UNIVERSITY governance is in crisis and is likely to worsen after the Dearing report, a conference for senior higher education staff heard this week.
A paper by Peter Scott, director of the centre for policy studies in education at the University of Leeds, and Catherine Bargh, the centre's research associate, paints a grim picture of a divided sector unable to cope with sleaze.
The paper, presented to a conference organised by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, states: "Governing bodies having failed to hold errant vice chancellors to account, such behaviour has only been curbed by public controversy to the deep detriment of the universities concerned."
Major changes in policy and direction are sparked by senior managers, staff, funding councils and national agencies, rather than governing bodies, say the researchers. They add that two rival governance cultures have persisted, dividing pre- and post-1992 universities, with neither suited to satisfying the demands of Lord Nolan's report into standards in public life.
Governors are drawn from a limited pool and nominations systems mean they tend to reproduce themselves.
Research published earlier this year by Scott and Bargh found most university governors were aged between 46 and 65. Just 17 per cent were women, compared with 22 per cent of further education college governors and nearly 50 per cent of school governors.
An overwhelming 98 per cent were white and 43 per cent voted Conservative in the 1992 election. Four out of ten had professional backgrounds.
"Not only are members of university councils and governing bodies atypical of the population at large," said Professor Scott, "they are also atypical of the student population."
Clive Booth, chairman of the CVCP's Nolan committee, said: "Universities are going to have to look carefully at their arrangements for governance and see if they cannot sharpen up their act before the Government steps in and sharpen it up for them."
Opinion, page 12