Letter: Who's in charge around here? 4

November 16, 2001

The "professionalisation" of management in old universities is a depressing trend.

The loss of tenure started the rot in 1988 by redefining the relationship between academics and their institutions. The most damaging result of this loss was not its impact on individual academic freedom but on the academic community's collective ability to stand against the power of university councils and the assumption by many vice-chancellors of the role of chief executive at the expense of the leadership of the academic community.

The corporate model adopted by the former polytechnics as forerunners of the new universities placed great burdens on their governors, formally acting as company directors, to ensure accountability under the companies acts and other statutory requirements. Their degree-awarding power is vested in the body corporate, taken to be the governing body operating through its chief executive. This means that managerial structures, accountable to the vice-chancellor and not the wider academic community, regulate their academic standards and awarding functions.

With few exceptions, pre-1992 universities were established by royal charter with statutes giving degree-awarding powers to the academic community, via the senate. I agree with Shattock that the model adopted by the new universities should be viewed as a staging post before seeking chartered status as independent self-regulating academic communities.

There has been too little debate about the most effective ways to manage and regulate higher education. The old university system had much to commend it.

Bob Ryan
Chippenham, Wilts

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