Flagships echo to sound of mutiny

June 30, 1995

The views on university governance ascribed to "the unions" in your leader last week are certainly not those of Natfhe. As the organisation representing most academic staff in the new universities and colleges of further education, we have considerable experience of the problems stemming from new-style governance and management flowing from recent legislation. We do not however see re-modelling these institutions on the old universities as the solution.

The new universities and colleges have been the flagship in the drive to expand student opportunities. They have a superb record of responsiveness and flexibility. There is, however, an unhealthy level of discontent with governance and management in the institutions which has erupted dramatically in a few and which jeopardises potential dynamism overall. The flurry of guidance on governance and the impending arrival of Lord Nolan are not unconnected with Natfhe's exposure of extreme examples in Derby, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and elsewhere.

The involvement of staff in the creation and pursuit of institutional mission is essential. This will not be achieved by occasional meetings of huge bodies of the most senior academics any more than the individual visitor system will provide a sufficient external check on institutional probity. An overhaul of institutional structures is needed to facilitate functional participation at all levels and proper relationships between structures - departmental meetings and academic boards, for example - so that people can influence decisions. For dealing with those rare problems that cannot be dealt with internally, external machinery owned by the system as a whole, overseen by the appropriate funding council is appropriate.

Natfhe's consultative paper on governance also advocates a new schedule to the Education Reform Act to improve the composition and accountability of governing bodies, and a code of practice for higher education institutions. Copies are available from Natfhe, Britannia Street, London, WC1X 3JP.

Elizabeth Allen

Head of higher education, Natfhe

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