Dons prepare for contracts battle

January 29, 1999

Oxford dons are squaring up for battle over the future of the collegiate teaching structure at the university, as constitutional changes are thrashed out this term.

Two issues, "with huge impact on college autonomy", are to be debated this term, said Alan Ryan, chairman of Oxford's Conference of Colleges, and warden of New College.

Oxford's academics have begun discussions in preparation for the phase-out of the Pounds 35 million college fee, paid direct to the 39 colleges by government, which is to be given as a block grant to the central administration from next year.

The university must also decide on a recommendation for a fundamental change to lecturers' contracts, which would in many cases shift control of teaching duties from colleges to the university.

Oxford lecturers are usually appointed and funded jointly by the university and their colleges, with teaching obligations split between the two. In the humanities, lecturers tend to be on Common University Fund contracts, with about 60 per cent of their salaries paid by the college where they do most of their teaching.

But in the sciences more power goes to the university. Science lecturers are usually appointed to university lectureships, where the university pays most of the salary and demands more teaching time.

A year ago, former vice-chancellor Sir Peter North recommended, as part of his commission of inquiry into Oxford, that the system of university lectureships and CUF contracts should be replaced with a "new single form of university lectureship", under which teaching duties would be individually negotiated on appointment between the university and the college and reviewed every five years.

The working party set up to look at Sir Peter's plans for joint appointments is facing negotiation difficulties, said Professor Ryan, a member of the group. He is leading the joint appointments debate on behalf of the colleges.

"Under Sir Peter's plans, the balance of power swings to the centre. To sort that out will be difficult. Colleges that want decent teachers will not sacrifice control over teaching staff," said Professor Ryan.

The working party on joint appointments is expected to report with consultative proposals for reform in spring.

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