Report of the Joint Working Party on Governance - (1) to No 4496

<br /> Oxford University Gazette: Congregation debate on governance<br /> (supplement)

Oxford University Gazette

Report of the Joint Working Party on Governance

Verbatim Report of Proceedings in Congregation

Supplement (1) to Gazette No. 4496

Wednesday, 13 January 1999

To Gazette
No. 4497 (14 January 1999)

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The verbatim report of the debate in Congregation on
1 December on the general resolution concerning the
Report of the Joint Working Party on Governance
is set out below.

The general resolution read as follows:

That this House take note of the Report of the Joint Working
Party on Governance.

List of speeches made:


Mr Vice-Chancellor

I have come down to introduce this debate not as Vice-Chancellor
so much as the chairman of the working party which has elaborated
consultative document. My purpose is to lay out very
generally on behalf of the working party what it has sought to
achieve. Let me begin, therefore, by reiterating that this is a
consultative document. The working party has put out a number of
proposals for consultation; they have been considered or are
being considered by the bodies throughout the University; a
number of seminars and meetings have been held at which
individuals as well as heads of department and chairmen of
faculty boards have commented to members of the working party.
This meeting of Congregation represents a further step in the
consultation, giving an opportunity for those members who so wish
to make their views known. The working party will consider all
these comments early next term and it will amend the proposals
in light of the expression of collective wisdom. It is hoped to
proceed to more formal steps after that.

When the Report of the Commission of Inquiry was received, it was
apparent that two themes were central: governance, and joint
appointments. The Working Party on Governance offers its
proposals for consultation now; the other working party, chaired
by the Chairman of the General Board, is actively engaged in
developing its ideas, which will be brought forward as soon as
is feasible. These present proposals do not, therefore, address
the issues of duties, etc., which belong to the second working
party, though they may provide some additional context for their

The working party has accepted the general validity of the
criticisms which the Commission of Inquiry directed at the
current structure of governance, and also the broad thrust of its
remedy. That is to say that the working party has accepted the
need for a more transparent, streamlined, and integrated
structure at the centre, where a strategic approach to university
policy can be combined with oversight of the functional areas of
the University. Therefore, the working party does see as crucial
the establishment of a single executive body under Congregation.
Furthermore, it has accepted the need to devolve decision- making
to appropriate levels within a `divisional' structure, with the
purpose of shortening decision lines, enhancing flexibility and
speed, ensuring that appropriate information is more readily
available, augmenting the involvement of those whom the decisions
most directly concern, and developing policies on teaching and
research which are appropriate to the broad subject area and
which can be implemented locally under devolved authority with
delegated resources. Such an initiative thus also means devolving
budgets and appropriate budgetary responsibilities. However, if
the University is to remain properly coherent and balanced, this
cannot be in any sense the creation of a set of autonomous areas.
Therefore, the activities of the divisions must be set within an
annually agreed planning frame, itself set within a larger and
longer frame. There has to be monitoring; and there should also
be more transparent resource allocation mechanisms so as to
enhance the clarity of financial flows, not least in order to
protect small units.

In some respects, the working party has departed significantly
from the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry. This is
most important probably in three areas. First, the working party
has sought (as far as it could) to embrace all interests in the
University, most obviously perhaps in respect of the colleges.
Second, it has sought to retain the strong democratic element
inscribed in this University's culture and it has tried to
reflect that in the processes by which membership of the various
bodies would be produced. Finally, the working party has chosen
a different model for the divisions (which the Commission called

In sum, the working party believes that a system of governance
which has long served the University does now in fact restrain
local responsibility and accountability, that it lengthens
decision-making lines and encourages micro-management at the
centre. It also considers that it would be difficult under
current arrangements to devolve budgets big enough to provide
adequate flexibility. The working party believes that its
proposals would enhance self-management and liberate innovation
through faster and better decision-making and administration in
a delegated system.

It is clear in the light of comments already received that there
is quite considerable sympathy with the basic model for the
future governance of the University, as refined by the working
party. Inevitably, there are some concerns, for instance over the
appropriate pattern for divisions in the sciences, over the
general organisation of divisions in the arts, and over the
position of small units. The working party will take close
account of those concerns, not least since the principles of
devolution it espouses require the development of `local' and
`regional' structures commanding the confidence of those most
affected by them. The working party looks forward to hearing and
learning from the comments that will be offered today. In that
spirit, I now formally move the general resolution.

Return to list of speeches

Professor R.W. Ainsworth (St Catherine's
College; Senior Poctor)

Mr Vice-Chancellor, it was Edmund Burke who said `All government,
indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every
prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.'

We have been lucky enough, as Proctors, to be in a position to
hear at first hand the developing lines of thought on the working
party's proposals, and perhaps to know a bit about why Burke
talked of `compromise and barter'. It would seem to me that the
proposals for reform at the centre are incontrovertible. Speed
of reaction seems to be
increasingly important for the University, in getting an
appropriate share of national resources. In our role, we have
seen the high degree of confidence placed in the managerial
capabilities of the General Board, and its committee structure,
by the scholars in their cells, or at their lab. benches. In my
view most academics do not want to get involved in
administration---they regard their `work' as research, or
teaching, or both. Their hope would be that the centre should be
efficiently organised, to take the necessary strategic decisions
with the minimum use of manpower resources, i.e. they do not want
to see too many people doing it. They would be a little alarmed
or puzzled at the batting to and fro of business between the
General Board and Council, and therefore, I think, relieved at
the proposals for a unified restructuring in the centre.

In my view, there is more to discuss in the proposals for local
reorganisation. Here, I perceive a possible arts/science divide.
As I have indicated already, both parties seemingly trust the
General Board to carry out the required task in terms of
priority/resource allocation. But a number of the sciences are
pressing to have their own decision- taking devolved to them, and
have been doing so for some time, wanting to control their own
pace on a number of
issues within an agreed overall plan. A divisional structure
would seem to give them more scope for this.

Some on the arts side have worried about the divisional
proposals---about perhaps being stranded on a desert island with
the wrong partner and finding an arm missing in the morning. They
would rather trust the General Board to protect their anatomy.
Conversely, however, and taking an example of partners of
differing sizes, it could be argued that Theology and Classics
could have a more
focused discussion of their respective claims under the
divisional structure, than under a General Board structure, where
all subjects are represented. Nevertheless, the proposed
structure, in terms of size and pairings, would seem to be an
important bit to get right. It seems that everyone can find
something wrong with their proposed partners. We are well used
to having to compromise within existing faculty board
partnerships (for instance, Engineering
can grumpily live with Chemistry's new building being the highest
priority for the Physical Sciences), so can this ability for
compromise and barter be extended?

The new divisions will need to have a large enough critical mass,
if they are to be capable of replacing the General Board's role,
of providing some elasticity between subject areas. This means
that the number of divisional boards in any new structure will
be critical---it may be necessary to compromise with the figure
of four.

One of my own worries has been the power that would reside in the
proposed heads of divisions. I believe we are well used to the
power vested in the office of Vice-Chancellor (although he
pretends he has not got any).

But in a head of division, because of this process of devolution,
we could be faced with executive decision-taking, very close to
areas of interest. Conversely, the power of
the Vice-Chancellor could wane over a period of time. I
believe the section in the working party's report covering the
accountability of the heads of divisions to their boards has been
carefully drafted, but I would want to see an
implementation of legislation with all democratic safeguards
included, to be relaxed in favour of executive
action if necessary, only on the authority of the relevant

It is not possible, in a document of manageable size, to work out
all the details which would follow from the adoption of the
revised system of governance, but with some of Burke's
`compromise and barter', there seems to be plenty to commend the
report for further consideration. Mr Vice-Chancellor, I beg to
second the resolution.

Return to list of speeches

Professor A.D. Smith (Lady Margaret

Mr Vice-Chancellor,
members of Congregation, I am speaking today as Chairman of the
Bioscience Research Board (which many of you may not have heard
of). This board was set up in 1990 by the General Board to give
advice on strategic matters in relation to developments in the
biological and medical sciences. It includes representatives from
all the biological sciences and from medicine. I would like to
tell Congregation that the Bioscience Research Board is strongly
in favour of the principles enunciated by the North Commission
and by the Joint Working Party on Governance; notably we are in
favour of the principles of devolution of budgets and of
executive authority to divisions. At a recent meeting of the
Committee of Heads of Science Departments, the heads also
strongly supported these principles.

This afternoon I would like to do two things: firstly, to explain
how the Bioscience Research Board and, indeed, the scientific
community as a whole, came to this view; and secondly, to set the
scene for Professor Rawlins, Chairman of Planning for the
Bioscience Research Board, who will explain why our board thinks
that the working party's proposals for just two divisions in the
sciences and medicine will not achieve the required goals (as
laid out by the Vice-Chancellor just now).

As soon as it was formed, the Bioscience Research Board realised
that there was a major problem in the way in which the University
governed the operation of the biomedical sciences, which for many
years has been the most rapidly growing part of the University.
The North Commission also recognised this problem, which derives
from the way in which research in the sciences is funded. In
crude terms, what has happened is that the General Board no
longer has control over the great bulk of the funds coming into
the University for the sciences and medicine. Yet, the General
Board still has to govern the science and medical departments.
So, governance is getting more and more divorced from the
resources available for research. As a result, decisions on
academic and strategic matters are either being made without
adequate know-
ledge or, worse still, are not made at all.

Let me put some flesh on these statements. The figures reported
by the North Commission showed that the University's research
grant income was, in today's pounds, £17m in 1965 but had
risen to £104m in 1995. The University's income from the
Funding Council and from student fees has not of course risen at
this remarkable rate. As a result, the proportion of income
managed directly by the General Board has dropped dramatically
and is now a mere 30 per cent of the total income. Members of
Congregation, what kind of organisation is it that can manage its
affairs and yet controls less than a third of its income?

Since at least 95 per cent of current outside grant income to the
University is in the sciences and medicine, we must look at the
proportions in these fields:

---in the physical sciences, the General Board grant comprises
27 per cent of total income;

---in the life sciences, the General Board grant comprises only
17 per cent of total income;

---in medicine as a whole the General Board grant comprises a
mere 6 per cent of total income;

---while in clinical medicine the General Board grant comprises
a tiny 2 per cent of total income.

In other words, in Clinical Medicine fifty times as much income
comes in from outside grants as from the General Board.

These financial facts underlie the concern amongst those in the
sciences and medicine that the present governance structures are
not adequate to deal with their areas. It is not that we wish to
have direct control over these research funds, which are of
course raised by individual members of academic staff for their
own research. However, we do recognise that funding on this scale
has to take place within a strategic framework and that it has
major implications for the management of the academic discipline
as a whole. Development of the necessary strategy and the
evolution of the academic base require both devolved authority
and devolved budgets, as recommended by the working party.

I have so far been speaking about the internal pressures that
have made us recognise the need for devolution. I would like to
turn now to a few of the external pressures.

The first of these was the decision by the Government to transfer
a large proportion of the research funding of universities from
the Funding Councils' allocation to that of the Research
Councils. Oxford was faced overnight with a shift of some
£12m out of its HEFCE allocation into the more nebulous and
unpredictable source of funds from the Research Councils.
Secondly, many organisations that provide a large amount of
research income for the University (by which I mean tens of
millions a year) have spoken about the difficulty they face in
finding exactly who in

Oxford represents the various sectors of science and medicine,
and they also complain about a corresponding lack of research
strategy in the University. Such a need is even more acute now,
since central government has the habit of announcing major
funding initiatives with very short deadlines and it will only
be those universities that are ready to respond who will be able
to benefit. Most recently, we have the Joint Infrastructure
Funding initiative, in which the Government and the Wellcome
Trust are making available well over half a billion pounds in
order to improve research infrastructure in universities. I am
sorry to say that I do not think that Oxford is as well prepared
as it should be to take advantage of such an
initiative and I fear that we run the risk of losing out to
better-prepared universities.

I can imagine that some of you who are not scientists might think
that these matters would not affect you and that the whole
governance issue might be an irrelevance. Perhaps it may not have
much immediate impact upon your work, but it is clear that times
are changing and the welcome establishment of the Arts and
Humanities Research Board will mean that you too will be faced
with similar issues in the future. I believe that it is of great
importance for the humanities and social sciences in this
University that they are organised in such a way that they can
respond effectively and rapidly to external funding initiatives.
The recommendations of the joint working party do, I believe,
provide the appropriate framework.

The principles of the framework are that the new divisions will
be decision-making bodies that will greatly
improve the efficiency, the accountability, and the transparency
of decision-making in this University, exactly as the
Vice-Chancellor told us. I can see five key features of the
divisions: each of the divisions must be:

---academically coherent;

---close enough to the delivery of teaching and research
in an academic area to be able to make well-informed

---able to respond rapidly to internal needs and to external
strategic policy changes;

---of manageable size and professionally managed, with due
democratic control (as the Senior Proctor emphasised);

---led by a person of stature who can represent their sector of
the University to the outside world.

My colleague Professor Rawlins will show how these principles can
best be implemented in the biological and medical sciences by
having two divisions, one of life and environmental sciences and
one of medicine; and I hope that Professor Bell will be able to
speak about medicine.

I would like to conclude, however, by urging that it is in the
best interests of the whole University to move in the direction
of governance reform. Possibly, as the Senior Proctor implied,
the rate of change could be different for different sectors of
the University, but the fact is we all share a common goal: the
pursuit of scholarship and research in order to discover
something new. There should be no division between the arts and
the sciences; we must not fall into C.P. Snow's trap of `two
cultures'. The aim is the same, but the way we achieve that aim
has changed radically in the sciences and medicine. Scientific
and medical enquiry can no longer take place, as it did in the
seventeenth century for Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, and Thomas
Willis, in the cellars of Christ Church and the pantries of
University College. Today's scientists work in teams; thus, each
member of the established academic staff in medicine is
responsible on average for a research budget of over a quarter
a million pounds a year and each directs the work of eight other
research staff.

These facts probably lie behind the phrase I have heard recently
that the University is being dominated by the `Science Barons'.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, I regret this
attitude: we all have the same aim, we are all dedicated to the
highest possible standards in research and teaching. All of us,
including some 3,000 scientific and medical research staff on
short-term contracts (and therefore not at the moment in this
Congregation), are members of the University and all are
dedicated to
its aims. We want the same success in scholarship and
research for the arts and for the sciences.

At the Encaenia twenty years ago in this very theatre, the then
Professor of Poetry, John Wain, epitomised the dynamic of this
great University as `originality grounded in tradition; vitality
continuously renewed'.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, we are today at a
watershed in the phase of renewal. If we do not grasp the present
opportunity to create a new governance structure, then we run a
grave risk of losing our vitality.

Return to list of speeches

Professor J.N.P. Rawlins (University

Mr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, I was one of those
who spoke in the debate on the North Commission report at which
people did speak,1 and I very much welcomed the overall aims of
the Commission's report; but I was worried by the specific
proposals that the Commission made over the proposed
super-boards. Much of what I said then still applies. I
wholeheartedly supported---and still do support—the thrust
of the proposed changes in governance, and more particularly the
proposals for amalgamated boards with devolved powers. I think
that it is simply vital to establish such boards. North suggested
a single science board (physical and life sciences in one, plus
a clinical medicine board as the other). I suggested that the
basic sciences could not be managed by the single board that
North suggested; I proposed that it might be necessary for there
to be two science boards alongside the clinical board. That view
found favour with at least some of my colleagues in both the
sciences and the arts. The present working party's proposal has
rearranged the boundaries of the proposed science and medicine
boards, but has left their number unchanged: it is still two, but
one is now a physical sciences board, while the other contains
the whole of life sciences and medicine.

It is important to register my support for the working party's
overall aims, and in this, I concur wholeheartedly with Professor
Smith. We need strategic thinking, and the ability to make speedy
and well-informed decisions. We need accountability and
transparency in our governance structures. In other words, it
must be clear who makes the decisions that affect our lives and
how those decisions are taken. To achieve these goals, we need
boards (or divisions) with decision-making powers: that, in turn
means devolved budgets, so that the decisions have consequences,
and divisional heads with the time and expertise to serve their
boards effectively and responsibly. The working party clearly
shares those goals: why, then, is there anything left for me to
say? The reason is that the great majority of those of us in the
life sciences believe the working party has made a crucial
misjudgement, but one that is, fortunately, easy to remedy.

We do not believe that a single life sciences board as proposed
by the working party would deliver the changes that the working
party and we who work in the field seek to achieve. The remedy
is simply to divide that board
into two: a division of medicine, made up of the existing
clinical departments combined with the pre-clinical departments
and Experimental Psychology, and a life and environmental
sciences division, built around the very large and successful
basic biological sciences departments. This rearrangement would
leave the proposed physical sciences board unaffected.

Why do we want to do this? Let me make two things clear at once.
First, this is not a bid to achieve some disproportionate
increase in influence for science, and the life sciences in
particular, at the expense of other groupings. On the contrary,
it is an internal structural matter. Our goal is simply to
achieve a management organisation that will work effectively to
let our teaching and our research flourish. We can surely trust
one another to solve amicably any issues of inter-group
representational balance that could arise as a result. Second,
it is not driven by an unwillingness to change from the status
quo. On the contrary, we see the need for change; we have argued
for change; and we actively seek change. What we fear is
achieving the appearance of change and not the reality.

Why do we think that in order to manage the life sciences
properly we need two boards? I will outline three reasons. First,
we seek coherent groupings. Second, we have to deal with the
volume of research activity in the
life sciences, which is extraordinarily diverse, and unmatched
in its sheer scale. Third, we have the special problem faced by
the clinical departments in their need to interact with the
National Health Service. When the Bioscience Research Board first
proposed amalgamated boards with devolved budgets (which was some
time ago: I was still a brunette) we initially favoured a single
sciences and medicine board, just like that proposed by the
working party. But the idea was stillborn. When we asked one
another who could run it, it turned out that none of us believed
that anyone could run it.

The alternative proposal, for two life sciences boards, does
several things.

It creates coherent divisions of medical sciences and of life and
environmental sciences. I know that you will hear the views of
people who would be constituent members of both, this afternoon,
so I will not represent their views in advance. But I do think
that it is particularly important today to emphasise the wish to
integrate the clinical departments with the pre-clinical
departments into a single division. A coherent division of
medical sciences would achieve that end. We do not want a
separated clinical school, seeing itself as excluded from the
aims of the rest of the University. We want full participation
with our
clinical colleagues, and that surely derives not from a
single, overarching management structure, but from a shared sense
of purpose and intellectual cohesion. An over-diffuse board could
not deliver that.

It provides boards of a size that we know should work. We already
know that the Physical Sciences Board operates effectively: that
is presumably why the working party proposes to retain it largely
unchanged. Our proposed boards should be able to work rather
similarly. A single life sciences board would be on a much bigger
scale in a number of respects that have real organisational
consequences: so let us go with an experimental outcome that is
already known to work. I have heard it suggested that we ought
to be able to manage with a single board, because businesses that
are much larger than us do not have to be subdivided. But this
is a completely inappropriate comparison: we are not like a
single business, with a single powerful company director
allocating us to this task or that. Nor are we a single-issue
research organisation. Quite the opposite: we are a confederation
of separate research enterprises, rather more like lots of little
businesses (each on average employing several people, as you have
heard). And each member of this confederation is putting their
own ideas forward, but also depends in part on what the other
members are up to. This is a completely different structure from
a big company, and it demands a quite different scale of
organisational unit; and all that leaves out the added complexity
of the need to deal with the National Health Service.

Are our conclusions simply odd or unrealistic or unimaginative?
I and my colleagues have looked to see whether we can find any
major research universities in Britain or the USA that have a
single life sciences board that incorporates their medical
school. There may be one in the USA; but it is not Harvard, Johns
Hopkins, Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, San Diego, or UCLA; and
in the UK, thirteen of the sixteen medical schools who have
answered our questions separate the medical school from the
biological sciences. (I am not going to provide a value judgement
as to major research ratings, but Imperial College, Cambridge,
UCL, Edinburgh, Liverpool, and Manchester are amongst those with
separate boards.)

So we believe that we need two separate life sciences boards, and
we ask you to understand our position, to appreciate its
underlying reasons, and to support it. We think it is essential
for our continued success. We do not believe that having two
boards will create disastrous divisions between adjacent subject
areas: we think that two well-informed divisional heads will do
a better job of assisting co-operation and solving problems than
could be achieved by one overstretched person, dashing from
pillar to post. We would want cross-representation across boards,
as a matter of course, in just the way that I attend the Clinical
Medicine Board's Planning and Development Committee. We think
that a single life sciences board would, in practice, inevitably
subdivide. It would split at the interface between the clinical
departments and the rest; and it would probably split again at
the interface between the pre-clinical departments and the rest.
In doing this, it would lose the clear identification of the
decision-makers and the overall accountability that is a critical
goal of the whole enterprise; and it would return to government
through a maze of ad hoc committees, as at
present. We must seek change, and this means that we must go for
structures that will deliver the changes that we seek.

Return to list of speeches

Professor P.C. Newell (St Peter's

Mr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, my colleagues
Professors David Smith and Nick Rawlins have clearly and
eloquently stated the case in support of change, as seen from the
biosciences. I would merely like to add (or in some cases to
reinforce) a few points. I will start by posing three questions:
(1) Why do we need change? (2) How could divisions improve
matters? and (3) Are the proposed divisions the right ones?

So, first, why do we need change? After eight long years on the
General Board, it seems to me that, increasingly, the task we
face on a weekly basis is growing beyond our capabilities,
however hard we try to do it. The problem is that we always try
to `micro-manage', try to set priorities for who should get
money: for example, for half a secretary for a professor, for
which faculty board should be specially allocated a few thousand
pounds more to help them cope, or whether the wording on the
further particulars for a chair is appropriate. We are well
served by the officers, who do a splendid job with their
papers, but our attempt at micro-management in a complex world
has two effects: it removes time and energy we could better spend
on the important strategic and policy decisions that must be
taken, and it sometimes results in `less than perfect decisions'.
(I would hazard a guess that there may even be members here today
who would agree that the General Board does not always get it
right!) This is not a result of malice or, I think, sheer
incompetence, but because we are people with limited time and
many interests and we cannot be experts on all sectors of the
University. Probably at one time when life was simple, being
fully informed on all aspects was indeed possible (but I suspect
that was when Woodbines cost tuppence a packet!). Now we need to
devolve the decision-making to where the local knowledge is and
I, like the previous speakers, strongly support the Commission's
and the working party's views on this.

I also support the ideas of the Commission and the working party
on the need to combine the arenas for policy decisions with those
of resource management. Our present system of decoupling these
makes little sense in the harsh realities of the modern world.

As any Proctor will tell you, we also need to simplify our
committee structure. (I counted over fifty-three committees that
we attended regularly in 1989--90 and there may well be more
now!) A good example is the number of overlapping committees
dealing with staff matters that I have a particular interest in:
for example, the Staff Committee, Academic Salaries Committee,
Academic Staff Development Committee, Appointments Committee,
Higher Appointments Committee (and these are just the ones I
happen to sit on!). Not all of these of course could or should
become one committee, but I agree with the working party that
they need rationalising and all of those I mentioned could come
under the aegis of a `Personnel Committee'.

So, yes, I believe we do need change, the overall thrust of this
being to:

---make decisions more rapidly;

---make better decisions more locally.

My second question was `How could divisions improve matters?' As
Professor Rawlins has covered this topic for the bioscience
departments I shall emphasise only two points very briefly.
Divisions must be of the right size: that is they need to be
large enough to even out fluctuations in supply and demand of
posts and resources, but small enough to allow common interests
in teaching and research to flourish. The Dean of the Medical
School (Dr Ken Fleming) put this thought well, recently, in
aphoristic form as `large enough to cope, small enough to care'.
But they should not at the same time become castles: that is (by
being well-managed groupings of the right size) they should
facilitate lateral interactions between groups rather than
establishing walls between the groups. My own department
(Biochemistry) should be a good test of this: we have lateral
interactions currently with physical sciences (particularly
Chemistry), with pre-clinical and clinical departments, and with
the other biol
ogical science departments. For our own good, these must continue
whatever governance we eventually adopt. I believe that
well-managed divisions of the right size are the best way to
foster these lateral interactions.

The third question was `Are the proposed divisions the right
ones?' Professor Rawlins has clearly set out the thinking of the
Bioscience Research Board and I do not need to repeat what he has
said, other than to say that I strongly support what he did say.
What I would emphasise, is that the proposed division that
combines the clinical, pre-clinical, and biological science
departments is just too big (with research income and research
personnel so large that it would be greater than all of the other
divisions put together). If you look on pp. 33--4 of the working
party's report1 you see that it would contain half of the
academic and research staff in the University; it would be
responsible for 70 per cent of the outside grant income---and all
of that in one of the four boards. That is too big.

The Bioscience Research Board's proposal of a life and
environmental sciences division with the large departments of
Biochemistry, Zoology, and Plant Sciences, plus Biological
Anthropology together with Anthropology and Geography, would be
a division of commensurate size to the physical sciences
division. And this is the right size. Size is important!

A separate life and environmental sciences division also avoids
spoiling the medical science teaching ethos of a purely medical

The constituent parts of a life and environmental sciences
division, I believe, would form a stimulating
and forward-looking grouping. Biochemistry, Zoology, and Plant
Sciences already interact as a faculty board, and with the
arrival of Professor Ryk Ward, and the interests of his group in
ancient DNA, Biological Anthropology is now becoming increasingly
molecular and it would fit well in this group as do environmental
studies of our ecosystem.

So, in conclusion: I believe strongly that the medical division
would be much better in size, managerial operation, and teaching
ethos without joining up with the departments of the life and
environmental sciences division. Moreover, the individual
components of life and environmental sciences could interact with
each other better on their own and, as a result, would be better
interacting with the other divisions such as the division of
physical sciences.

Return to list of speeches

Dr P.A. Slack (Principal of Linacre

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I speak as a member of the joint working
party, but not, I hasten to say, in order to respond to the
points raised by the immediately preceding speakers: they will
be considered very carefully when the working party meets.
Rather, I want to add three brief footnotes to our report on
matters which have not been raised yet in this debate. The first
two concern areas where the report has deliberately left some
loose ends, and where the working party would welcome advice and
feedback from members of Congregation: that is, first, on future
arrangements for the arts faculties within the proposed
humanities division; and, secondly, on appropriate arrangements
for the various academic services. The third area I want to refer
to is that of graduate studies---a topic not directly considered
in the report, but one to which I hope new structures of
governance will bring some much-needed strategic direction.

First, with respect to the humanities faculties: paragraph 38 of
the report recognises the likelihood that divisional structures
in the arts will in practice operate differently from those in
the sciences. We expect the main units of administration for many
purposes to continue to be the existing arts faculty boards. That
would follow from their diversity, and it would be consistent
with the report's emphasis on the devolution of responsibility
and decision-making down the structure to its most appropriate
location, wherever that might lie. I hope members of Congregation
in the humanities will find that recognition of local differences
of ethos and function reassuring.

At the same time, however, I want to stress that it will
be vitally important for the humanities to develop a co-
operative planning mechanism at the divisional level if they are
to take full advantage of the opportunities which the new
structure is designed to offer: in bidding effectively for
additional resources at the centre, for instance, where they will
necessarily be in competition with the other divisions; and in
shaping a coherent humanities response to initiatives from
external bodies, not least the Arts and Humanities Research
Board. As a former member of the Committee of Chairmen of Arts
Boards, I do not at all underestimate the difficulties for the
arts faculties in adapting in this way; it is not going to be
easy for them
to evolve new arrangements for the necessary two-way traffic up
and down the structure. Even in my time, however, arts chairmen
saw the need for joint strategies and co-ordinated responses, if
their faculties were to take
advantage of opportunities for development; and the
opportunities are going to be much greater and much more
immediate under the proposed new structure than they were before.
The working party would very much
welcome comments from arts boards themselves on how they would
see their organisation developing within a
divisional system.

The second area I want to talk about, academic services, is also
one where the working party would welcome informed advice. In our
remarks on this sector, in paragraphs 46--50 of the report, we
have again recognised local differences. We concentrate there on
libraries, museums, and information technology. All of those
require, on the one hand, strategic direction and resourcing, and
hence a clear input to and from the centre, and on the other, a
close relationship with users at the divisional level and further
down. Our remarks in the report have been particularly shaped by
the plans currently being developed for
a more integrated university library service with these goals in

Hence the emphasis in the report on the importance of a single
committee for a particular service reporting directly to Council
and responsible both for strategic development and for
representation of user interests; hence the report's recognition
of the operational and managerial responsibilities of a
professional university officer, in this case the Director of
Library Services; and hence the report's stress on the need for
the service to be represented in decision-making at every
relevant level.

It does not follow, however, that precisely the same structure
would necessarily be applicable to academic services other than
libraries, although the working party was inclined to suppose
that they might better fit information technology than museums.
Again, we would welcome advice from these sectors on how they
would see themselves best incorporated into the proposed

Finally, Mr Vice-Chancellor, graduate studies. The subject is not
much referred to in our report, any more than other important
areas of the University's activities---the undergraduate
syllabus, say, or the future direction of research activity.
These were all matters considered at length in the North Report.
The working party has not gone over the same ground, because its
remit was narrower: to design a structure of governance which
would enable such matters to be considered more effectively in
the future than in the past. As a relatively new head of a
graduate college, however, I have become increasingly aware of
the University's particular lack of a purposeful strategy for
graduate studies, and by our inability to respond quickly to a
changing national and international market in this area. There
is an urgent need for a sense of direction here, and, it seems
to me, a danger that understandable immediate concerns---about
college fees for undergraduates, for example---will keep the
subject for too long on the back burner. We need to build upon
the welcome local development of new one- and two-year courses,
for example, to ensure that the new university graduate
studentships are properly organised, and to determine the proper
role of colleges in providing for our graduates.

I very much hope that the structure proposed by the working party
will facilitate rapid and focused attention on these and similar
issues by bringing greater coherence to broad subject areas, by
introducing a formal college input into university
decision-making, and by creating space for strategic thinking at
the centre; it has been
designed with that in mind.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I hope that members of Congregation will
welcome the general thrust of the report, and respond to the
working party's invitation to comment on it.

Return to list of speeches

Mr A.J. Nicholls (St Antony's College)

Mr Vice-Chancellor, as one who was privileged to serve on the
North Commission, but speaking today entirely in an individual
capacity and without having consulted any of my former
colleagues, I should like to express my appreciation for the
report of the working party and my support for the main thrust
of its recommendations.

The North Commission came to the conclusion that, with all due
deference to and respect for the dedicated work currently
invested in our existing administrative structures, they do need
to be redesigned so that we can create a single body which shall
have responsibility for the academic, financial, and
administrative policies of the University. The working party has
come to the same conclusion. Here I should like most warmly to
endorse those comments in the working party's report which point
out that such a reform would not imply any disrespect for the
current General Board. On the contrary, they reflect a desire to
make academic matters a core responsibility of the central
governing body of the University, and to ensure that other
functions of the General Board are carried out at the levels of
the academic divisions proposed by the working party.

The North Commission felt very strongly that, at a time when
demands are constantly being made on the University by outside
bodies, it is essential that its own governing body should be
able to shape policy based on Oxford's perceived needs rather
than constantly being forced to react to external pressures. If
that objective is to be achieved, the proposed University Council
must not be overwhelmed with matters of detail delegated upwards
to it from bodies which ought to be able to take responsibility
for action themselves. The Commission also recommended that
the University's central Council should focus its responsibility
for academic development and the disposition of
resources on an annual resource allocation cycle. I am sure that
it is essential for a fair and efficient use of resources
in the University that all funding, whatever its source, be
subject the overview of the Planning and Resource Allocation
Committee of the Council acting under the sovereign authority of
Congregation. The proposals of the working party will provide us
with this procedure.

I should also like to congratulate the working party on having
put flesh on some of the rather bare bones which the Commission
bequeathed to it---particularly in its analysis of the functions
of the academic divisions and their
relations with faculties and departments.

There are, however, two areas in which I still feel that
recommendations of the Commission which the working party has
discarded have some merit. I am a little worried, for example,
on the stress laid on the need for impartiality on the part of
the heads of academic divisions in the discussions of the
Planning and Resource Allocation Committee. There are times when
Olympian detachment is neither possible nor even desirable, and
I think that the division heads should be able to champion the
interests of their academic divisions in a fair but robust manner
when the allocation of resources is under discussion. Only if
that is allowed to happen will the committee itself obtain a
clear overview of the issues involved, and I believe that it was
for this reason that the Commission recommended that the heads
of divisions should speak, but not vote, on that committee. The
matter of voting may not in itself be of paramount importance,
but the principle of advocacy does seem to me to be essenti
al if the allocation process is to operate fairly and

My second reservation concerns the number of divisions proposed
by the working party. I warmly endorse
the working party's statement that `it is important to
create much larger blocks on a scale which encourages a strategic
focus across broad subject areas and enables sufficiently large
resources to be devolved to provide planning and operational
flexibility'. I am, however, concerned that the decision to
create separate divisions for the social sciences and humanities
will weaken what would have been a powerful single humanities
division, which would have tremendous strength in staff numbers,
teaching loads, and research output, whilst being a remarkably
lean---not to say bony---animal so far as its current demands on
resources are concerned. I fear that two weaker divisions may
suffer from underfunding and even financial rivalry, not to
mention the awkwardness involved in dividing subjects such as
Modern History and Philosophy from Politics or Economics.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that the proposals of the working
party mark a great step forward, a step made necessary by the
changing nature of the collegiate University over the last thirty
years, and the developments in the environment within which this
University has to operate. That environment requires responses
not only to the demands of national governments but also to
academic competition on an international scale. It is always
tempting, when faced with the prospect of change, to decide that,
after all, we are better off as we are. But when I think back on
the consultation exercises carried out by the North Commission
I cannot help remembering that many of our distinguished
colleagues voiced serious concerns about the operation of the
present system, believing that it was too slow, too obscure, and
that it generated an impression---however ill-deserved---that
decisions were being taken by bodies which were too distant from
the needs and the interests of those who were require
d to carry them out. The working party's recommendations will go
a long way to remedy such defects by combining a more effective
central governing body with greater devolved authority to other,
clearly defined, institutions within the collegiate University.

Return to list of speeches

Dr W.D. Macmillan (Hertford College)

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I would like to talk about three issues: the
remit of the Educational Policy and Standards Committee; the
number of divisional boards; and the structure of divisions in
the arts. The last two of these issues are likely to be the
subject of continuing debate. Some individuals and subject
representatives have already argued that
particular solutions are unacceptable. Others will find the
alternatives equally unpalatable. It may be timely, therefore,
to remind ourselves how far we have come in the
governance debate and how important it is to agree on a new

From the Coopers & Lybrand report onwards, there has been
widespread agreement on much of the analysis. It is generally
accepted, as we have heard from other speakers:

---that the central bodies have been too much concerned with
micro-management and too little concerned with strategic

---that resource allocation has been opaque and conservative,
inhibiting innovation;

---that existing structures have discouraged local responsibility
and accountability;

---that decision lines have been too long;

---and that the rate of adaptation of the University to a rapidly
changing environment has been unacceptably slow.

Building a consensus on an appropriate remedy has been more
difficult, but significant progress has been made. The first
debate in Congregation indicated that there was widespread
support for the general thrust of the governance proposals in the
North Report but that there were numerous concerns about the
recommended structures. The Governance Working Party has
responded to these concerns and has brought us closer to an
acceptable solution. Following the publication of their report,
which, as you have already noted, Sir, broadly endorses the
conclusions of North, there seems to be general agreement:

---that we should have a single executive body;

---that there should be a relatively small number of divisions;

---and that the guiding principle throughout the structure should
be that of subsidiarity.

I believe we are now in a position to argue about the details.
Some of them are major details but they are not sufficiently
significant to bring the reforms as a whole into question.

The first of the details I want to consider is the apparent
asymmetry in the treatment of teaching and research at the
centre. In the Governance Working Party's proposals, teaching
would have a body of its own under the new Council, namely the
Educational Policy and Standards Committee. Research would be
dealt with largely by the Planning and Resource Allocation
Committee but this body would also handle questions of planning
and resource allocation with respect to teaching. A more natural
and symmetrical division of responsibilities would be to replace
the Educational Policy and Standards Committee by an academic
standards committee, whose functions would be to audit both the
teaching and research activities of the divisions and to respond
to external auditing pressures in the form of teaching quality
and research assessment exercises. These audit and response
functions are quite distinct from the process of planning and
resource allocation. A division of responsibilities along these
lines has the attraction that both the auditing function and the
planning function would echo the life of individual academics and
academic units, with their dual responsibilities for teaching and
research and their need to strike an appropriate balance between

The second detail is the one that has excited most interest in
recent weeks, and indeed in this debate---the problem of choosing
an appropriate number of divisions. This problem has striking
similarities to one of my research interests in the field of
computational geography---the problem of regionalisation (of
building up a small number of regions from a large number of
individual zones). Problems of this kind have several important
characteristics. First, they tend to have a multiplicity of
constraints and objectives. The latter are sometimes ambiguous
and usually conflicting. The only solution we can hope to find
is a good compromise solution. And the process of identifying
such a solution involves a series of iterations, which continue
until a stopping rule indicates that a satisfactory outcome has
been achieved. All such processes require a good stopping

The analogy with the problem of devising a new institutional
geography for the University is a close one. We are on our second
public iteration on the number of divisions (no doubt the working
party has been round this loop many times in private) and there
is considerable pressure to search for a better outcome. There
is no doubt that there are ways of making the divisional
structure more attractive with regard to some objectives but such
an advance is likely to be achieved only at the expense of other
worthy goals. Individual subject groups are keen to promote
objectives that would work to their advantage but the working
party, on behalf of Congregation, has the difficult task of
deciding on the relative weights to be given to such objectives
across the board.

In this debate, I want to promote an objective which is in danger
of being neglected even though it is likely to command widespread
support in Congregation. It is an objective which seems to have
guided the deliberations of the working party without being made
explicit. I have in mind the notion of fair representation.

It is vital to the reforms that the heads of division have a seat
at the top table. The principle of fair representation suggests
that the constituencies associated with those seats should be
roughly equal in size. At the very least, there should not be
gross over- or under-representation of any one academic group.
If one looks at the bar chart in section 6 of the report showing
numbers of academic staff, the four divisions are remarkably
effective in achieving this goal. The picture is not greatly
disturbed if one turns to the chart for RAE Category A staff. In
both cases, the social sciences are a little smaller than the
other divisions, so any suggestion that this group should be
split to allow, say, Law or Law and Management to form a division
of their own would be damaging in terms of fair representation.
The effect of separating the biological and medical sciences
would be similar. Of course, one could argue that both the
biomedical group and the social science group should be
split to give six divisions but that would leave us with the
humanities (the largest division in terms of academic staff)
being seriously under-represented. Academic coherence is, of
course, a desirable quality but I hope that the working party
will stick to its guns and continue to regard fair representation
as equally important.

It may be possible to devise a fair partition of the University
into more than four divisions, but the larger the number of
divisions the less likely it is that there will be effective
decentralisation of power and responsibility. We will lose the
essential economies of scale. Whilst it is possible to imagine,
say, the Surveyor being directly involved in building projects
with four divisional boards (of which two would have the lion's
share of university-owned space), it is increasingly likely that
we would end up reinventing existing central structures with an
increasing number of divisions. I have a vision of the Surveyor
trapped forever in traffic around the congested University as he
attempts to circle from one divisional board meeting to

The third point I want to make relates to the structure of the
divisions themselves, especially in the arts. Here too the
question of fair representation is vital but so is the objective
of shortening decision lines. The working party has been
reluctant to prescribe divisional structures in any detail,
arguing that this should be a matter for local decision. However,
the word `local' is used rather loosely. We do not have
`localities' at the divisional level as yet but we do have them
in individual subjects, increasingly in the form of departments.
Some units, like Law, are presently constituted as faculties but
could be transformed into departments, provided they were
adequately resourced. I
believe we should resolve to move increasingly towards
departmental structures and to give departments fair and direct
representation at divisional level. This would have a number of
implications, including the removal of the existing faculty board
layer (except where the faculty board itself is reconstituted as
a department), thereby shortening existing decision lines. In the
absence of divisional
localities within which such structural change can be
debated, I would encourage the working party to put aside its
reluctance to interfere and to bring forward proposals, perhaps
in the form of alternative models, for the internal organisation
of divisions. I believe this would have the advantage of allaying
some of the fears of individual groups, particularly in small
subjects, which arise from the present uncertainties surrounding
their relationship with the divisional board. To be confident
that your interests will be fairly represented, you need to know
how they will be represented.

In conclusion, I would like to add an observation about the
stopping rule. One of the virtues of the new institutional
geography we have in prospect is that it should be capable of
reforming itself without a further Commission of Inquiry. If we
do not get it quite right, or if circumstances change
significantly, we should be able to make the necessary
adjustments, including a change in the number and structure of
divisions. If one of the problems we are seeking to address is
the inability of the University to make timely decisions, I
believe we should be consistent and adopt a fairly rigorous
stopping rule for the governance debate.

On that note, Mr Vice Chancellor, and with a formal expression
of my support for the resolution, I think I should stop.

Return to list of speeches

Dr M.J. Collins (University College)

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I had the great advantage last year of being
able to avoid the whole of the debate on the North Commission's
report through spending the year on sabbatical leave in America.
I want as a result of that experience to support the general
thrust of the working party in a way that I feel I would probably
not have been able to support some of the original North
Commission recommendations, but nevertheless to take a look at
the proposals at three levels.

Firstly, we can look at the overall structure of governance,
where it stands in these proposals, and where it is going to
stand in the future of this University. We should bear in mind
that we live today very much in the structures recommended, or
adopted I should say, post-Franks. That was thirty years ago, and
doubtless these structures are in danger of having to last nearly
as long again, given the nature of our processes.

Secondly, I shall want to look briefly at the interrelation
between the structures involved; and thirdly, at the relationship
with other structures of the University.

I think, Mr Vice-Chancellor, that when we look at the structure
of the University we must also bear in mind what are our medium-
to long-term goals: of course they are the furtherance of
research, the study of scholarship, to be a great university.
But, when I came back and heard the word `divisions', I was
immediately reminded (it will not surprise you) of the University
of Chicago. The University of Chicago and the California
Institute of Technology are two universities, two institutions,
which have divisions. Caltech is not appropriate for our
consideration: it is far smaller. The University of Chicago is
of a comparable size, as indeed is the university where I spent
the whole of the last year, the University of Virginia. It is
really looking at the latter, the University of Virginia, where
I want to perhaps warn of some of the things we must avoid.

It is right that we should have a narrower structure at the top.
Going back to when I was the University Assessor in the early
eighties, one felt, so to speak, the two-step between Council and
the General Board, which today must be rather like two elephants
attempting a tango. To have a unitary structure at the top will
cut through many of the divisional processes there. To have the
pinnacles of the main committees is important. To have a small
number of divisions is also important, but what is crucial when
we get to the structure of the divisions is that they should
reflect what we want this University to be about in the future,
not merely the best management structures today. In this, Mr
Vice-Chancellor, I think it is important to realise that this is
an intellectual university, and one where I hope that we will
avoid a division between what you might describe as the academic
part of the University and the growth of any professional
schools. The divisional structure as proposed inco
rporates the aspects of professional schools (whether in
medicine, management studies, or anything else that may come in
the future) within them, and I think it is important to maintain
the balance. I think the concept of four divisions can probably
achieve that in the sense that it is important, if we are to have
a strong divisional structure, that each division in fact
represent a range of interests. There may be movements across the
current proposals, but they should represent a range of interests
so that none within a division is predominant yet there is no
separate move towards the professional schools.

May I next move to the relationship between the various committee
structures proposed. One of the advantages of having been
Assessor, nearly twenty years ago, was that (unlike my sadly now
late Proctors [Miss T.C. Cooper and Dr P.M. Hayes]) as Assessor
I had time to actually sit and think, whilst I served on
university committees, to actually analyse how the University's
business was carried out. Indeed, I think, changes have been
relatively few since then. But, in looking at the recommendations

of the working party, my instinct was to actually run through
their model various things that occurred when I was Assessor, and
that I have seen since as a member of a faculty board and as a
senior college officer---how various scenarios run through the
model. I am sure that the working party tested them all itself,
but there are aspects that do need further examination. It seems
to me, for example, that there is a slight clash between what the
Planning and Resource Allocation Committee would do and what the
Personnel Committee would do. It is not instantly clear, for
example, how they would actually control where the expansion took
place, given the degree of devolvement. There is an overlap in
their responsibilities, I think perhaps best illustrated in the
chart which shows the current Planning and Development Committee
of the General Board coming under Planning and Resource
Allocation, yet the Joint Committee of the Senior Tutors and the
Planning and Development Committee coming und
er Personnel. This points, I think, to the need for more straight
academic as well as financial input into planning and
resources. I just bring this up as an observation.

It now brings me on to my third point, the relationship with
other bodies in the University, and specifically the colleges.
I had the impression looking from the distance that colleges were
about to be lowered to the level of Yale colleges, in danger of
eventually becoming that, when hearing of the North Report. The
working party has, I am glad to say, seen the importance of the
colleges, yet when you look at its report, the colleges come in
sprinkled around on the charts---rather like confetti. That they
should have representation is acknowledged. It is not quite clear
enough where it is. Can one be certain that, in the structures
proposed, colleges actually have that much of a say on the
Council, when the constituencies are divided firstly by divisions
and then a small group for Congregation? Doubtless, especially
if Congregation votes to enlarge itself, there will be many
non-divisional groups wishing to be represented. I think that
more care needs to be taken as to where the colleg
es fit in there.

I have remarked briefly about appointments. Appointments in this
University are one of the core activities of the administration.
Again, as we become a more collaborative university between the
University and the colleges, one wants to be able to see greater
input at that level.

These are observations I would like to make, Mr Vice-Chancellor.
In general I support the working party
and wish it well in its remaining deliberations, taking
on board, I hope, these and many other points that are made.

Return to list of speeches

Mr G.P. Williams (St Peter's College)

Mr Vice-Chancellor, Members of Congregation, the report of the
Joint Working Party on Governance has addressed the difficult
problem of how to create an effective framework for university
decision-making which at the same time maintains the confidence
of the academic staff who carry out the research and teaching
activities of the University. The proposed new divisions are
critical to the structure of university government, and the heads
of divisions will clearly be key figures. They will chair the
divisions, which exercise a range of devolved responsibilities.
As voting members of the Planning and Resource Allocation
Committee, they are to be `intimately involved and implicated in
central decision-making'. They will, the report tells us, `be as
much advocates to their divisions of overall university
priorities and policies as advocates to the centre of local
desiderata'. It will clearly not be an easy task to balance these
dual commitments. To whom then will they be accountable?

The working party's solution is nicely balanced: `Authority at
the divisional level must formally be vested in the divisional
boards.' Boards will authorise the heads of divisions, as their
chairmen, `to act on their behalf, subject to report'. Heads of
the divisions, then, are thus chairmen of the boards on whose
behalf they act. But they will not be elected by the members of
the boards, nor by the constituencies for, and perhaps over, whom
they exercise authority. They are to be `recruited' through a
process of formal application to a selection board. They cannot
be held accountable by those on whose behalf they are to act.

Why, if the chairmen are to be responsible to the divisional
boards, should they be appointed rather than elected? Would
election produce less suitable candidates than appointment? There
clearly is a possibility that a diverse electorate might make an
ill-informed decision. An elected candidate might seek to advance
the interests of an influential section of their constituency at
the expense of smaller faculties or of wider university
interests. Elected heads may act in a high-handed way, though,
if they lose the confidence of their colleagues, they would,
presumably, have to resign. This is not necessarily the case for
people appointed to positions of authority. These are in fact
positions for which, we are told, potential candidates would
`need to be prepared'. They are, it seems, of such a nature that
arrangements would have to be made for their re-entry into
academic work after they demit office. It sounds as though the
people who might be recruited to these positions may be of a ra
ther different species from the ordinary working academic.

Will appointment produce more suitable choices than election? At
least in those parts of the University with which I am familiar,
the record of appointments of heads of institutes or departments
suggests that this may not be the case. There have been several
cases where people appointed to head university departments or
institutes have either been unable to meet their responsibilities
or have lost the confidence of their colleagues. The University
has had to appoint others to take over their jobs while
continuing to employ them. The short term of appointment proposed
for divisional heads would obviously limit the costs of such an
outcome. But the importance of the position would mean that a
poor decision would have very damaging consequences.

I therefore think that now and in the future Congregation should
consider very carefully whether it wishes to extend the principle
of appointment to heads of divisions, or whether it would prefer
to identify a procedure for electing those who will act on our

Return to list of speeches

Sir David Smith (President of Wolfson

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I wish to speak about the mechanism proposed
in the working party report for the selection of the heads of the
four academic divisions. Since there are just five terms before
I retire, it might seem presumptuous for someone in my position
to speak on something which is unlikely to affect me. However,
my purpose is not to pronounce on what should happen in the
future, but rather that I have been asked to share with you what
I learnt from my own experience in another university of bringing
about major changes in the structure of governance which were
closely similar, in some key respects, to those now proposed for

I left Oxford in 1987 to become Principal and Vice-Chancellor of
the University of Edinburgh. I arrived there to
find the same confusing plethora of central committees that still
afflicts us here in Oxford today. Clear and direct lines of
accountability were largely lacking. Papers seemed to pass
interminably from committee to committee, like elderly birds who
had forgotten in which particular nests in the colony they should
be laying their eggs.

In 1990, a situation developed in Edinburgh which made it
essential that the structure of governance should be changed. And
so---amongst many other matters---it was proposed that the
existing faculties should be grouped into the equivalent of four
academic divisions, with substantial budgetary devolution from
the centre to these
divisions; very similar, in fact, to that now proposed here in
the working party report.

Initially, the same anxieties were expressed as can now be heard
in Oxford. Small faculties in the humanities were apprehensive
and even suspicious at being placed in the same division as large
and politically powerful subjects like English and history. The
Law Faculty was profoundly dismayed at the prospect of being
grouped with the social sciences. Many academics felt the
divisions too large and cumbersome. However, the university
accepted the new governance structure, but subject to the
condition that its operation should be reviewed after three

When, three years later, this review was carried out, not a
single person wished to revert to the old system, and only minor
changes were made. A great deal of the credit for the success of
the new structure lay with the heads of the four divisions. They
made sure that the interests of the smaller faculties in their
divisions were fairly and sensitively protected. Mechanisms and
criteria for allocating the substantial resources which had been
devolved down to the divisions were devised which were much
clearer and much more transparent than those which had previously
existed. And most importantly, the heads of divisions worked as
a close-knit team with myself and those who chaired the new
central committees, with the result that the university prospered
quite vigorously.

So, the role of the heads of division was crucial. But how were
they selected? The Governance Working Party, in paragraph 45 of
its report, proposes a system in which formal applications are
considered against clear selection criteria by a form of
electoral board. I have to say that, at Edinburgh, the situation
of having to select between individuals of the right calibre who
voluntarily applied to be in competition with each other never
remotely existed. Instead, the right person had to be identified,
persuaded, and invited, sometimes with some arm-twisting by their
academic colleagues. The qualities required were a subtle mix of
administrative shrewdness, political intuition, university
experience, and most importantly, the respect of academic
colleagues across a range of disciplines. Heads of divisions had
to be Janus-like, for on the one hand they were perceived as
representing (and answering to) a defined academic constituency,
and on the other, participating in making decisions fo
r the greater good of the university, even if sometimes it was
to the disadvantage of their own academic constituency.

I therefore believe that the selection process proposed by the
Governance Working Party lacks the proactive element of
informally and discreetly trying to identify good people and
persuading them to apply. But I think there is a serious risk of
a far worse outcome if---as some now propose---the head of
division is selected simply by holding the type of election which
we presently have for the General Board and Council. This would
be an illusion of democracy, since most of the electorate would
not know all the candidates sufficiently well to make comparative
assessments of who has the right mix of qualities to make the
best head of division. Further, there is a risk of good
candidates from smaller faculties losing out because members of
larger faculties will tend heavily to vote for their own
kind---and it will be crucial when the new governance structure
is set up that the smaller faculties have confidence in it. And
finally, since heads of divisions will have a responsibility in
the wi
der University, it is only fair that some account be taken of
views in that wider University, as indeed the Governance Working
Party's proposal recognises. Of course, at the concluding stages
of the
selection process, it will be necessary to determine that the
majority of the members of the divisions do indeed have
confidence in the persons proposed as their heads.

What I have said is, as I have explained, based on my experiences
in an ancient Scottish university which does have some key
differences in tradition and ethos from Oxford. However, in the
matter of finding good divisional heads, I suspect it will be no
different here. In 1986, in Oxford, I chaired an ad hoc review
of Physics which recommended that the five Oxford physics
departments should be combined into a single unified department.
Although this was widely supported, it was not easy to identify
the first Chairman of Physics. In the end, the elements of the
kind of procedure I have just outlined did produce someone who
proved excellent. But he had to be persuaded and invited: he
would never have voluntarily applied or put himself up in
competition with his colleagues in a public election.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I very strongly support the overall thrust
of the working party report because my own past experience tells
me it is likely to bring about many important improvements in how
this University operates. But this same past experience tells me
that finding individuals good both at helping their divisions to
be successful and at helping the University to prosper is a
subtle and complex process. Hence, I much prefer the working
party proposal, provided it has the proactive element which I

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Professor R.A. Mayou (Nuffield College)

Mr Vice-Chancellor, when, just over a year ago, you took office,
you must have seen the task of implementing the Commission's
report as a daunting prospect. In the event, I think you and the
working party deserve our thanks for making substantial progress
in moving on from the Commission to the proposals that are before
us today. I want to make four points. They concern the need for
ing evolution of structures, the definition of executive powers
at the centre, the divisional structure, and above all, a need
to promote more explicitly the unity of the


It would, I think, be unrealistic to expect that next term's
proposals will provide a completely satisfactory answer or that
they will be adequate for what is bound to be a period of
continuing internal and external change. Governance of this
University will need to change in the light of experience and
events. I ask that the proposals put to Congregation recognise
the need for further changes and explicitly promise that there
will be continuing review and refinement, especially in the early
years. I think that this commitment to review proposals and
develop them, to fill in the details, would allay many of the
anxieties I feel about the report as it now stands.

Second, I am also concerned about some of the remaining
uncertainties about central structures and particularly the lack
of clarity about executive authority. It seems to me that with
a very large, cumbersome executive council, and with the
committee structures proposed, we may expect to see parallel
lobbying, formation of sub-groups, all sorts of informal
arrangements---the sort of procedures that we are not of course
unfamiliar with at present. This is not perhaps a satisfactory
way of running a university which is favouring decentralisation
and particularly the devolution of budgets. It will also hinder
us from dealing with the familiar complaint about who speaks for
Oxford or for its component parts.

I suggest that there is a strong argument for defining a greater
degree of executive responsibility at the centre and in the
divisions, even though I accept that different parts of the
University may wish to move at different speeds. We need a better
definition of the role of elected members of Council and
committees alongside those who have a more intensive day-to-day

My third point is the one about the divisions. Several speakers
have already spoken about this in some detail. I do not want to
repeat what they have said but merely to emphasise the strength
of opinion with the life sciences that the present proposal for
a single division is unsatisfactory. It would undoubtedly mean
an extra tier of administration, indeed a barrier, between
Council and the various constituent groups which would, I think,
develop formally and informally at a lower level.

My final point, is related to this, and I think it is what I
particularly want to emphasise, that I see the proposal for a
life sciences division as extremely harmful for the unity of the
University. Five years ago, I was the only member
of Clinical Medicine who was a member of a major university
committee, the General Board, and I then felt stranded, indeed
isolated, between the centre and eight-
een rather separate clinical departments. There was ill feeling
on both sides, and misunderstanding on both sides. In the last
few years, due to the efforts of you yourself, Mr
Vice-Chancellor, the Chairman of the General Board, and others,
there has been very substantial progress in establishing close
working relationships with much greater personal and day-to-day
contact. We have begun to overcome a very substantial
geographical and political divide.

I fear that the life sciences division would reverse this trend.
The pressures within medicine for a separate medical school,
which have been present for a good manyyears, would substantially
increase. There are many in Headington who already feel that the
University means little or nothing to them; there are others who
feel frustrated. I think that, within a structure in which they
had even less contact with the centre, there would be more
discontent and this would be greatly to the disadvantage of
clinical medicine, the life sciences, and the University. Our own
recent experience is that closer contact with other
colleagues, South Parks Road, and the centre is of great
advantage. The present arrangement offers the opportunity for
clinical medicine and other sciences to be closely involved not
only in matters that concern them most
immediately, but also, I believe, in supporting developments
across the whole range of university interests.

For example, we are in a situation in which most of my colleagues
do not understand what you, Sir, referred to as the great issue
of joint appointments. Very few of us know what that means: the
words `CUF appointments' mean very little. We need greater
integration if we are to enable medicine and the sciences to
actually contribute to the University---a unified university. I
see the present proposal as deeply harmful.

I hope therefore, Mr Vice-Chancellor, that the proposals we see
next term will show some modifications, but that they will also
be such as to allow continuing development in the light of

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Professor J.I. Bell (Magdalen College)

Mr Vice-Chancellor, the Clinical School remains strongly
supportive of the changes in governance broadly described by the
North Commission and developed by the working party. We see
substantial benefits arising from a devolution of responsibility
to faculty level, accompanied, we hope, with substantial resource
allocation. This should permit those most informed about
management decisions to be responsible for them and for resources
to follow activity. The devolution of responsibility to faculties
should provide more opportunity for Council to concentrate on
developing a strategy for the institution as a whole.

The Clinical School has, since the Smith Report, been waiting for
the opportunity to introduce an executive structure, based around
an Executive Dean. This is likely to fit well with the
Pro-Vice-Chancellor position which is proposed in the new
structure. It will only succeed if resources won by the faculties
are largely devolved to those at the coal face. We need fewer
centrally programmed `five-year plans' with large, expensive
central facilities supporting the likes of computing. We need an
executive structure capable of taking decisions rapidly and with

There has been much discussion about the size and content of the
divisions proposed by the working party. These should be
determined by management issues, not simply by academic
disciplines, and should be of a size that allows the term
`devolution' to be properly applied to the process. The Clinical
School has unique management issues and problems, clearly
recognised by the original North Commission. We have complicated
interactions with the National Health Service and we all must
practice medicine to successfully teach and do research. The
Clinical School is already very large, accounting for 40 per cent
of the University's research income. Biomedical science will
expand more rapidly than any other field of science in the next
twenty-five years, so it is likely that the school will remain
the dominant scientific research force in the University for many
years to come. In the past, the voice of the school has too often
been ignored. We are anxious not to be relegated into a faculty
e we are not heard. To facilitate the integrated teaching
increasingly demanded by the General Medical Council we are
willing to integrate into a single medical school with the
pre-clinical departments. We are, however, uniformly opposed to
the concept of an all-encompassing life sciences board that would
incorporate the medical school as well as all the other
biological sciences. Such a structure would be so large as to be
unmanageable, and the Clinical School would lose its
representation---as has happened with the Bioscience Research
Board, where Clinical Medicine, with more than 50 per cent of the
research, has less than 10 per cent of the representation.

On the other hand, it is also unlikely that the other biological
sciences departments would be particularly happy by being
dominated both financially and strategically by a massive medical
school: you cannot eliminate the concept of a medical school by
attempting to dilute it. A single life sciences board would share
little more than the nature of our scientific experiments. We
have fundamentally different issues at hand and perspective
compared to things like Plant Sciences. These include our
National Health Service commitments, our requirement to train
undergraduates and postgraduates for a professional career, and
the organisation of a faculty where there are relatively few
established staff but a very large research income. My
department, for example, runs over £20m of research grants
a year on the basis of seven HEFCE academic staff. We are very
different than most of the rest of you. Any attempt to force an
amalgamation would in the end lead
to the Clinical School breaking free of the division and
organising its own structures, as it has attempted to do
in the past, defeating the whole purpose of change in

I think it is important to listen to our constituency. All the
departments in the Clinical School have expressed
a strong preference for a unified medical school and
opposed the single, large, all-encompassing life sciences
faculty. These feelings are strongly held. I hope they will be
carefully considered by Council and Congregation.

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Professor D.J. Parkin (All Souls

Mr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, since this is a note
in support I will be very brief, but I think it is important to
say that, as Chairman of the School of Anthropology, I very much
support the suggestion for a second life and environmental
sciences division, and the reasons are really,

I think, three-fold.

One is that I think we are already seeing nationally and
internationally some exciting new intellectual developments which
incorporate the various branches of anthropology, for which I
speak. Mention has already been made earlier about the importance
and the links of Biological Anthropology with the biosciences,
and one should also mention that in a sense all branches of
anthropology, and there are a number of branches of anthropology
apart from biological, are concerned with evolution in some way
(evolution of society as well as evolution of persons and
species). I think that that has to be considered as
reasonably central to the whole outlook of the subject.

But of course it incorporates, within all that, the study
of material culture, and from that of course museum ethnography
and archaeology, the human sciences, and, I would also argue,
environmental change as a facet of
geography. All these together constitute the basics, the
rudiments, of an exciting new general thrust in scholarship,
perhaps echoing the heyday of some nineteenth-
century scholarship, but obviously with modern implications.

The second is related to one issue that came up, which was the
whole question of representation; and the third to collaboration,
over and against the fear of isolation by divisions, and the lack
of contact between them. It seems to me that a new life and
environmental sciences division would in fact be pivotal if it
were the fifth division---pivotal in a sense in which (if I may
be so bold as to take one of my own subjects, medical
anthropology) it draws upon both the medical and indeed the
physical and biological sciences on the one hand, but also draws
upon, shall we say, the history of medicine and developments in
the arts and humanities on the other.

This breadth might not apply to all aspects of the new division,
but issues like environment, and subjects such as the human
sciences and anthropology, clustered as they are around the
biosciences, do lend to this division that special quality of
being intermediary, perhaps even a fulcrum, which may militate
against isolationism, and also provide for some degree of
representation which would not be imbalanced.

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Dr P.J. Collins (St Edmund Hall)

Mr Vice-Chancellor, like your last speaker, I hope to make up a
little time with a brief personal intervention.

Remarriage is now perhaps much in fashion, but not
necessarily with the use of a marriage broker. We have heard from
representatives of both the physical and the life sciences of the
Physical Sciences Board's wish to remain the same and to continue
to govern itself the way it does now. But, of course, the
proposals we have before us are for combining Physical and
Mathematical Sciences. As a former Chairman of the Mathematical
Sciences Board, may I say that the divorce which occurred in 1963
because we were in some ways very different. We continue to be
rather different, and indeed Mathematical Sciences has within it
these days three rather different departments, not only the
Mathematical Institute but the Computing Laboratory and a small
unit, the Statistics Department. We shall need to be very careful
about how they are represented, in the same way as care will be
needed in the arts in determining how one can meld and mix the
various arts faculties into the new divisions.
I share the optimism of the President of Wolfson that when we
look round in a few years, we shall be full of praise for the
foresight of North, and indeed of your own working party; but
there will have to be some decisions soon, not only about the way
in which we meld physical and mathematical sciences, but with all
the arts as to how reassurance is given to smaller units and to
bodies which have been used to working very differently.
Mathematics, for example, with its thirty CUF lecturers, is so
unlike any natural science department.

I would wish the working party to think a little further as to
whether it is really safe to let the divisions work out
afterwards, on their own, just how these matters are to be
managed, and to what extent some guidelines need to
be laid down beforehand. I hope that the divisions will be small
enough to cope and not so large as not to care.

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Professor H.G. Dickinson (Magdalen

Mr Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation, I wish to make two
points—two points about the future. Much so-called
`progress' in Oxford has carried with it the albatross of the
past. However, we now have a very real opportunity of thinking
in terms of what our University should be in the future. I am
wearing two hats on this occasion, one as a member of the
Department of Plant Sciences, another as Keeper of the Botanic
Garden. The first matter I want to
address, very briefly, is that of the museums and
collections—which would be regulated by the academic
services divisions, referred to by a member of the General Board
a while ago. I was this morning chairing a meeting of the Museums
and Collections Committee and, while there is some concern about
the position of the museums within the proposed university
structures, it remains abundantly clear to all those involved
that the museums and collections (including the botanic gardens)
represent a tremendous opportunity, and must form an important
part of the University's future. At present we welcome about 0.8
million visitors a year: the children we meet are our seedcorn
and the adults we deal with represent an increasingly valuable
constituency. At the moment we are poorly organised, our
programmes are in no way integrated, and I have a real fear that
we will lose an unrepeatable opportunity of developing this side
or our activities. There is mounting pressure, both from
government and o
ther structures, for universities to make ourselves more visible
both with regard to the teaching of undergraduates and,
importantly in this connection, in sharing our resources with the
public. As an essential part of the new reforms

I envisage the development of an integrated structure,
encompassing both our museums and collections, and a series of
outreach programmes of the highest quality. We welcome the move
made by the working party to look again at this area, and their
proposal for a more direct management system of our museums and
collections. We are pleased to note the working party's
acceptance that we should have a Pro-Vice-Chancellor on Council
who would chair a museums and collections committee, which we
regard as an absolutely essential step. We are very keen that the
working party should think further about reinforcing the links
of scholarship between museums and the `departments', and also
about how we can improve
links between the museums and collections, continuing
education, and other forms of outreach.

One further problem I would like to highlight, very briefly,
is that, like many structures within the University, the museums
and collections have individually either Visitors, Trustees, or
other types of `management' groups. While these bodies have been
of such assistance in the past, they do not seem to have been
integrated into any proposed structure. In addition, it is not
clear how `devolution' would extend down to structures such as
a museums and collections committee. There must be many proposed
committees within the new scheme without a natural figurehead
(like the Chairman of the Libraries Board) who would have
responsibility for organising the strategic planning and funding
of the particular constituencies. Thus, in circumstances where
you have a fairly disparate grouping brought together, and the
resources devolved down to that level, there is a real danger of
committee members entering into continous conflict over
resources. Now, some might regard this as a good thing, but

common sense dictates that you must have a small amount of
distance between the people who actually produce the plans, and
those who approve and resource them. I am not sure that the
working party has yet given sufficient thought to the problem.

Now, Mr Vice-Chancellor, I am going to change my hat and speak
as a member of the Faculty of Biological Sciences. At the momemt
we remain transfixed by our health, and justifiably so. Much
public money goes into health (some might argue: not enough) and
looking after all aspects of the National Health Service. Of
course this has impacted favourably on our medical school, which
has done so spectacularly well, and I underscore everything that
has been said about the necessity of bringing the pre-clinical
and clinical sciences together to an integrated whole. By
bringing the pre-clinical departments into the fold, it also
welds a crucial link between South Parks Road and Headington, and
of course brings much more of a university dimension (as one of
our previous speakers has mentioned) into medical activities.
However, I would predict that, perhaps in twenty-five or
thirty-years' time, the tables will be turned, and it will be the
position of the planet's resources that will be the focus

of our attention. How are we going to feed ourselves? How are we
going to eke out the remainder of the very finite
resources we have on the planet's surface? How are we going to
deal with the large numbers of people that will appear in just
about every continent? How are we going to deal with spectacular
environmental change? I am sure we will see massive levels of
public resource diverted into this area and progress in the `life
and environmental sciences' will be recognised as absolutely
crucial for the survival of our race on earth. Our desire for
such a `division' is based not on convenience—but on very
real need, particularly in teaching.

On reflection, we probably have not talked enough about teaching
here; we have talked about resources, we have talked about
planning, we have talked about responsibility, but at the end of
the day most of us are teachers and our duty is to teach and
enthuse the students as they come through, and to ensure they
make a difference to the world around us.

No notice of opposition having been given, Mr Vice-Chancellor
then declared the resolution carried without question put under
the provisions of Tit. II, Sect. v, cl. 9 (Statutes,
1997, p. 12).

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