Oxford in talks over 'professors'

An academic is calling for all dons with permanent posts to get the title. Melanie Newman reports

December 4, 2008

It is one of the most jealously guarded status symbols in higher education - but a University of Oxford academic is calling for all dons to be given the title of "professor" once they have permanent posts.

The proposal was put forward by Nicholas Bamforth, a fellow in law at Queen's College, in response to a consultation by a university task force on an academic promotions scheme.

If Dr Bamforth's suggestion is adopted, Oxford would become the country's second university to give all its academics the title of professor. The University of Warwick adopted this approach in 2007. Warwick renamed lecturers "assistant professors" and senior lecturers and readers "associate professors".

Dr Bamforth argued that the task force's proposed promotions scheme was too complex as it would result in three types of professor: statutory professors, professors promoted under the new scheme and "titular professors", all with different teaching obligations. "The simplest and fairest way forward, given that our major competitors in North America do so, may simply be to give everyone ... the title professor," he suggested in a debate last month.

Within this title, statutory chairs - the university's own professorships, many personally endowed - and personal chairs would be recognised as posts of special distinction.

The Task Force on Academic Employment's briefing note says that it "notes with considerable interest" the suggestion.

l Meanwhile, Oxford is almost two months late in responding to the Higher Education Funding Council for England's concerns about governance arrangements.

After vice-chancellor John Hood failed last year to implement reforms to the governing council that would have allowed the appointment of external business leaders, Hefce wrote noting that it "continues to have corporate governance which differs ... from the ... norm".

Hefce asked Oxford to consider eight points, including how its governance arrangements compared with the rest of the Russell Group's.

Oxford's response was due at Hefce in early October and its Audit and Scrutiny Committee, which is preparing the reply, had said it would keep the congregation informed, but academics have heard nothing since March.

In a letter to the Oxford Magazine this month, Alan Ryan, warden of New College, asks: "I assume that the Committee has been invisible because it has been busy, on our behalf, explaining to Hefce how Oxford works and why it would not altogether be an improvement if we were - say - to be run like the University of East London."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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