University of Oxford v-c: funding and red tape ‘threaten’ success

Louise Richardson says Asian and US universities are hot on Oxford’s heels while Brexit vote is already affecting the institution’s researchers

September 22, 2016
Professor_Louise_Richardson_by_John_Cairns_4.9.15-A-20 University of Oxford Vice Chancellor

The vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford says a lack of funding, tighter government regulations and Brexit are all potential threats to the institution’s future success.

As Oxford became the world’s top university for the first time in Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, Louise Richardson identified three main issues that could jeopardise its position in future years, citing finance as the “biggest threat”.

“If our academics cannot secure funding for their research they will move elsewhere. We, frankly, do not have the resources commensurate with our global position,” she told THE in an interview for the THE World University Rankings supplement.

She said that Asian institutions are among Oxford’s main competitors, owing to their “massive government investment”, alongside American universities with “eye-watering endowments”.

She added that UK universities are also “more tightly regulated than many of our global competitors”, citing the UK government’s forthcoming teaching excellence framework (TEF), which will monitor and assess the quality of teaching in England’s universities, as a particular concern. She said she is worried about the impact it will have on Oxford’s one-on-one approach to teaching, which “provides an extraordinary experience for our students”.

“There is no place to hide, they write essays constantly, they have to defend their ideas and their arguments and they have the opportunity to challenge their teachers. This education leads them to develop the art of critical thinking, analytical reasoning and clarity of thought as well as good judgement. In a world of constant change it’s hard to imagine more valuable graduate attributes than these,” she said.

“I do worry that the forthcoming TEF may be inclined, as most regulations are, to attempt to enforce conformity across the sector and fail to appreciate the value of its diversity and in particular the value of unique approaches like ours.”

She continued: “I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that all these regulations improve the quality of what we do, and yet they are a major distraction of time and resources.”

Professor Richardson added that the UK’s historic vote to leave the European Union in June was already having an impact on Oxford’s ability to conduct research and retain top talent.

“We have innumerable examples of academics being frozen out of collaborative research projects, withdrawing from job searches, and burnishing their CVs with a view to moving to an institution where their funding will be secure," she said.

“In general we are lobbying the government to ensure the interests of universities are protected.”

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