Oxford University's new "young and dynamic" chancellor, European commissioner Chris Patten, will play a significant role in the appointment of a vice-chancellor for Oxford who could, for the first time, come from the business community.
Oxford is breaking centuries of tradition and looking beyond its own college and departmental heads for a vice-chancellor when Sir Colin Lucas leaves in 2004. And for the first time, the university has appointed headhunters.
Mr Patten said: "The job of vice-chancellor of Oxford is one of the most difficult and important jobs in academic life, and I would be very surprised if the university did not look across as broad a canvas as possible."
A senior insider said: "Oxford now has a very active and young chancellor who has the credibility of being elected by ballot. The relationship between this chancellor and the next vice-chancellor will be crucial for the university."
The chancellor normally chairs the nominating committee, but the university appointed Sir Victor Blank, chairman of the Trinity Mirror newspaper group and a member of the university council, as chair after the death of Lord Jenkins earlier this year.
Sir Victor said: "We will be seeking the best person internationally. The constituency we will choose from will include a large number of internal people, external academics and business people."
Saxon Bampfylde has been chosen as headhunter.
The nominating committee will recommend a name to the university's council no later than September this year. This recommendation will then go to congregation. Under the governance reforms introduced in 2000 after the North report, the vice-chancellor has a strong chief executive role and serves for seven rather than four years.
Mr Patten, 58, was elected by 4,203 votes and defeated Lord Bingham, Lord Neill and Sandi Toksvig. He said: "I stood in the sunshine outside the Divinity School this weekend and thought, 'My goodness, I want this job.'"
Mr Patten will meet Oxford student leaders, including Oxford University Student Union president Will Straw, this weekend to discuss student funding and poverty. "I am not against top-up fees, but I am reluctant to accept that the whole debate on university funding should be focused on top-up fees. We don't provide sufficient public funding," Mr Patten said.
Mr Straw said: "We very much support Mr Patten's view that universities need more public funding. The union is against top-up fees, and we will be raising our concerns about debt deterring poorer students."
Mr Patten will not, however, be able to attend the first meeting of congregation for four years next Tuesday to debate a resolution opposing top-up fees.
OUSU is supporting the resolution from Balliol psychology tutor Mike Woodin and St Anne's French tutor Patrick McGuinness. An opposing amendment has been tabled. Mr Straw said: "The debate could become quite bitter."