Oxford's reforms praised

July 30, 2004

Oxford University has successfully introduced radical reforms to improve the way it is managed and governed, according to quality watchdogs.

Eleven years ago, the former Higher Education Quality Council raised concerns over a split in management between Oxford's colleges and the university.

A quality audit conducted by reviewers for the Quality Assurance Agency in March found that this had been addressed, thanks to changes brought in after the North Commission of Inquiry, which concluded in 1997.

A report on the QAA's findings says new committee structures have succeeded in integrating the colleges with the university, "leading to the appropriate use of the expression 'collegiate university' to describe the institution".

This, together with the fact that academic appointments are now made jointly between the university and the colleges, has "served to ensure that the collegiate university maintains a careful balance between teaching and research", the report adds.

The QAA says Oxford has a "very good understanding" of the areas where it needs to make improvements, and has set itself a challenging agenda to make further changes outlined in a vision document up to the year 2020.

It warns that this agenda will need "very careful management" because it will take the university into relatively new territory.

But it adds: "The university is moving to adopt more centralised and formal modes of action where these are appropriate, and is managing the central/devolved balance with skill and care."

Oxford said this week it was addressing two areas where the QAA calls for further action.

Auditors recommend that students' skills in areas such as statistics, information technology and laboratory work, which are currently assessed on a pass/fail basis, should be graded. They also call for a more proactive approach to staff development.

Bill Macmillan, Oxford's pro vice-chancellor, said: "Everyone in the university should take satisfaction from the audit's acknowledgement of the successful implementation of our radical governance reforms."

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