Leader: Learn from Cambridge

December 22, 2006

At least the academics' verdict on Oxford University governance was decisive. Even the strongest supporters of the ill-fated reform proposals would not have wanted a narrow victory in this week's postal ballot when the most active academics had shown their contempt in Congregation. Now the administration must go back to the drawing board, not because of empty and counterproductive threats from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, but because there are elements of the reform package that command widespread support and would help safeguard Oxford's position among the world's leading universities.

No one can have been surprised by the eventual outcome: once the debate crystallised around the highly prized principle of self-governance, the die was cast. But the reformers should take heart from the example of Cambridge University, which seemed equally paralysed three years ago. The vexed question of intellectual property rights has now been settled there and some progress has been made on governance reforms. There are not only lessons for Oxford in Cambridge's more consensual approach, but also in how swiftly the balance can tilt if the right concessions are made.

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