A complex business

November 30, 2007

The story on Amanda Goodall's research ("Scholar v-cs score best", October 26), Terence Keeley's opinion article ("Emmanuel lights way on self-governance", October 19) and the story on John Hood's departure ("Oxford v-c to go", November 23), together with Richard House's letter ("Research must fight status quo", November 9), make a powerful case for revising proposed changes in university governance.

They all effectively deny the original Jarratt proposal - based on no research what-ever but faithfully followed in the years since - that universities must behave more like business and effectively claim that university governance was and is basically sound, but that universities must become more businesslike. Their mode of governance has survived centuries, and we now know that it is based on complexity theory, first hinted at by Humboldt 200 years ago. Can we please now go back, in the light of our understanding of underlying theory, and do better? Or are we fated to destroy what is best in universities?

Lewis Elton, Visiting professor, Manchester University, distinguished visiting scholar, Surrey University, and emeritus professor, University College London.

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