Academics should be brought back to the heart of university management because executive rule is failing.
Speaking at the Universities UK conference on university governance, Michael Shattock, professor of higher education at the Institute of Education, attacked corporate-style management with the vice-chancellor as chief executive backed by pliant governors.
Professor Shattock, former registrar at Warwick University, said the exclusion of academics had failed to deliver academic success and had led to "improprieties and breakdowns".
Professor Shattock is author of a report published this week on a breakdown of governance at Cambridge University. It is expected to usher in sweeping reforms at the university.
His paper for the UUK conference, Re-balancing Modern Concepts of University Governance , says the sector should look to the United States and the concept of "shared governance".
"Those universities which generally occupy the top ten positions in the league tables seem to emphasise collegiality in their management styles rather than any form of executive dominance," he says.
While outside commercial and government pressures have paved the way to rule by the executive, the new ways of funding universities made the voice of the academic community crucial, Professor Shattock said.
He said managers and governors were often responsible for problems. "Where improprieties and breakdowns have occurred, they have mostly centred on governing bodies and the executive, not on the academic community."
Professor Shattock's concept of "shared governance" meant that governing bodies must encourage dialogue between themselves and the academic community "rather than accepting automatically the interpretation of academic communities' views by the chief executive".
In a separate paper, Michael Knight, head of accounting and a member of the governing body at South Bank University, urged all post-1992 universities to seek a Royal Charter.
He said their status as legal corporations meant that the role of academics was even more limited than in their old, chartered counterparts, to the detriment of the sector.
The ideal was "that universities should be composed of scholars not as individuals but as a body... formed as equal scholars who are able to order their own affairs".
Professor Shattock's report on Cambridge highlights the disastrous implementation of a new financial accounting system, a collapse of accountability and serious under-funding of financial and administrative expertise.
Cambridge is governed ultimately by its community of 3,000 academics but it is conducting a major modernisation drive.
Cambridge registrary, Tim Mead, said that all changes would be underpinned by a commitment to preserving the principle of academic self-rule.