The council that represents Australian universities is on the brink of breaking up, with the eight research-intensive universities calling for radical changes in the way it operates.
The Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee has represented universities since it was founded in 1920 with six members. Today there are 38 but it is a far more diverse organisation, with several groups having their own interests.
The Group of Eight universities has called for a decentralised organisation where the different groupings would follow their own agendas. Under the Go8's plans, contributions to the AVCC would be cut, its central office reduced in size and a president appointed who would be independent of any university.
Vice-chancellors outside the Go8 immediately warned that fragmentation would weaken the sector. Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson said he preferred to negotiate with one organisation and not several.
In a letter to AVCC president Di Yerbury, Go8 representatives say the range of issues on which the committee could legitimately represent all its member universities is narrowing.
It says the sector is no longer sufficiently homogeneous to benefit from a single voice.
Chair of the group, University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, said the Go8 was seeking a fundamental change in the way the AVCC operated.
"The different groups now emerging can operate as members and as groups that represent their own interests on matters of substantial policy significance," Professor Davis said.
The AVCC board will propose a full-scale review of the organisation at a conference of vice-chancellors next month.
Professor Yerbury, who heads Macquarie University - a non-Go8 university - said the board welcomed views from members. "This is a good opportunity to arrange a wide-ranging review of membership arrangements, governance, operations, structure and the role of sub-groups," she said.