already took place to a limited extent
already, and
that pressures to specialise more and to cease to take (or continue
not to
take) students for small or joint schools, would increase. In the
case of
graduate students, a number of respondents thought that
specialisation was
more acceptable, but the most commonly held view was no single model
should be
imposed or regarded as better than any other. Two graduate colleges
set out
the advantages as they saw it of taking students from a very wide
range of
subjects, whereas another thought that some specialised graduate
colleges and
some non-specialised ones could happily exist side by side as they
did at
present. One respondent suggested that greater specialisation amongst
graduates would tend to occur as they sought to go to the college
which had
clear teaching and research strengths in their particular subject.
Two
respondents emphasised the extent to which colleges already do
specialise at
both undergraduate and graduate level.

26. Overall, therefore, the general view was that the current
position in
terms of specialisation by subject, both for undergraduate and
graduate
students, was probably about right, and that individual colleges
should be
left to decide for themselves how to develop. There might be growing
pressure
for some greater degree of specialisation at both undergraduate and
graduate
level—pressure being both academic and financial—but the
system
should be allowed to develop without any overall policy being
imposed.

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(xi) Do you consider that all graduate
students
should continue to be required to be members of a college?

27. Most of those who responded to this question directly thought
that
graduates should continue to be members of colleges. There were
however a
small number of dissenting voices who argued that the colleges made
no
significant contribution to graduate work. Some outside respondents
expressed
scepticism about the contribution of colleges to graduate work in
return for
the graduate fee. There was concern that some graduate students found
it very
difficult to find the resources to pay college fees, and some
suggestion that
exemptions from the requirement to pay college fees could be provided
in case
of genuine hardship. One respondent urged the creation of a category
of
non-collegiate graduates, which would be equally appropriate for
mature
students and/or those with families. Overall, however, the view was
that
continued membership of a college by all graduate students brings
many
benefits for most graduate students, and is important in ensuring
that Oxford
continues to be a collegiate University.

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(xii)Should graduate students continue to
be
admitted by colleges which also admit undergraduate students, or
should they
only be admitted by
(a possibly enlarged number of) graduate
colleges? What
would be the implications of the latter course? Should admission be
restricted in any way by field of study?

28. Again, there was almost universal agreement that graduates
should
continue, as at present, to be admitted both by graduate only
colleges and
mixed graduate/undergraduate colleges. It was argued that it would be
impracticable as well as undesirable to force all graduate students
into
graduate-only colleges—this would require either the founding of
new
graduate colleges, or the conversion of existing
graduate/undergraduate
colleges. The present diversity and choice offered to graduates was
desirable,
and it was felt that graduate students made a positive contribution
to the life of
those colleges which also admitted undergraduates. There is thus no
support
for changing the present position.

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(xiii) What, if any, should be the
colleges'
academic role in graduate provision?

29. In general, there was a very clear view that colleges should
have an
academic role in graduate provision. A significant number of
responses argued
that this role should be increased, both because this was desirable
in its own
right, and because it was the only way of ensuring the continuance of
a
collegiate model for graduate provision. Some respondents argued that
graduate
students should wherever possible belong to their supervisors'
colleges, and
some suggested that colleges might take more of a role in providing
graduate
teaching in taught courses. There was some reference to the
difficulties which
certain colleges might have in assuming any greater role in graduate
provision; a suggestion that colleges should seek to provide
financial support
for graduates; and an argument that colleges should specialise more
by
concentrating their graduate students in a selected range of
disciplines. 30.
Overall, therefore, there was a view that colleges should assume a
significant
academic role in graduate provision, that this could be more positive
in many
cases, and (a point made several times) that the University should
continue to
ensure that the recommendations of the 1987 Roberts Report in this
respect
were implemented effectively.

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(xiv) What do you consider to be the
advantages
and disadvantages of the present system of joint appointments? Do
you have
any concerns about the current operation of the joint appointments
system?

31. This question provoked some lengthy responses. A number of
those
commenting, particularly the colleges, simply stated their continuing
support
for the joint appointments system, with little further comment. There
was no
support for a wholesale move to the Cambridge system.

32. Several respondents thought that the proposal for a single
contract was
the best way forward and the best means of preserving a system of
joint
appointments.

33. Important criticisms of the present position occurred in a
number of
replies. Firstly, it was argued that much more flexibility was needed
in the
allocation of duties to be performed by an individual for the two
employers. A
point made several times was that graduate teaching needs in
particular were
insufficiently represented, which meant that it was proving difficult
to
allocate adequate resources to graduate provision. Another respondent
suggested that full scale joint appointments were not necessary, and
that some
University employees should have the option of having a college
attachment
without a full fellowship and without employment by the college.

34. A second general comment was that under the present system,
the poorer
colleges made a disproportionate contribution to the overall costs of
joint
appointments, and got fewer benefits in that they found it difficult
to
attract CUFs. A related point was that the considerable variations in
the
wealth of individual colleges, and the consequent effects for the
overall
`benefits packages' which they offered to their fellows, meant that
the
present system of joint appointments was not working properly and
might become
unsustainable. A third point was that colleges had too great an
influence over
the appointment of CUFs, and that the faculty's hand should be
strengthened so
that the University's need to make an appointment in a particular
area of a
discipline could be secured. This point was made in relation to
English,
Literae Humaniores, and Medieval and Modern Languages, where there
was concern
at the `lack of control' by the faculty over the subject of
appointments.

35. A final point was concern about those who were in effect
excluded from
the present joint appointments system, either because they were
employed by
colleges only, or because they were employed by the University on
fixed term
contracts and were excluded from the college system altogether.

36. Overall, therefore, most of those commenting on this issue
believed
that joint appointments should continue in some form, but that
greater
flexibility should be introduced, possibly through a single contract,
and that
the interests of graduate teaching and of research should not be
overshadowed
by those of undergraduate teaching in the allocation of duties and in
the
specification of a field in which an appointment was to be made.

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(xv) What kind of international links
should Oxford
promote?


(xvi) What benefits do you believe can
come from
such links?

37. Only a minority of respondents commented on these two questions,
those
that did generally taking them together.

38. In general, it was felt that formal, institutional level links
were
unhelpful, and simply served to increase bureaucracy. Where such
formal links
existed, their primary purpose should be to encourage links at
individual or
departmental level. The benefits accruing from international links
were
thought to be many. They provide intellectual stimulus, a wider sense
of
responsibility, and serve to promote Britain's national interests by
making
known the achievements of its higher education sector. Links were
helpful in
broadening individuals' horizons, stimulating new developments in
research,
and attracting high quality students, particularly at graduate level.

39. Other comments included the view that poor colleges were
unfavourably
placed to promote international links through attracting visiting
fellows, etc.,
and that measures should be taken to deal with this problem. Two
respondents
stressed the need to focus on developing links with Europe rather
than just
with the English speaking world or with the Far East.

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(xvii) Other points

40. A number of other points, not directly addressed by the
consultative
paper, were also made in some of the responses. Examples included
concern that
the question of gender was apparently not being addressed by the
Commission;
belief that those working in the sciences receive no benefits from
being part
of the University; and concerns that there should be more
intercollegiate co-
operation in many areas.

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