Oxford head warns of charity reform threat

November 15, 2002

The head of an Oxford college has called government reforms of the charitable sector "sheer political cheek" and a threat to academic autonomy.

The reforms could lead to Oxbridge colleges presenting their accounts to the Charity Commission.

Speaking at a conference at Oxford University on philanthropy, Anthony Smith, president of Magdalen College and vice-president of the university's development programme, said: "On top of the bureaucracy imposed by the teaching quality assessment and the research assessment exercise, we now have to tell government what we are using our charity money for."

In September, the Cabinet Office's Strategy Unit published a consultation document Private Action, Public Benefit . It proposes to create new types of charity and social enterprise companies to provide better information for the public and to modernise the role of the Charity Commission.

Mr Smith, who clashed with ministers over Magdalen's rejection of Laura Spence, said: "College accounts are already audited. We do not need this extra layer of scrutiny."

Universities and colleges are exempt charities and do not present accounts to the commission. Universities, but not colleges, present them to the higher education funding councils. The reporting of college accounts has recently been reformed at Oxford and, this year, will be presented in a form closer to that of the university.

The cabinet consultation document was praised by fundraisers and legal experts on philanthropy from the US. Harvey Dale, director of the National Center on Philanthropy and the Law at New York University, said: "This is an extraordinarily in-depth document and I wish we had something like it in the States."

Les Hems, director of research at the Institute for Philanthropy at University College London who contributed to the consultation document, said the reforms were part of the government strategy to build charitable giving.

Dr Hems is doing research for the Inland Revenue to monitor the impact of the budget 2000 tax concessions. "So far the total amount of the tax claim is £25 million. The university and college share of that is just 3.5 per cent," he said.

Mike Smithson, director of development at Oxford, said: "It will take time for all universities and colleges to fully take advantage of the budget changes."

• Public funds flowing into universities increased by 2.4 per cent between 1994 and 1999, while private funds rose 22 per cent over the same period, according to the latest figures.

The data were presented by Sir David Watson, director of Brighton University and chairman of the Universities UK longer term strategy group, to the Association of University Administrators' corporate planning forum.


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