The Stepford academy 2

September 16, 2010

At the risk of sending Times Higher Education's readership to sleep in the calm before the new academic year's storm, I would like to urge that fundamental changes to the way that universities are structured and governed should not be left to administrators and their costly legal advisers.

In the past decade we have seen proposals for compulsory arbitration of student complaints, a commercial approach to student contracts and drastic reform of the governance of post-1992 institutions ("Schedule 7A") either bite the dust or at least be shelved - no doubt having wasted large sums of public money. Academics must have been dozing when administrators in many universities persuaded the Privy Council to deregulate the only real protection they had against arbitrary discipline by moving the so-called "Model Statute" to a lower level of regulatory importance.

Now the latest plan is to enable profit-taking private investment to be facilitated, perhaps by converting universities into public limited companies. This nonsensical idea is a step too far. In every university, at the first faculty board or senate of the new academic year, someone should raise the question of what exactly their institution has authorised administrators to do in its name, who pays for their representative bodies and their lawyers and what benefit arises from membership. If management will not tell you, use the Freedom of Information Act, but be prepared for stonewalling: for example, according to the Association of Heads of University Administration, it is a private body and will not disclose what it is doing, despite the fact that it is funded by universities.

I have no vested interest, as I am not employed by a UK university. I just do not wish to see major changes made by default without consultation and I am sure that the cash could be better spent on core services.

Dennis Farrington, Rye, East Sussex.

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