Dons find devil in the details

March 13, 1998

OXFORD University dons met in closed session this week to discuss Sir Peter North's commission of inquiry into their future, writes Harriet Swain.

More than 100 academics took part in a debate described as "friendly" at the university parliament, Congregation. Main topics for discussion were governance, resources, and the structure and size of the university.

While most recognised the need for change and welcomed the report for demonstrating that need, there were minor disagreements over how to achieve it.

Wealthier colleges were concerned at North's recommendation to extend the college contributions scheme, whereby they are expected to help out their poorer neighbours. With the future of college fees still undecided, they warned they may not be able to afford to give any more.

There was also some disagreement between arts and science academics about what systems of governance would best serve their disciplines.

A second meeting will take place next week to discuss the organisation of research, academic appointments and teaching and learning, including North's controversial suggestion that continuous assessment should form part of undergraduates' final degree mark.

Further consultation will take place over the next few months with a range of university committees, faculty boards, departments, the conference of colleges, Committee of senior tutors, estates bursars' committee and others.

The first proposed changes in university legislation should go before Congregation in the autumn.

See also pages 13,14 and 17

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