Tough tests loom for Hood

June 20, 2003

The appointment of cricketing Kiwi John Hood, vice-chancellor of Auckland University, to lead Oxford has surprised some at the university, writes Claire Sanders.

College heads were acquainting themselves with his CV this week. One insider commented: "The nominating committee has gone for someone in the chief executive officer model. Dr Hood is used to working in industry and at a command-led university."

Michael Beloff, president of Trinity College, said: "His managerial expertise should be valuable as he contemplates Oxford's Byzantine administration, and I am glad that a fellow sports aficionado is coming in."

Christopher Tremewan, pro vice-chancellor at Auckland, said: "Dr Hood is very sensitive to academic priorities. He is clear that he is not running a company. If he does for Oxford what he has done for Auckland, Oxford is on to a good thing."

Fees, entrepreneurialism and a move to take in more postgraduates are likely to set the agenda for Dr Hood during his seven-year term. He will take over from Sir Colin Lucas in October 2004.

Dr Hood sees the legislation following the higher education white paper as Oxford's greatest challenge in 2004. He has fought hard against the New Zealand government's limit on fee levels.

He strongly supports entrepreneurialism. Two years ago, he gave an address reflecting on the role of research-led universities. "Intellectual property developed within once-hallowed halls constantly begs to be capitalised.

Universities are sponsors and nurturers of new enterprises," he said.

But he also acknowledged that engagement with industry raised "antennae" among academics who feared losing autonomy and academic freedom. "Both of these values are fundamental and precious to the integrity of universities," he said. "They are to be protected at all costs."

He knows that Oxford is changing: "There is also much important work to be done building on the impressive governance foundations that Sir Colin has laid."

Dr Hood was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford in the 1970s. He returned to New Zealand to teach civil engineering at Auckland. He left for senior positions in industry before returning to Auckland as vice-chancellor in 1999.

Auckland is a strong research-led university. It commercialises its intellectual property through UniServices, which earned NZ$56 million (£19.5 million) last year.

Dr Hood is also chair of Universitas 21, an association of 17 research-led universities. He has a keen interest in cricket and has chaired many sporting bodies. He is reputed to work 16 hours a day.

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