Leader: Resisting reforms is a high-risk strategy

March 7, 2003

Gordon Brown let it be known again this week that he believes university management needs shaking up, making it clear that future public support will depend on an unspecified degree of modernisation. Government by nods, winks and leaks is sending a threatening message to the old universities in particular, but what precisely does it mean? Are they expected to ignore their royal charters and disband their senates and cull their committees?

Steven Schwarz offers one interpretation of good governance. As a vice-chancellor, his approach may be too managerial for some, but it is likely to be mild in comparison with Mr Brown's agenda. The chancellor plainly hopes that Richard Lambert's review of business links will recommend ruthless streamlining, consigning collegiality to a fading memory, like academic tenure. If the old universities want to determine their own future, they will have to show that their systems can work. The most important signal that could be sent to the Treasury would be from Cambridge. If academics there resist all change, the whole sector may be punished.

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