Cambridge reform plan criticised by academics

November 24, 2006

Academics at Cambridge University claim that senior managers are quietly trying to implement governance reforms similar to those that have created such a storm at Oxford University.

Vice-chancellor Alison Richard set up an advisory group under former Cabinet Secretary Lord Richard Wilson. It is understood that the group has recommended that two more external members be added to Cambridge's governing council. This could also mean that the number of elected academics is decreased.

Some academics claimed Lord Wilson's group report was delayed until after the Oxford vote on November 28, so that it was not linked to the row there.

The Cambridge proposals have not yet been agreed or formally proposed by the council. They fall considerably short of plans proposed by John Hood, vice-chancellor of Oxford, who is seeking to make external members the majority on Oxford's governing council, in effect ending hundreds of years of academic self-rule.

At the moment, Cambridge has 23 members of council, 16 of whom are elected by academics. There are seven members who are not elected by staff, including two externals and the chancellor, vice-chancellor and three student representatives.

The proposals would raise the number of non-elected and student members to nine, while potentially reducing the elected numbers to 14, leaving elected academics in the clear majority.

One academic, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "Two more external members would be a disaster. Cambridge has become the most successful university in Europe because of its self-governing community of scholars.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

"It would abolish academic independence. The university would be run by appointees of the ruling party of the day."

Another Cambridge academic said: "There's the feeling that Cambridge is tip-toeing around the issue so as not to raise the anger that has happened in Oxford."

A Cambridge spokesman said: "As you would expect, an institution such as Cambridge is always considering how best to manage its affairs. Advice has been sought from Lord Wilson's advisory group. The advice has been put before council and council has not formulated any proposal yet."

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