Controls not control

June 18, 1999

I was surprised at the prominence given to Public Accounts Committee/National Audit Office pressure for more control over higher education institutions without a further exploration of the potential dangers of such a trend (Analysis, THES, June 11).

Institutions must be accountable for the public money they receive. But the relatively small number of recent failings in effective governance and/or management in certain institutions does not suggest a wholesale increase in regulation and control is required. Such events are embarrassing to the sector and will rightly lead all of us to review performance and procedures. But in the context of the multi-billion pound sector, they should be regarded as serious failings that nevertheless amount only to a tiny fraction of activities.

The imposition of prescriptive and detailed regulations would gradually create a uniformity of process and thinking. Such regulation would never totally eradicate the possibility of incompetent or dishonest actions by managers. It would, however, run the risk of damaging the institutional diversity and freedom to initiate and experiment that underpins the most successful aspects of higher education.

John Lauwerys Secretary and registrar University of Southampton

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