Oxford colleges' powers set to slip

March 21, 1997

OXFORD University must respond to a dramatic shift in the balance between administration, teaching and research if it is to remain successful, according to its vice chancellor.

Peter North, who is leading a commission of inquiry into the future running of the university, said tensions had grown between the three. Whereas most Oxford staff used to combine these activities, cash cuts meant one third were now employed for research alone and another third, who were members of colleges but held no university post, concentrated entirely on teaching.

"It is a huge change," he said. "We are having to look at whether the systems we have are still appropriate."

The commission, which will make its final report next term, is expected to suggest devolving power to the faculties, with subject specialists taking on greater organisational responsibilities. This would follow recommendations in a report by management consultants Coopers & Lybrand last year.

But college administrations are unlikely to welcome losing their powers and fear that under the new system teaching could suffer. Both Dr North and his successor-elect, Colin Lucas, insist that teaching will not be neglected although they agree new sources of cash are essential.

While the university has included a clause in its prospectus warning of the possibility of top-up fees they do not see these as the answer. "I don't think Oxford wants to charge fees and know of no structure in place to do it," said Dr Lucas.

Dr North said top-up fees were "not a helpful suggestion" but some kind of student contribution was inevitable.

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