Pay plan 'will stifle' academic freedom

March 11, 2005

Performance-related pay could destroy the cherished traditions of academic life at Oxford University's colleges, union officials fear.

Local activists at Oxford believe the introduction of modern management concepts - such as common-tenure criteria for new appointees, centralised pay systems and procedures for dealing with "underperformance" of staff - could undermine academic freedom at the university.

Terry Hoad, Association of University Teachers honorary secretary at Oxford and a fellow of St Peter's College, said the union's protest was as much a defence of traditional employment conditions as an argument against performance-related pay.

He said: "If you have stronger powers of central control, they can start to impinge on academic freedom, and on the ability of academics to pursue whatever research they feel is necessary."

The concerns have been prompted by the university's plans to centralise staff management by introducing a form of performance-related pay.

The union says the plans, contained in an academic strategy green paper, will erode colleges' role in appointing staff and setting employment conditions.

The AUT is also worried that the plans, together with governance reforms proposed in a second university paper, will lead to greater central control that will weaken colleges' autonomy.

In its response to the first paper, Oxford AUT condemns the university's plans for a "mandatory system of regular, joint university-college reviews of individual contributions, with scope to enhance financial rewards, rebalance academic duties and address underperformance".

The paper says the university wants to use "more rigorous appointment standards and tenure criteria for new appointees".

"At present there is a distinction between the part of the job academics at Oxford do for their college and what they do for the university," Mr Hoad said. "This proposal attempts to link the two.

"The green paper amounts to a move towards greater central control, which we feel raises the risk of demands being made on our members or changes being made in their working conditions."

He added: "It also threatens the autonomy of the colleges and their entitlement to have control over their staff."

Mr Hoad said there was a discrepancy in the paper between the evidence it presents to show that Oxford has maintained its world-class standing and its argument that the university will fall into decline without drastic changes.

Oxford's vice-chancellor, John Hood, said he did not wish to comment on the union's concerns until all responses to its consultations were in.

Meanwhile, Oxford University Student Union has warned that the green paper's proposal to significantly increase the proportion of overseas students could lead to more racism on campus.

OUSU's response points to the experience of Auckland University, where it says big increases in international student numbers had brought a "severe problem" of racism.

If Oxford followed suit, it could "add to those difficulties suggested by the position of international students already at Oxford, where anecdotal evidence from many common rooms suggests that integration is not strong".

Oxford launched its first-ever national advertising campaign this week in a bid to publicise new bursaries worth up to £13,000.

Mr Hood told The Times Higher that the £280,000 campaign was a worthwhile investment.

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

 

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