Vice-Chancellor's Oration - (2) to No 4560

<br /> Oxford University Gazette: Vice-Chancellor's Oration<br /> (supplement)

Oxford University Gazette

Vice-Chancellor's Oration 2000

Supplement (2) to Gazette No. 4560

Wednesday, 11 October 2000

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3 October 2000

The Oration this year marks the closure of a long passage in the history of
the University. Following the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry
chaired by my predecessor, the Principal of Jesus, the University has spent
two-and-a-half years shaping, voting upon and preparing a new governance
structure. The new bodies, already existing in shadow form for the last few
months, do this week take over responsibility for running the University. So,
I should begin this Oration by saluting the Hebdomadal Council and the
General Board of Faculties which now cease to exist.

Despite the use of Hebdomadal Council to illustrate the definition of the
word `hebdomadal' in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, it has not
met weekly for some years now. The General Board has continued to do so and
has worked assiduously to oversee the academic business of the University,
that is to say its core activity. Throughout their history—and I can say
personal experience that these last few years have been no different—both
of these bodies have been composed of intelligent, clear-minded and public
spirited men and women who have devoted themselves to the service of the
University and have made decisions (often difficult decisions) about its
well-being and that of its several parts drawing upon all the impartiality,
wisdom and strength of purpose available to them collectively. The University
with its complexities is an exacting taskmaster. The responsibilities which
these men and women have shouldered have been considerable and should not
be made light of foolishly. We, as members of the University, owe a great debt
to them accumulated over the years and, as I say, no less to those who now
demit office in favour of the new bodies than to their predecessors.

More especially at this time, I should express gratitude to two people in
particular. First, I should thank Dr Ralph Walker, who agreed to take on the
apparently thankless task of Chairman of the General Board at a time when it
had only one year of existence in front of it. He has vigorously led it in its
business and has kept it motivated and focused right through to its last
meeting. Transitions easily enervate outgoing bodies; it is to the considerable
credit of Dr Walker and the current members of the General Board that there
has been no faltering in the conduct of our academic business. Second, I
should pay tribute to the President of St John's who has been a really most
able chairman of the Curators of the Chest since 1992. Here again, we have
good reason to be thankful for the special skill and scrupulous judgement
with which recent curators no less than those in the past have attended to
the financial matters of the University. Under the new arrangements, the
attributions of the previous Curators have been somewhat reorganised, but
many of them as individuals continue in the new structure. Indeed, I am
happy to say that both the President of St John's and Dr Walker will go on
playing active roles in the governance of the University—the former as
chairman of the Investment Committee and the latter as the Head of the
Division of the Humanities.

Members of the University will know, but I note here for the record, that
henceforth the functions of Hebdomadal Council and General Board will be
merged into a University Council with much of the ordinary business
undertaken by its four major committees: Planning and Resource Allocation,
Educational Policy and Standards, Personnel, and General Purposes. Faculties
and departments have been grouped into five large Divisions. Libraries,
museums and other academic services are gathered into their own group. The
Gazette will shortly carry a useful summary description so that all members
of the University may be able to find their way round the new system.

Elections and appointments to the new bodies and posts have been
completed during this past year. I am grateful in particular to those who have
agreed to take on the functions of Head of Divisions: Dr Walker (Humanities),
Mr Hay (Social Sciences), Professor Cantor (Mathematical and Physical
Sciences), Professor Newell (Life and Environmental Sciences), and Dr Fleming
(Medical Sciences). I should also express my personal gratitude to those who
have accepted appointment as functional Pro-Vice-Chancellors: Professor
Iversen (Planning and Resource Allocation), Dr Black (Academic), the Principal
of Linacre (Academic Services), and Sir Anthony Kenny who has agreed to
continue to lead Development. As for myself, like Guy Fawkes, who hatched his
plot in a Balliol-owned tavern, I am to be stretched on the rack.

Lord Franks said that the reform proposals of his Commission of Inquiry
(published in 1966) gave the University 30 years before further changes
would be necessary. Well, we have now reached—or, rather, slightly
overshot—that deadline and we have put in place further changes. We
shall all have
to learn this year how to use the new arrangements effectively and
appropriately. I have no doubt that there will be a few points and moments
of uncertainty. Nonetheless, as I said in last year's Oration, the fact that the
reform has been carried through by the members of the University without
serious controversy does offer the new system an auspicious beginning.

The operating principles are clear and they are derived from those
by the Commission of Inquiry. The new University Council is, as the
Commission recommended, the strategic body designed to bring together the
oversight of academic work and resource allocation within the formulation of
general strategy. The divisional boards correspond to the academic boards
identified by the Commission. In the conduct of business, the first principle
is to delegate to their appropriate level decisions that do not have significant
effects beyond the remit of the body to which they are delegated, and to put
resources there for them. The second principle is that this delegation is
enfolded within a process of resource allocation against operating plans. We
need freedom for individual areas to develop in the ways most suitable to
them; at the same time, it is essential to preserve the University and the
general coherence and ethos of the whole community and the general task and
values towards which we are by our nature bent. The planning and resource
allocation cycle is a crucial mechanism for the preservation of the coherence
of the University. But, during this transition, we need all of us to remember
that we do belong to a whole University, whose general health and reputation
both sustains and is sustained by the health and reputation of its several

The Report of our Commission of Inquiry also stressed that account
should be taken of the interests of the colleges in the University's
decision-making processes. Representatives of the colleges are now
incorporated at central and divisional level. This year, the Conference of
Colleges has also moved to reorganise its structures in what appears to me to
be a most timely and appropriate fashion. We have, I think, a new opportunity
for discussion between the University narrowly defined and the colleges,
leading I hope to a better sense of policy for the collegiate university as a
whole. We know that in practice it is not always easy to reconcile all the
interests. Indeed, it would be strange and perhaps unhealthy if there were
no disagreements—any anthropologist or sociologist will tell you that a
society is a field of both tension and co-operation. However, if we fail to
reconcile interests on a large scale, it is damaging for all of us in the long

A large institution like ours is of course a society, composed of parts
that have quite distinct identities. Indeed, seen from the outside, this does
seem to some to be a curious assemblage, not to say impenetrable (and I shall
revert to that point). However, that is not only the way we are—which is
poor argument—but, more important, our originality, verve and vitality
in good measure from that particular assemblage. We do not conform in
organisation to the standard model of the later twentieth-century university.
There is absolutely no good reason for us to take an axe to the core
substance of our internal relationships in order so to conform, especially since
we are now entering a new century and the future funding of universities in
this century is a matter of so much current debate and uncertainty. In
respect of the colleges, if the intention was (and I have no evidence to
suppose that it was) to reduce the colleges to being pensioners of the
University by paying the sum representing the ex-college fee to the
University, then that is not in the longer-term interests of the whole
University. We all need the colleges to be lively intellectual communities of
actively participating senior members, research students and undergraduates
from the whole range of the study we undertake here. If the colleges were to
descend towards being grand halls of residence and lunch clubs for dons, we
would after a time see some of our central relationships drained of meaning
and our energy and coherence compromised.

It was for these reasons that Hebdomadal Council agreed that the
University budget should bear a good proportion of the reduction that will
progressively affect the sum transferred from HEFCE in lieu of the previous
college fees. This is not a conclusion rooted in conservative inertia. On the
contrary, it must follow from all this that relationships between the colleges
and the University will evolve over time. Hebdomadal Council believed that this
decision coupled with the new elements in governance, to which I have
alluded, will provide the basis for evolving relationships in the operation of
the whole University towards general goals in a good spirit of mutuality. At
the same time, one of the most powerful arguments advanced by the colleges
in this matter was that if colleges bore the whole reduction, they would make
changes individually and in an essentially random manner. The outcome
adopted means that the University will make the necessary changes in light
of overall strategies. The effects on the colleges will therefore derive from an
outcome which they themselves have desired. We do all of us in Oxford need
to understand that we belong to a common project in which we are mutually

Let me return for a moment to our governance changes. The principles
upon which they are based do require a greater transparency in the
identification and handling of our financial flows. The RAWP formula was
designed to deal with the quite difficult consequences of the QR shift and we
should be grateful to those who designed it for its success in achieving that
objective. However, as I indicated in last year's Oration, the time has come for
a new resource allocation model and one which, among other things, will allow
Council from time to time to put incentives behind agreed strategic objectives.
As I also indicated last year, we are impelled in the same direction by the
Transparency Review of Research, which the Treasury instituted in the earlier
Comprehensive Spending Review. This University will have to implement the
accounting models agreed for this purpose by the end of the coming academic
year and colleagues in departments and faculties have already this year come
into contact with some of the elements of the new system. The discussion of
a new resource allocation model is now with the Planning and Resource
Allocation Committee and I do hope that we shall have a model operational at
the end of next academic year. There are difficult decisions of balance to be
made here and I do not doubt that we shall over time refine the model in the
light of practical experience.

I am very conscious that this year has, and next year will, put very
considerable pressure upon the University's administrative staff. The
University has traditionally maintained a lean administrative establishment. The
administration has had this year both to service the existing machinery and
business of governance and also to carry through the legislation for the new
structure as well as remodelling itself to conform to that arrangement. Added
pressure has come from the work on the Transparency Review in tandem with
trying to draw up ab novo a resource allocation model as well as carry
through the discussions about the issues arising out of the college fee
settlement. Indeed, this work has demonstrated clearly the need to bring in
new systems for the management of our financial and other data and we shall
be moving to do that. This too will, of course, add to the burdens shouldered
by the administration in the near future and I should not forget the demands
of the RAE this year and next. It is greatly to the credit of our staff that
these many tasks have been accomplished so competently and so
uncomplainingly. The academic university is serviced throughout, from top to
bottom, by a most hard-working and professional administrative staff, men and
women of high calibre. We should acknowledge here our debt to them,
especially in the present circumstances of change.

The Year 2000 began for me with a telephone call at 6 a.m.:
`Vice-Chancellor, I'm afraid we have lost a Cézanne'. I am not a believer
in the
power of omens. Indeed, this academic year has seen many initiatives and
successes. So, perhaps the most appropriate beginning might be to record the
acquisition of Titian's Portrait of Giacomo Doria by the Ashmolean
Museum with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund. We hope that the C‚zanne
may be recovered to join it as promptly as possible. The Pitt Rivers Museum
has reopened, intriguing as ever but re-roofed and refurbished; the Museum
of Natural History has acquired new displays of dinosaurs; the public access
and outreach programmes of all our museums are vigorous and developing our
commitment to the community.

Our colleagues continue to be elected in good numbers as Fellows of the
British Academy and of the Royal Society. They continue to gain prestigious
fellowships in the Humanities as in other disciplines. They also continue to be
appointed to national positions. Thus, Professor Sir Bob May will take up the
Presidency of the Royal Society in the coming year; Professor Sir Keith
O'Nions has become the Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Defence; Professor
Sir John Krebs is now chairman of the new Food Standards Agency; Dr Gordon
Marshall has been appointed to be chief executive of the ESRC; Christopher
Allsopp had joined the Bank of England's monetary committee; and Professor
John Vickers has just taken up post as head of the Office of Fair Trading.

In a busy and diverse university, it is always difficult to strike an
equitable balance between parts of the University and different types of
activity when one seeks the few illustrations of this year's record that alone
can be fitted into the space of the Oration. Among the academic initiatives in
the University this year, let me note first the establishment of the new
Department of Sociology, following that of Economics last year and that of
Politics at the beginning of the coming year. Further, I welcome the
establishment of a Centre for Portugese Studies in association with the
Instituto Camoes. Council and General Board also established this year the
Institute for the Advancement of University Learning. This responds to our
growing sense that we have an almost unique environment for learning in
Oxford, but that in order better to represent it to the outside world and also
to identify, protect and enhance its essential characteristics, we need to
understand better how very gifted students learn within this environment. We
need also to understand better how and to what extent new techniques and
technologies can be beneficial to teaching within our particular environment.
Finally, we need to put all that into a firmer focus on helping to improve our
teaching skills and, by the same token, providing ourselves with a means to
avoid having normative benchmarks thrust upon us by an external agency.

The University has had remarkable success in JIF bids this year. More
particularly, the reprovision of the Chemistry laboratories has received the
largest grant so far awarded to a single project. Among others, we have had
large grants for a new Trials and Epidemiology Building and for a new Centre
for Gene Function. An Institute for Particle Astrophysics has been established
through a significant grant from the Leverhulme Trust. We opened this year
the new Henry Wellcome Centre for Genomic Medicine and the Martin Wood
Lecture Theatre in Physics. We should welcome the news of the second phase
of development at Magdalen's Oxford Science Park, which heralds further
growth of Oxford's general reputation and emphasises the University's
centrality to the dynamism of the new economy in this region. Meanwhile, Lord
Sainsbury, the Minister for Science, opened the Begbroke site. As for the
humanities and the social sciences, Economics took possession of its new
building on the St Cross site, despite a `shaky glass situation' as the students
in my previous American incarnation might have termed it. I look forward to
recording in my next Oration the opening of substantial new buildings such
as the Rothermere American Institute and the Sackler Library. We have also
received significant additional funding from HEFCE for Chinese studies, which
will, I hope, lead in turn to substantial further developments in the study of
modern China. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in
research grants to Lit. Hum.

We should congratulate the Botanic Garden for their success in gaining
once more a Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show. Among the other activities
in the sciences and their applications, I select for mention here only the most
unusual one, to my eyes at least. The Millennium Dome has not found much
public favour. However, I should record that its heart—the Virtual Heart
the Body Zone—has been generated by a team led by Professor Noble with
international collaboration. It is indeed a striking illustration of the very
serious science involved in complex modelling on supercomputers to explore
heart diseases and their treatment. Perhaps the Dome's real misfortune is to
have only a virtual body. More generally in the sciences, I should say that
the government's decision to locate the new synchrotron at Rutherford-
Appleton provides a very great opportunity for Oxford and I look forward to
seeing initiatives come to fruition.

Let me record also the energy and breadth of achievement of our junior
members, once again in brief and selective reference. Their engagement in
starting up dot-coms has accelerated noticeably this year. One of our women
postgraduates has been among those bringing members of the House of
Commons up to speed on science research. Two other women students have
won national awards, one for journalism and the other for Law (in which
another Oxford student gained third prize). OUDS has toured Japan to
spectacular reviews. As for what is, I hope, the relatively light-hearted deadly
sporting rivalry with Cambridge, it is encouraging to know that Oxford won
about 70 per cent of encounters this year, most visibly of course in the Boat
Race and in Rugby in both of which an uncongenial trend was arrested. This
is not to ignore the successes in all but one of the races around the Boat
Race, in soccer, in women's rugby, the record-breaking fifteenth successive
win in Boxing, etc. This is perhaps the appropriate point at which to record
that, thanks to the subscriptions of the colleges, the generosity of the Rhodes
Trust and of individual donors, and the sterling efforts of volunteers, the
University has this year finally secured one of its more elderly
University swimming pool.

I laid out in last year's Oration some of the challenges that exist for us
in the changing context of higher education around the world and the broad
areas of action that we needed to address as a condition of protecting
ourselves as an international university. I have no need to repeat here the
detail of that reasoning. I should, however, report on the first steps that we
have taken this year in that direction. In the first place, Hebdomadal Council
has approved the establishment of an alliance for distance learning with Yale,
Princeton and Stanford, and this has been announced very recently. The
Council attached considerable strategic importance to this initiative, which it
regarded as a prudent measure to situate us to advantage within the
beneficial possibilities of the changing world of higher education without
opening the door to the identifiable dangers or to those unseen in a
fast-changing situation where the appearance of decisive action may simply be
a poorly informed gamble. This alliance joins us with universities whose
interests, requirements and reputation are entirely compatible with ours. It
reflects our international character. It is closely confined in nature and scope.
It does not involve the delivery of anything leading to a diploma or a degree.
It concerns only the joint delivery of single elements or courses to our joint
alumni body. This means that we are dealing with people whose areas of
interest and quality of attainment are broadly known to us and broadly
homogeneous. During the initial two-to-three years of the project before
review, these universities can therefore develop their collective skills at this
work with an audience who can see this as an extension of their own
university education. This confined objective allows us all to escape the loss
of control implied by the large capitalisation required for any initiative in the
broad arena of electronic university work, such as the consortia that some
universities have entered clearly imply. Initially, at the Oxford end, the
project will be related to the work of the TALL unit in the Department for
Continuing Education. The alliance will be overseen by a board of two members
nominated by each participating university, in our case Sir Anthony Kenny as
Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Mr Edward Barry, recently retired as President of
OUP New York.

Among the other objectives that I sketched last year were investment in
our infrastructure and the need to sustain the international character of our
student body. On the first of these, we have of course done well in the first
three rounds of JIF with a significant effect on our science infrastructure. It
is therefore good news that the Spending Review announced this summer
confirmed that the scheme would continue for a further period though quite
substantially modified. One of the modifications is that projects will only be
funded up to 75 per cent and so we would have to find the remainder
elsewhere. Not only in this does government infrastructural support not meet
all our predictable needs. Funding has not been available for infrastructure
in the arts as it has in the sciences. Furthermore, the outcome of next year's
review of the funding of university museums remains uncertain. In my last
Oration, I referred to the adjusted financial relationship with the Press, while
stating the University's pleasure that the efforts of those who work in the
Press had made this outcome possible. I am glad to say that Hebdomadal
Council decided to attribute one part of the transfer to a capital fund to
support investment in the academic infrastructure. As for investment in the
international character of the junior member body, Hebdomadal Council decided
to use the other Press income to establish the Clarendon Fund for financial
aid to overseas postgraduate students. The Rhodes Scholarships remain a
great and generous supporter of overseas graduates, but we need to provide
for the countries that they do not cover and we need to provide a flexible
system adapted to the needs of students with partial funding.

Hebdomadal Council also sought this year to address in some degree the
third issue I identified in last year's Oration: how the work of members of the
University is rewarded—a subject made all the more complex by the fact
that there has still been no clear determination on the Bett Report. Council
put out for consultation some proposals within our limited means. These
proposals have not been universally favoured, though it is equally clear from
the responses that there is agreement on the nature of the problem. It is
possible that this summer's announcement of £50m for recruitment and
retention in the whole sector may bring some greater flexibility, but we do not
yet know what the terms will be nor whether the University's share will be
locally significant. Moreover, it does appear to me that an important part of
the issue for many colleagues is the question of burdens. This matter was
addressed in the Report of the Commission of Inquiry and Council identified
it as one of the two central issues of that Report. A working party on joint
appointments under successive Chairmen of the General Board has grappled
with the intricate problems involved. Subject areas have now all done some
time-consuming but necessary preparatory work, setting out what the optimal
teaching arrangements in each discipline might be. I very much hope that on
the basis of these proposals swift general conclusions can be drawn about
broad new frameworks for joint appointments and academic duties. Against
that background, it would then be the business of departments and faculties
on the one hand, and colleges on the other, to agree detailed arrangements
for co-ordinated teaching which fully meet the needs of undergraduate and
graduate students while reducing the burdens on academic staff to much more
sensible levels.

I have referred several times in this Oration to the government's
initiatives in funding for the sciences. When one considers the situation in
some other countries with comparable systems, one must recognise that the
government has made a serious effort to support science. It has understood
that if it is to see innovation in science as a prime driver of the economy
(and I commented on the implications of that notion last year), then it must
invest in it. The announcements in the Science and Innovation White Paper
and other outcomes of the Spending Review 2000 confirm the commitment to
this: a Science Research Investment Fund of £1bn in succession to JIF,
Higher Education Innovation Fund of £140m over three years, another
of University Challenge, funds for the recruitment of researchers, an
improvement in the stipends of science research students. We must welcome
this. At the same time, however, my concerns remain unabated at what appear
to me to be both actual and potential distortions that derive from these
policies. I will address here only three of a number of issues.

In the first place, I am concerned that an overemphasis on the
applicability of science innovation in pursuit of a single sense of the economic
function of universities may distort the balance of science research, tilting
rewards and reputation away from what is termed (with a tint of revealingly
disparaging reductionism) `curiosity research' towards shorter horizons and
tangible outcomes. Of course, this is not inevitable. The two co-exist happily
in major North American universities, though as in so much else American
experience is not necessarily transferable. Curiosity, the pure desire to
understand the true nature of things, is the very beginning of innovation. To
deprecate it because one cannot immediately espy its application is eventually
to impoverish the applicable innovation that governments so desire. It is
important for us to assert in Oxford the unity of research and to persuade
government that pure research is research whose applicability is simply
delayed and whose impact is no more uncertain in reality than that of the
applied variety.

In the second place, we must be conscious that the emphasis on getting
universities into partnership funding arrangements with other funders (such
as is implied by the obligation now to find 25 per cent of the cost of projects
under the new Science Research Investment Fund) does potentially open the
door to stresses between different cultures and objectives, and to unhealthily
mixed motives. We shall have to be attentive to manage this and to understand
clearly that our function is research, not development. There is here, as
throughout current funding arrangements, the potential for a slide towards
rent-seeking and norm-conformity.

In the third place, I fear a palpable ghettoisation of the social sciences
and even more so of the humanities. The disparity in funding available
between science and arts far outstrips the real disparity in costs; I have
already pointed out that JIF funding does not touch the arts; the whole
rhetoric of government on the function of universities has consistently
marginalised the arts. This can only damage the coherence of universities. We
must defend the reality that within our University we are all engaged upon
the same fundamental purpose, that we sustain each other mutually, and that
the future vitality of the whole body depends upon each part cleaving to the
academic principles and values which undergird our common endeavour.

At all events, the general funding level of universities remains highly
problematic. We continue to face the automatic application of a 1 per cent cut
(`efficiency gain') to the annual block grant increase pegged to RPI, which in
turn is below the basket of goods and services appropriate to universities.
(There have been informal suggestions that the Spending Review announced
in the summer will halt that cut. However, it is much too early to tell and the
Review related only to the single year 2001–2.) The uniform pricing of the
four bands of the unit of resource across the whole sector continues to ignore
real differences in the cost of delivering quality. The cumulative effect of
national funding policies is now showing. Almost all the universities with which
we compare ourselves will clearly have a difficult financial year, as we will.
One or two are budgeting for significant deficits. In our case, pressure comes
from several sources. There is the disparity between our increase in income
and the salary increase that we must deliver for equity and institutional
self-interest. Though our outside grant income has risen, the increase has
slowed down to below projections based upon earlier years of excellent
growth. The General Board has invested, rightly, in the release of more posts
in the perspective of the impending RAE, although we can know neither the
outcome of the assessments nor the amounts of revenue that will be attached
to each level of assessment.

The coming year will be marked by serious constraints on expenditure
costs. We must do this now so as to avoid accumulating a more difficult
situation in the near future. However, it is essential that we manage this
process in such a way that we do not do lasting damage to the core academic
activities of the University and that we do not lose the will to embark on new
initiatives. This implies some very hard decisions. The Planning and Resource
Allocation Committee with the Divisions will be attentive to these objectives
during the coming year. At the same time, it is imperative that the University
begin a deliberate process of growing its income, multiplying and diversifying
its sources, and establishing more effective overhead recovery. For a period
this year, there was considerable and ill-informed media speculation about
self-funding student fees, which reflected discussions at CVCP and other
groups—themselves in turn a reflection of a growing realisation of the
financial situation I have just described. In reality, this is a highly complex
issue and it is also, rightly, an emotive one. I believe that it is true to say
that no one in this University would wish to see any arrangements that would
prevent any talented person going to the university of their choice and
willing to admit them, irrespective of their ability to pay. At the same time,
we must seek to ensure that future students have the same quality of
learning experience in an ambitious academic context that current and earlier
generations have had, rather than submit to a slow asphyxia of that
environment. It does not appear to me that any of the analyses offered this
year have captured the complexity of the issue, nor examined the range of
possibilities, nor offered a convincing programme for action. Much more
thought needs to go into this.

It is dispiriting to have to return once again in the Oration to the
question of access, upon which I spoke in detail last year. Earlier this year,
an admissions decision at Magdalen College drew wholly unwarranted
accusations of bias from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had been
entirely misinformed about the strict national controls on numbers in Medicine,
about the profile of those who had been given places to read Medicine, and
about our ongoing initiatives over access. I must express here the
University's sympathy with and support for the President and Fellows of
Magdalen. This has not been a matter for Magdalen alone. Other voices in
government, if not the Chancellor's directly, as well as the media speedily
generalised the issue to the whole University. Indeed, I was subsequently
called to appear before the House of Commons Education Sub-Committee to give
evidence about Oxford admissions. In parentheses, I should thank Ms Jane
Minto (Secretary to the Admissions Office), Mr Ed Peel (Admissions Tutor at
Keble), and the Principal of Mansfield for their able support at the hearing.
I may note also, in passing, that the University of Durham is the only other
university to have been called by itself to give substantial evidence on
matters of access. Finally, I should also record that the Secretary of State for
Education has remained throughout firm in his recognition of our quality and
supportive of our initiatives over access, visiting one of our summer schools
with Mr Lampl this summer.

I believe that Magdalen and the University were able to demonstrate
speedily and successfully in the media both the facts of this matter and the
reality of our access initiatives. HEFCE's published adjusted sector
benchmarks, which are the most reliable indicators, show that for 1997–8
last year currently at hand) Oxford's performance mostly compares well with
that of a group of Russell Group universities in the matters generally held
against us. Indeed, this event would have been merely silly if it had not been
for the authority of the source. There must be a danger that the highest
authority appears to have been given to the most stereotyped caricatures
among those potential candidates whom we are actively seeking to encourage.
Equally, travelling abroad this summer, I have discovered that the story as
initially reported is widely known among important constituencies of ours, who
have been puzzled as to what this signifies about us; I have similar reports
and correspondence from elsewhere. Like it or not, Oxford is one of the great
brand names that carry the reputation of British Higher Education abroad. At
a time when the government is seeking to benefit from that reputation in
order to increase the flow of overseas students, this seems an extraordinary
way to go about things. I wonder what would have been the reaction if,
mutatis mutandis, the same things had been said—and left without
correction of errors of fact at least—about a major export company in the
private sector?

But we ought not to dismiss all this without reaching for its central
meaning. We must set it in the context of fifteen to twenty years of transition
(not confined certainly to this country or to a particular political party) by
which governments have retreated from high taxation and the provision of
collective services towards low taxation and increasing freedom of individual
choice in what used to be basic public provision. In exchange, the role of
government has become to act on behalf of stakeholders in order to guarantee
that the nature of the choice is clear and to secure the quality of outcome.
This is achieved by government regulation. Higher Education in this country
is a classic example of this, and the Dearing Report was a classic expression
of it. In these circumstances, governments are bound to be suspicious of
corporate bodies, particularly those that are complex in organisation, and their
claims to professional judgement in the regulation of themselves and their
business. They appear to lack the transparency that governments require in
order to fulfil their need to guarantee fair outcomes to the stakeholders.
Essentially, this is where the Chancellor was coming from.

Now, we should not simply reject all of this out of hand. In the first
place, the improvement of access is in our own interest because it is in our
interest to recruit as students the most talented young people we can find,
irrespective of social or school background, ethnicity or gender. If the
newly-announced fund for widening access initiatives can help to do this, then
it is welcome though I think that now we should look quite carefully at the
terms on which it is offered. Nor is the demand for transparency in
admissions unreasonable. We should be clear about how and why we select
students; if we can improve our methods of differentiating between many
talented candidates for few places and add new methods, then we should do
so. What we cannot do is to abandon our independence of judgement and the
methods which, after mature inspection, we know serve to secure its validity.
We cannot compromise on quality at admissions. Indeed, of all the elements in
this affair, the most troubling is the claim by a minister to know that a
specific candidate was worthy of admission. This claim invades the core
independence of a university. Academics, not ministers, make academic
judgements about students.

Finally, let me turn to individual colleagues in the University. I begin by
expressing my gratitude to Sir Anthony Kenny for taking over from me as
President of the Development Programme on his retirement as Warden of
Rhodes House at the beginning of this year. I am glad also that Mr Mike
Smithson has joined us as Director of the Development Office from a similar
position at the University of Cambridge.

I am pleased to be able to welcome three new Heads of House. Professor
Paul Langford succeeds Mr Eric Anderson as Rector of Lincoln College; Sir Tim
Lankester will take office as President of Corpus Christi College in January
next in succession to Sir Keith Thomas; and at about the same time Sir Gareth
Roberts will join Wolfson College following Sir David Smith.

This past year has also seen the retirement of colleagues who have given
distinguished service to the University. I should mention in particular:
Professor J.W. Burrow, Professor of European Thought; Professor D.
Dew-Hughes, Professor of Engineering Science; Professor D.T. Edmonds,
Professor of Physics; Professor D.G. Grahame-Smith, Rhodes Professor of
Clinical Pharmacology; Professor J.P. Griffin, White's Professor of Moral
Philosophy; Professor A. Jones, Professor of Classical Arabic; Professor R.H.
Lonsdale, Professor of English Literature; Professor G. Lowe, Professor of
Biological Chemistry; Professor F.M.B. Reynolds, Professor of Law; Professor
P.G.H. Sandars, Professor of Experimental Physics; Professor M.P. Vessey,
Professor of Public Health; and Professor Sir David Weatherall, Regius
Professor of Medicine.

Many others have retired from their academic posts after long service to
the University: Dr J.D. Bell, Dr R. Currie, Dr R.L. Davies, Dr D. Hopwood, Dr
O.L.R. Jacobs, Dr H.D. Johnstone, Mr M.H. Keen, Mr C.A. Kirwan, Dr M.J.M.
Leask, Dr D.J. McFarland, Dr W.D.M. Rae, Mr D.S. Richards, Dr D.I. Scargill, Dr
A.M. Segar, Dr P.B. Whalley, and from senior administrative posts: Ms C.
Blundell, Mr D.R. Bradley, Mrs V.H. Cooper, Mr M.J. Day, Mr G.W.J. Drew, Mrs
M. Fletcher, Mr A.R. Holmes, Mr D.L.L. Howells, Mr A.D. Hyder, Mr A.B. Knox,
Mr J.F. Langdon, Mrs J.R. Leggatt, Dr P. Leggate, Mr B. McGregor, Mr W.A.
Platts, Mr R.T. Rowley, Mr B.G. Silcock, Dr D.T. Smith, Ms L.E. Williamson, Mrs
P.A. Woodward, Mr W.G. Wooster. I should also mention the retirement, at the
end of last year, of John Dobson, the University Verger, who at that time was
the longest serving University Officer, first appointed in 1967.

I wish to record our gratitude for the lives and service of our colleagues
who have died in office during the past year: Professor H.C.G. Matthew, and
Dr D.P. Fowler. We have also lost former colleagues in retirement: Mr Donald
Boalch, Mrs Marjorie Booth, Dr Vera Daniel, Mr William Davies, Dr Richard
Fargher, Professor Francis Haskell, Miss Philippa Hesketh-Williams, Professor
William Hamilton, Mr John Hinton, Dr Geoffrey Lewis, the Reverend Professor
William McHardy, Mr Harry Pitt, the Reverend Crewdson Lloyd, Professor
Leighton Reynolds, Dr Alastair Robb-Smith, Mr Geoffrey de Sainte Croix.

In conclusion, let me record that the Prime Minister gave the Romanes
Lecture last December on the theme of education and human capital in the
coming century. Later this month, the Romanes Lecture will be given by Mr
William Bowen, president of the Mellon Foundation and former president of
Princeton University, on the research university in a digitised, commercialised
age. Doubtless, Mr Bowen's remarks will provide an interesting commentary on
the Prime Minister's vision, as well as being especially pertinent to some of
the themes in this Oration.