Chapter 5 - The University's Governance: proposals for change

I: Summary of proposals

5.1 Bearing in mind the objectives for change considered in the last chapter, we now make proposals which are designed to:

  • improve the University's approach to planning and resource allocation;
  • make accountability more effective and clarify where responsibility for decision-making lies;
  • improve communication and openness in governance;
  • enable academic staff to make a more effective, but less time-consuming, contribution to governance, thus helping to reduce the overall administrative burden on academic staff - which was a source of much complaint in the evidence submitted to us.

5.2 The changes which we propose to meet the objectives already discussed are also designed to preserve rather than alter Oxford's character as a self-governing community of scholars. Thus we recommend that many basic features of Oxford's governance should stay broadly as they are, and that their advantages and utility should be reasserted. In particular, the sovereign power of Congregation within the University should remain, as should the position of the colleges as independent institutions with control over their own resources. We argue however that there should be changes in the way Congregation operates and in some of its responsibilities, in order to make it a more effective body; we also recommend a modest extension of its membership.

5.3 The most substantial changes which we recommend concern the University's central bodies, whose job it is to oversee and support the academic activity of the University, to manage its resources, to coordinate strategic policy, and to represent the University in dealing with external bodies, including funding bodies. We propose that Hebdomadal Council and the General Board (and many of their sub-committees) should be replaced with a new structure consisting of a Council that acts as the University's principal executive body, responsible to Congregation not only for the administration and financial management of the University (as Hebdomadal Council currently is) but also for an active oversight of the academic work of the University, which Council does not at present undertake. The interests of the colleges would need to be properly reflected in the composition of the new Council bearing in mind their vital contribution to teaching and research in Oxford.

5.4 Beneath the Council there would be three new academic boards, each covering a particular group of subjects, which would take on many of the functions of the present General Board. Under the proposed structure some of the broader strategic responsibilities currently exercised by the General Board would be passed upwards to the Council, but the bulk of the General Board's existing responsibilities for academic planning and management would be divided between the three academic boards, each of which would enjoy a high degree of delegated authority. Each board would be chaired by a full-time academic officer, to be known as a 'Deputy Vice-Chancellor', and there would be a fourth Deputy Vice-Chancellor with responsibility for academic services. It would be at the 'second tier' level of the three academic boards in particular that effective linkage with and representation of colleges would need to be maintained, to deal especially with joint appointments and the organisation of undergraduate teaching.

5.5 A diagrammatic representation of the outline of these proposals is provided in Figure 5.1 (57kb). This diagram does not, of course, reflect all the detailed aspects of the proposed structure.

5.6 Our proposals are designed to provide a structure with an effective principal executive body, able to serve the University's interests by focusing on broad strategic issues rather than dealing with large amounts of (often very detailed) business referred from below. The delegation of as much decision-making as possible away from the centre is integral to the proposals. Only such delegation can increase the involvement of those most closely affected by particular decisions both in making them and in having responsibility for their execution. The relationship between the new Council and the bodies beneath it would be to a considerable extent governed by a new annual planning and resource allocation cycle. This structure would link decisions on resource allocation to the University's agreed policy priorities, and bring academic planning and resource allocation closer together. It would thereby also improve accountability.

5.7 We believe that the proposals in this chapter are in many ways the most important in our report. In considering much of the rest of our agenda we have concluded that if, in 1994, the University's arrangements for governance had been operating more effectively, then the establishment of the Commission would probably have been unnecessary. This clearly points to the importance of improvements in those arrangements for the future. Moreover many of the recommendations which are made elsewhere in this report on matters such as the organisation and support of teaching and research and the joint appointments scheme, important though we believe them to be, will depend to a great degree for their successful implementation on the revised governance arrangements proposed in this chapter.

II: The role of Congregation

Congregation's constitutional position

5.8 In Chapter 4 we described Congregation's position as the University's sovereign body, comprising academic staff and some senior academic-related staff holding established posts. This position is paralleled within UK higher education only by the position of the Regent House at the University of Cambridge. There are those who have argued to us that Congregation's position is anomalous, that it cannot be expected to exercise any effective decision-making powers, and that its role should be restricted to that of an electorate and/or to providing advice to elected central bodies.

5.9 As we stated in Chapter 3 when considering Oxford's future structure, we do not believe that the University should take this approach. The existence of Congregation as the University's ultimate governing body provides a fundamental expression of Oxford's nature as a self-governing community of scholars and gives members of that community the opportunity of having a voice in government; it is the means whereby the University's executive bodies and its Vice-Chancellor are held accountable to the University as a whole; and it is thus an important means of giving legitimacy and proper authority to the actions of those bodies and of the Vice-Chancellor.

5.10 In reaching this conclusion we have taken note of the recommendations in the Dearing Report[78] to the effect that a University's ultimate decision-making body should be its Council; that a University's 'Court' (the nearest equivalent to Congregation in most institutions) should have no more than an advisory role; and that a majority of the members of the governing body of each university should be lay members, that is, not active members of the University's academic staff.

5.11 It is not clear how far these recommendations are meant to apply to Oxford, whose ultimate governing body is Congregation. We accept fully the need for clarity in identifying an institution's governing body, and for openness and accountability in the way in which executive bodies operate. We do not accept, however, that there is only one single effective way in which these objectives can be achieved. We have considered the objectives set out in the Dearing Report, and believe that they can be delivered in Oxford within the broad framework of its present constitution, particularly if the changes we propose in this chapter are adopted. Moreover, these objectives would, in this way, be achieved with a far greater degree of involvement on the part of ordinary members of the academic community, and with a much greater degree of accountability to them, than would be the case with a small governing body comprising a majority of lay members. We see no reason to change those aspects of Oxford's present structure of governance which encourage wide involvement in running its affairs, and which value the principle of open self-government by all members of the academic community which is embodied in Congregation's position.

5.12 We would also emphasise that Oxford has long had an executive body, Hebdomadal Council, which is responsible for running the institution's affairs. In terms of the size of its membership (25), the present Council and the new one which we propose in this chapter both closely resemble the model set out in the Dearing Report. The accountability of this executive body to the wider academic community, and a high degree of openness in governance, are both encouraged by the fact of direct elections by Congregation to Council, and through the need to promote all major decisions on future developments in the form of legislation which needs to be approved by Congregation.

5.13 The principal differences between the existing Hebdomadal Council and the new Council we propose in this chapter, and the councils envisaged in Dearing, are that the latter are expected to contain a majority of 'lay' or external members and that they have ultimate authority for decision-making. At present, Oxford's Hebdomadal Council contains no external membership; we believe that some external membership would be beneficial, and later in this chapter make proposals for there being two external members on the new Council. External members are already present on other university bodies. However, we do not believe that accountability and openness would benefit from, but rather could be damaged by, moving to a position where a majority of members of the principal executive body were external to the University, or where ultimate authority was vested in such a body. We consider these points further in relation to the Council later in this chapter.

5.14 We have, however, also argued in the previous chapter (paragraphs 4.47 to 4.57) that there are shortcomings in Congregation's present structure and operation. In particular, its membership needs to be properly representative of all those with a legitimate interest in the University's wider business; its responsibilities must be appropriate to a body of over 3,000 members; and the procedures through which it operates need to be reformed and made more effective. We now make proposals designed to achieve these objectives, considering first Congregation's role as a legislature and as a forum for discussion, secondly its role as an electorate, and thirdly its membership.

Congregation as a legislature and a forum for discussion

Present procedures

5.15 The present procedures governing Congregation's functions as a legislative assembly in which policy is debated and decided, and legislation enacted, may be summarised as follows. First, there are stated meetings of Congregation on the Tuesdays in Weeks 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 each term, and the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor have power to summon a meeting at any other time. By long-standing convention, there is also a meeting shortly before each Michaelmas Term for the Vice-Chancellor's Oration, and for the admission of the Pro-Vice-Chancellors and the Clerks of the Market, whilst on the Wednesday in Week 9 of Hilary Term another meeting is held for the delivery of the Senior Proctor's Oration and the admission of the new Proctors and Assessor.

5.16 Secondly, Congregation's formal business at the non-ceremonial meetings falls under five main headings:

  • Congregation's approval is required for new legislation, in the form of statutes and decrees, or the amendment of existing legislation. There are two stages in this process of enacting a statute or amending one. First, the pre-amble to a statute (promulgation) must be followed by the elapse of a period of not less than two weeks before approval of the enacting part. Each proposed statute must therefore be submitted to Congregation on at least two occasions, unless special provision is made to expedite matters so that both promulgation and enactment can take place at the same time. Statutes cover a number of different types of business; examples from the last two years include statutes establishing new degrees, concerning trust funds, concerning the membership and duties of boards and committees, and establishing of professorships. In the case of decrees, these are made by Council but may be amended or annulled before coming into effect if any 12 or more members of Congregation object to any decree within 15 days of its publication in the Gazette. Objection is notified by the submission of a general resolution on which Congregation then needs to vote.
  • Other general resolutions may be submitted by Council, or by any 12 members of Congregation, and usually concern general matters of policy. Examples in recent years include resolutions on promotions policy, the position of university lecturers with non-tutorial fellowships ('ULNTFs'), and the making of distinction awards to non-clinical professors.
  • Special resolutions may be submitted only by Council, and the University's statutes specify the matters which they may cover, typically the allocation of sites for new buildings, or the conferment of honorary degrees.
  • The asking of questions: any member of Congregation (with a supporter) may ask a question in Congregation which must be answered by Council. This provision pre-dates the Franks reforms, but is rarely used: there has only been one example in recent years.
  • Motions: Since 1990, it has been possible for any 12 members of Congregation to propose a motion to Congregation, a measure intended to allow members of Congregation the opportunity to take soundings on an issue in a way which is not binding on Council. The procedure has been used only once since its introduction.

5.17 As we have argued earlier, our concerns about these procedures are two-fold. First, too much routine or relatively unimportant business is formally required to be taken to Congregation. Almost invariably it is unopposed and attracts little attention, to the extent that three-quarters of stated meetings have been cancelled in the last four years. Nonetheless, processing this business is time-consuming and costly, without bringing any tangible benefits. It also means that the University's formal legislation, embodied in its statutes and decrees, is voluminous; this in turn means that relatively minor changes in procedure require time-consuming revisions to formal legislation.

5.18 A second concern is that, despite the provision for motions noted above, procedures in Congregation do not in practice make it easy for bodies such as Council and the General Board, or indeed members of the University as a whole, to promote discussion in Congregation of important policy matters before decisions on particular recommendations have to be reached. We have therefore developed the following proposals to deal with these concerns.

Proposals for change

5.19 Our first proposals concern the legislative business which comes before Congregation. We have concluded that Congregation's approval for the repeal, enactment or amendment of statutes should still be required, since statutes should be regarded as embodying matters of fundamental importance to the University which its supreme governing body (Congregation) should approve. However, we also think that the volume of material which is enshrined in statute should be reduced and either included instead in decrees and regulations, or become the subject of prescription by a particular university body.

5.20 At present, material embodied in statutes is varied, ranging from basic aspects of the structure of the University and relationships between different bodies within it, to the detailed duties of some 200 individual academic posts (i.e. those currently known as statutory posts). While both the 1923 Oxford and Cambridge Act, and the law governing trusts, contain requirements which necessitate the enactment of statutes in certain cases, this does not apply to all the material currently embodied in statutes. We therefore propose that there should be a thorough review of the material currently embodied in the statutes so as to ensure that, as far as possible, the statutes define major matters and do not contain unnecessary detail whose amendment requires lengthy legislative process. In conducting such a review, we believe that the most important criterion to be used in determining whether a particular provision needs to be embodied in statute is whether it is a matter of broad and legitimate interest to all or a large proportion of members of the University. Thus while it might be thought reasonable that the composition and responsibilities of the University's central bodies should be determined by a statute requiring the formal approval of Congregation, it is less clear that there is a rationale for using statutes to establish individual academic posts, although a general statutory provision covering the composition of electoral boards might well be thought desirable.

Recommendation 5
We recommend that the Council should institute a thorough review of existing legislation with a view to reducing the volume of material embodied in statute.
[79]

5.21 We have considered whether Congregation's existing procedures governing resolutions and motions could be simplified. As described above, there are three similar but different procedures, whose separate existence does not seem to have any obvious justification. An improvement would be to abandon the distinction between general and special resolutions on the one hand, and motions on the other, and merge the present three provisions into a single one. There would thus be one provision whereby either Council or a sufficient number of members of Congregation should be able to propose a resolution on any issue at any time.

Recommendation 6
We recommend that there should be a single provision for procedures in Congregation whereby any sufficient number of members, or the Council, may propose a resolution on any issue at any time.

5.22 We have also considered whether the present minimum number of members of Congregation required to launch a resolution should remain at its present level (12). It might be argued that the present limit of 12 is too low, on the grounds that it makes it too easy for a small number of members of Congregation, who may not in any way be representative of general opinion, to initiate a resolution. We have also noted the recommendation in the Coopers and Lybrand report[80] on governance that the present minimum limit should be raised to 100, in order to safeguard against the bringing forward of trivial resolutions or those of concern only to a small minority of members of Congregation.

5.23 We are not persuaded that, in practice, the problems identified in these arguments have arisen, and the case for major change on those grounds appears unfounded. However we have also noted that the Franks Report recommended in 1966 that the limit should be raised from 6 to 20, on the basis that this number would at that stage have reflected the rise in membership of Congregation since the then limit was set; in the event a compromise was agreed whereby the present number of 12 was introduced. Bearing in mind the original Franks recommendation, and taking into account the considerable increase in the size of Congregation since this number was set in the 1960s (it has since almost doubled), we see clear merit in maintaining the proportion of members of Congregation required to raise a motion or resolution at a more or less steady level, and this means that the present minimum of 12 should be increased.

Recommendation 7
We recommend that the minimum number of members of Congregation required to raise a general motion or resolution be raised from 12 to 20.

5.24 As noted earlier in this chapter, we have also examined how general discussion by members of the University of important matters might take place. Congregation appears to be the best forum for such discussion, but its current procedures do not encourage this. In considering whether alternative procedures might be introduced, we have examined the practice at Cambridge whereby the Regent House is regularly given the opportunity of holding a 'Discussion' on a particular matter, before any recommendation to proceed is formally put to it by the Council. Under these arrangements, every Report submitted to the University is brought for consideration by the Regent House at a Discussion, and additionally any ten members of the Regent House may request that a particular topic be brought forward for a Discussion. It is understood that this has sometimes proved a useful way of testing opinion and allowing issues to be aired before formal decisions are required.

5.25 We propose that a similar procedure should be adopted, at least on a trial basis, in Oxford. If used well it could prove to be an effective way of promoting discussion of important issues, and of meeting the objectives we set out in Chapter 4 for improved openness and better communication. We believe that the Cambridge requirement that every formal Report which is submitted to the University should also be submitted for Discussion is unnecessary: rather, Council should have the discretion to determine what matters are referred in this way, provided that members of Congregation also have the power to raise matters for discussion. Council would be required to have regard to the outcome of a general discussion, and to take account of the views expressed before formulating specific proposals.

Recommendation 8
We recommend the introduction of a procedure to enable the Council, or any 20 members of Congregation, to put forward subjects for discussion in Congregation, without the need for a formal resolution or motion, the Council being required to have regard to the outcome; and that the operation of this procedure should be reviewed by the Council after five years.

5.26 Another way of strengthening communication between the University's central bodies and members of Congregation might be for the Council to be required to report formally on a regular basis to Congregation. At present, Hebdomadal Council does not do this; the business it transacts is made known to Congregation (and hence to the University as a whole) largely through the promulgation of formal legislation or through the issuing of notices on specific topics. In addition, the Vice-Chancellor's annual Oration provides an opportunity for a general review of the University's business each year, but not specifically of the business of Council. We believe that further consideration should be given to whether the Council might be required to report annually, termly, or at some other interval, to Congregation.

Recommendation 9
We recommend that the Council consider whether it should submit to Congregation a regular report on the business it has conducted and, if so, whether this should be on a termly or annual basis.

5.27 A final question concerns the number of members of Congregation who are required to vote for a resolution for that vote to be effective. At present, at least 75 members must vote, and constitute a majority of those voting. This limit dates back to the 1960s, and was introduced at a time when Congregation was a much smaller body than it now is. We think that some increase is appropriate in order to reflect the increase in the size of Congregation's membership over the last thirty years and the further increase in membership proposed in this report, and we have concluded that the increase should be from 75 to 125 members.

Recommendation 10
We recommend that the number of members of Congregation who are required to vote in favour of a resolution for that vote to be binding should be increased from 75 to 125.

Congregation as an electorate

5.28 The bodies to which Congregation currently makes direct elections, leaving aside Council and the General Board, are: the Buildings Committee (4 members); the Equal Opportunities Committee (1 member); the Curators of the Botanic Garden (2 members); the Curators of the Examination Schools (3 members); the Libraries Committee (4 members); the Oxford and Cambridge Examinations and Assessment Council (2 members); the Curators of the University Parks (2 members); the Committee for the Scientific Collections (2 members); the Committee for the Nomination of Select Preachers (2 members); the Curators of the Sheldonian Theatre (2 members); the Nominating Committee for the Vice-Chancellorship (4 members); and the Visitatorial Board (12 panel members).

5.29 This is a fairly disparate group of bodies, its main unifying feature being that each one has some independent statutory basis, rather than being dependent on another statutory body. We do not consider that this is necessarily the most appropriate criterion for determining whether Congregation should directly elect the members of a particular body: much more relevant is the importance of the business conducted by the body to the University as a whole. We are also aware that, if the other changes proposed in this chapter are accepted, then it will be necessary to review the position.

Recommendation 11
We recommend that the Council should conduct a review of, and make recommendations on, which university bodies should have some or all of their membership directly elected by Congregation.

5.30 We have also considered the form which elections made by Congregation should take, and in particular whether (as is sometimes argued) there should be specific constituencies in elections to the Council made by Congregation, or whether a certain number of places on the Council should be restricted to certain categories of members of Congregation. Arrangements of this sort currently govern General Board elections, where half the elected places must be filled from amongst members of humanities and social science faculties, and half from science and medicine faculties. Another possibility would be to establish a specific college constituency, so that certain members of the Council would be elected to represent the colleges, perhaps elected by members of colleges rather than by all members of Congregation.

5.31 An argument against this approach is that elected members of the University's Council should not be encouraged to think of themselves as representing particular interest groups, and that there should therefore in essence be a single constituency, Congregation, which all members of the Council represent. If the result of elections on this basis meant that the balance of experience of members of Council was too uneven, then the proposed power to co-opt up to two additional members could be used to deal with the problem.

5.32 Having carefully weighed these arguments, we take the view that there is no general case for reserving a number of places on elected bodies for representatives of certain groups within the University, and that in the case (at least) of the Council elected members must view their responsibilities as being to Oxford in the widest sense. They should all continue to be elected at large by Congregation. There may be other bodies where a different approach is warranted, and we consider this possibility below in our discussion of the membership of the proposed new central bodies of the University.

5.33 We have also discussed the possibility that candidates for election to the Council should be able to provide descriptions of themselves on ballot papers, and/or canvass voters. We note that Hebdomadal Council recently decided to amend the nomination form for elections by Congregation, so as to enable candidates to provide details about themselves which could be printed in the University Gazette in connection with the relevant elections, and this procedure is now in operation. We welcome this change, and expect that it will improve the information available to members of Congregation about candidates for election to the central bodies. We do not support the general canvassing of votes.

Membership of Congregation

5.34 At present, Congregation has some 3,000 members. These essentially comprise individuals who qualify by virtue of the university office which they occupy (i.e. they are academic or senior established academic-related staff); and those who qualify because of their membership of a faculty, but who would not otherwise qualify.[81]

5.35 We have considered carefully the position of those employed by the University to undertake teaching and research in Oxford who are not eligible for membership of Congregation. These include research scientists employed in academic-related posts, many of whom also take part in teaching, and whose work has contributed to the University's successful acquisition of research funds. We discussed the composition and size of this group of staff in Chapter 2 (paragraph 2.33).

5.36 At present staff in this category, like other academic-related staff, become eligible for membership of Congregation only if they hold established posts in relatively senior grades (RSII and above), a condition which excludes the vast majority, who hold unestablished posts. Nor do such staff in general have a college association. Most research staff do not make a long-term career in Oxford (or if they do, they quickly move to other posts here), and for the most part their period in the University is short (three years or less). However, a minority of such staff do remain in Oxford for much longer, even if on a succession of fixed term contracts, making an important long-term contribution to the University's life. While we consider that it would be inappropriate to extend membership of Congregation to all research staff (given that most of them hold relatively junior positions and remain in Oxford for a relatively short time), we do wish to propose a modest extension in Congregation's membership to ensure that longer serving academic-related staff in non-established posts (primarily research staff) may become members of Congregation.

5.37 One possibility would be to extend membership to all academic-related staff with more than a certain qualifying period of continuous service with the University, perhaps (say) five or seven years. An alternative, which we prefer, is to give to academic-related staff in non-established posts the same rights as those holding established posts, which would extend the right to membership of Congregation to all those in grades ALC3 or RSII and above, a move which would, incidentally, reflect the increasingly blurred nature of the distinction between those in established and in non-established posts. Such a change would lead to an extension in the size of Congregation of some 200 people, or just under eight per cent of its current size.

5.38 This extension of Congregation's membership is, in our view, important because it would give due recognition to the part played in university life by academic-related staff who do not hold established posts, but who are nonetheless of some seniority and have often worked in the University for some time. Fears have been expressed that extending membership of Congregation in this way would open up the possibility that such staff might exercise disproportionate influence in Congregation. Particularly since the total numbers involved would constitute only a small proportion of Congregation's total membership, we do not think that such fears are well founded, and in any case they do not outweigh the arguments in favour of extending membership of Congregation to an important group of staff who, if they were in established posts, would automatically qualify under present arrangements.

Recommendation 12
We recommend that eligibility for membership of Congregation should be extended to all academic-related staff occupying non-established posts in grades RSII or ALC3 and above.

5.39 Turning to broader questions concerning the membership of Congregation, we have also considered whether it is desirable to move away from the present requirement that individuals should hold either an Oxford MA, or be granted MA status, before being able to become members of Congregation. Whilst there are perfectly understandable historic reasons for this requirement, it seems less and less appropriate at a time when only a minority of academic staff took a first degree from Oxford. One outcome of the present requirement is that in a majority of cases it is now necessary either for a new member of staff to be awarded an MA by special resolution, or to incorporate a Cambridge or Trinity College, Dublin MA. Academic-related staff who qualify for membership of Congregation but do not possess an Oxford MA are awarded MA status, but there are those who regard the award of MA status to academic-related staff in order to render them eligible for membership of Congregation as, being unnecessary.

5.40 In considering whether these arrangements should continue, or whether they might be simplified, we have noted that at Cambridge membership of the Regent House (the analogous body to Oxford's Congregation) is in essence conferred by office rather than by formal personal status as represented by a degree held. We propose that a similar practice be adopted in Oxford. This would mean that membership of Congregation would be enjoyed by all those currently eligible as a result of their office, but that they would no longer be required additionally to hold either an Oxford MA or be granted MA status in order to qualify. If this latter requirement were abandoned, then the rationale for awarding the MA or MA status to incoming staff who do not hold an Oxford MA would cease to exist; the practice of awarding MA status would also then cease and MAs by special resolution would become exceptional. The University would in effect be acknowledging degrees of other universities in their own right, and it would mean that members of the University attending Congregation but not holding the MA would (for example) be entitled to wear the appropriate gown of the institution which had awarded them their degree(s). We believe that such changes would properly acknowledge the varied academic and other backgrounds of members of Congregation.

Recommendation 13
We recommend that the requirement that an individual must hold either an MA or MA status as a condition of membership of Congregation should be ended and, subject to the preservation of vested interests, that the award of MA status should cease.

Chairmanship of Congregation

5.41 We have also considered whether the Chancellor should continue formally to preside over Congregation, given that in practice the Vice-Chancellor almost always takes the chair. One option would be to amend present arrangements so that at all 'non-ceremonial' meetings of Congregation the Vice-Chancellor was ex officio chairman, but to designate the Chancellor as chairman in the case of largely 'ceremonial' meetings, such as those called to confer honorary degrees or degrees by diploma. On balance we favour this option, and propose that it be incorporated into the legislation governing the new arrangements for Congregation's meetings.

Recommendation 14
We recommend that it should be provided that the Chancellor preside over Congregation only on 'ceremonial' occasions; and that otherwise the Vice-Chancellor should preside.

III: The University's central bodies

Introduction

5.42 In Chapter 4 we argued that changes were needed in the structure and operation of the University's central bodies, in order to improve the capacity of those bodies to serve Oxford effectively in a rapidly developing world. We now set out our detailed proposals for change, designed to meet the objectives discussed in the previous chapter. They involve replacing Hebdomadal Council, the General Board and their various sub-committees with a new structure. In place of the present Hebdomadal Council there would be a new Council, which would, under Congregation, have ultimate responsibility for managing the University and its resources, and for overseeing planning and resource allocation, including (at a broad strategic level) planning academic activity. Beneath the Council, in place of the present General Board, there would be three new academic boards which would have the main responsibility for the management and administration of academic activity within the University.

The University Council

The need for a new Council

5.43 In Chapter 4 we set out our concerns that the present Hebdomadal Council tends to operate reactively, rather than as a body which puts forward new policies for discussion and which exercises a strategic oversight of all aspects of the University's life and work. Partly because of this, it appears that many within the University are unclear about what it does; the Coopers & Lybrand report on governance drew attention to 'a general mystification within the University' about its role.

5.44 In our view there are two main reasons for this position. The first is that, as we argued in Chapter 4, Hebdomadal Council itself is not to any practical extent responsible for preparing overall plans for the University's development, or for its overall budget. In many ways, therefore, Council has not found a clear role in the University's administrative and decision-making processes.

5.45 The second reason arises from the present division of responsibility between Hebdomadal Council and the General Board. All important decisions on future academic strategy, and on the allocation of general funds for academic expenditure, are devolved to the General Board. Council has no significant input into most academic planning; this is a curious position for the University's principal executive and policy making body. In this context, it is worth noting that at Cambridge, where there is a similar division between the Council and the General Board, the Vice-Chancellor chairs both bodies, so that the University's principal executive officer is closely involved in helping to formulate decisions on academic matters and associated resource allocation. We believe that a new Council is required in Oxford, with a wider remit and with clear overall responsibility for academic as well as other policy.

Responsibilities and terms of reference

5.46 The new Council should be the principal executive and policy making body for the University. It should have responsibility under Congregation for the broad strategic management of the University, including academic development and the disposition of all the University's resources. It needs to be a body which can initiate discussion of new policies, review the pattern of development at a strategic level, and draw the attention of the University at large to important developments which are relevant to Oxford and on which it needs to take a view. It should assume overall financial responsibility and ensure that strategic plans (and their associated budgets) prepared elsewhere in the University are fully monitored. We propose that this new body should be called the Council.

5.47 We propose that the Council's responsibilities for academic development and the disposition of resources should focus on an annual planning and resource allocation cycle. Under such a cycle, the main spending sectors (which under the new structures would, as discussed below, be the three academic boards and the bodies responsible for academic services and for the central administration) would each year be required to submit updated strategic plans (which would look forward for, say, five years), together with annual operating statements. Taken together these would form the basis for the spending sectors' annual budget allocation. The plans and operating statements would be developed in consultation with all relevant interests, including the colleges. They would be expected to cover all aspects of work undertaken by the relevant sectors, and all resources being used in them, thus discouraging the fragmented approach to planning which we believe to be a serious weakness of the present system. This approach would also foster a clear link between the determination of academic aims and objectives, and the allocation of resources to give effect to these, including resources for support services.

5.48 It should be emphasised that there is a clear difference between a planning process and a bidding process. A plan is a statement of policy, not a shopping list. Once a plan has been accepted by the University's main executive body, spending decisions which are consistent with the plan and with the resources made available can then be made by spending bodies without reference to a higher authority. It will not always be possible to allocate sufficient resources to implement all elements in a strategic plan at one time: the purpose of the annual operating statement is to set out for a given year those elements in a longer-term plan which it is intended will be implemented during that year within the resources available. There will be a need for some earmarking of funds by the central bodies (and, as we indicate later, we believe that funds for capital projects should be centrally administered); but as far as possible resources should be allocated downwards as block grants, not as funding for a designated list of activities. This will encourage real delegation.

5.49 Once the Council had considered and approved each spending sector's plan and operating statement, and allocated resources accordingly, then the three academic boards and bodies responsible for support services would have full authority to act within the terms of those approved plans, and would not need to refer any but the most major or exceptional matters to the Council for further approval. This delegation within the terms of agreed plans reflects a principle which should govern decision-making under the new structure, namely that, within an approved framework, decisions should be taken and acted upon at an appropriate level, and only be reconsidered by a higher body in exceptional circumstances.

5.50 One implication of this delegation is that a prime function of the central bodies (and of the central administration) should be the monitoring of activity carried out by lower level bodies, so as to ensure that delegated authority is exercised appropriately. This will require more sophisticated management information systems and better communication than exist at present within the University, and we believe that high priority should be accorded to their development. Management information systems of this kind are already in existence and working well in some other institutions, and we recommend that priority be given to their further development in Oxford. This would provide an essential underpinning of the delegated authority which we propose should be enjoyed, under the new Council, by spending bodies. We consider these points further in Chapter 6.

5.51 In summary, therefore, the proposed new Council would have responsibility for oversight of the management of the University and its resources; for ensuring proper scrutiny, approval, and monitoring of strategic plans submitted by the main spending sectors; for approval of the University's annual budget, and the allocation of resources between the main spending sectors; and for oversight of the University's external relations, including relations with funding bodies. The new Council would also have responsibility for overseeing the University's fund-raising initiatives and alumni relations, in the same way as the present Hebdomadal Council does.

5.52 The differences between these proposed responsibilities and those exercised by the present Hebdomadal Council are significant. In particular, the new Council would have a direct (albeit strategic) involvement in academic planning and in the allocation of resources to meet academic objectives, in a way in which Hebdomadal Council currently does not. Thus it would also be more directly involved in academic policy than Council presently is, and would assume from the General Board responsibility for broad aspects of the academic administration of the University, including responsibility for educational standards, for the support of research, for general policy on academic appointments, and for policy on the balance of activity between different subject areas.

Frequency of meetings

5.53 We envisage that the full Council itself would meet two or at most three times a term. As well as overseeing the planning and resource allocation cycle outlined above, its main business would be to consider matters of importance to the University as a whole, and to initiate discussion of new policy developments. Its main sub-committees, which are discussed below, would of course need to meet at other times, to give preparatory consideration to most business so that the Council could focus on the key strategic issues, while also having time to initiate discussion of other issues which may not have been brought to it from below.

Membership

5.54 We propose that the Council should consist of 25 members. (This is the same total as the present Hebdomadal Council.) The Council should comprise: 12 members elected directly by Congregation; the four new Deputy Vice-Chancellors, whose appointment is proposed below, should be ex officio members, as should the Vice-Chancellor; there should be two members chosen from outside the University; and the two Proctors and the Assessor should continue, as at present, to be members. We also propose that there should be three junior members who would be full voting members of the Council, rather than observers as at present. There should be power to co-opt up to two further members.

5.55 The 12 members of the Council elected directly by Congregation should form a vital link between the University at large and the central bodies. We hope that by making clear the scope of the new Council's responsibilities and functions, it would be possible to attract on to the Council a wide diversity of individuals, capable of bringing their expertise to bear on the Council's work and to represent the range of opinion within Oxford. We propose that the term of office of these elected members should be four years, with the possibility of re-election once for a further four year period (regardless of whether it is consecutive to the first one or not). We propose a four year term of office (in contrast to the present six year term) in the belief that, whilst a degree of continuity is important and that individual members of the Council should serve long enough to enable them to build up a body of experience, a period of six years before they are required to resubmit themselves for election by Congregation is too long. We also propose that elections should be staggered, so that (once the new system was established) there would be an election each year for a quarter of the elected members of the Council, the aim being to ensure a degree of continuity, and also to avoid a situation in which all or a majority of the elected members at any particular time were new to the Council.

5.56 Clearly transitional arrangements will need to be considered once the University has been able to reach conclusions on our main recommendations. We have not considered these in detail, but one possibility would be for a proportion of those initially elected to serve for only, say, two years rather than the normal four year term, or for the initial period of office to be determined by the number of votes cast for those elected, with the top three serving for four years, the next three for three years, and so on.

5.57 At present, members of Hebdomadal Council are elected by the whole body of Congregation, and are not chosen to represent any particular constituency or interest group. Similarly, no places are reserved for representatives of particular groups within Congregation, or bodies within the University. There have, however, been concerns expressed to us that open elections of this sort might give insufficient weight to college interests on the new Council, and that representation of such interests could be safeguarded more effectively if a certain proportion of the elected places on the Council were reserved for members who were specifically chosen to represent college interests. In this context, we have noted the arrangements which govern elections to the Cambridge University Council: these provide four different 'classes' of elected member, four drawn from among the heads of colleges, four from among the professors and readers, eight from among other members of the Regent House, and three from among the students of the University. Members from the first three 'classes' are elected by the Regent House, and those in the fourth by the students.

5.58 We have considered whether a similar approach should be followed in Oxford, so that a fixed proportion of the elected membership would be drawn from different groups of members of Congregation. One possibility, for example, might be to reserve, say, three places for heads of house, and perhaps three places for professors, with the remaining six reserved for other members of Congregation. We are not, however, convinced that this change would bring any significant benefit. In 1996-7, for example, 9 of the 18 elected members[82] of Hebdomadal Council were heads of house, which hardly suggests that open elections have led to under-representation of what might be regarded as college interests; there were also four professors. Introducing fixed quotas from these groups would (unless the quotas were set very high) if anything diminish their representation, while at the same time discouraging the present culture in which each member of Council, no matter what his or her background, is meant to have in mind the interests of Oxford as a whole, not a particular constituency within it. For these reasons, we conclude that elections by Congregation to Council should remain constituted on their present basis, with all members of Congregation equally able to stand for each vacant place, and all members of Congregation eligible to vote for them.

5.59 We also propose that the four Deputy Vice-Chancellors (on whom see below, paragraphs 5.121 to 5.129) should be ex officio members of the Council, which would be an arrangement analogous to that under which the present chairman of the General Board is ex officio a member of Hebdomadal Council. We believe that the presence of these senior officers as members of the Council would be essential for its effective operation, as well as for theirs.

5.60 The two Proctors and the Assessor should also, we believe, continue to remain ex officio members of the Council, thus providing as at present a valuable independent input into the work of the Council and its committees from amongst members of colleges elected to serve for one year only, with the opportunity for fresh input annually.

5.61 We also propose two departures from present practice. The first is that there should be two members of the Council drawn from outside Oxford; and the second is that junior member representatives on the Council should be full members, rather than just observers.

5.62 External membership of university bodies already exists in a number of cases and it has proved very valuable. For example, the Curators of the University Chest include four (out of 15) members external to the University; the Investment Committee similarly contains external membership, as does the Audit Committee. Other bodies with some external membership include the Committee for Continuing Education, the Europaeum Committee, the Distinctions Committee, and the Distinctions Awards Committee, whilst there has also been considerable external involvement in the University's development activities. A number of other ad hoc committees, such as those which have considered the posts of Registrar and University Surveyor, the structure of university libraries, and IT policy, have included external members. Moreover electoral boards always contain at least two external members which ensures that there is external input into appointments to established professorships and readerships. In all these cases, external membership has provided a valuable perspective to the body or committee concerned. We believe that such a perspective is likely to be of great value to the new Council, and have hence concluded that it should contain some external membership.

5.63 We are convinced that Oxford has everything to gain and nothing to fear from this proposal. We also note that external membership of senior bodies is common in most other UK higher education institutions which, whilst they have arrangements for governance which differ from those at Oxford, have found it equally valuable. The second report of the Nolan Committee on local public spending bodies, which include higher education institutions, also makes the assumption that there will be at least some external representation on governing bodies, and we believe that the proposals which we are making will be seen to be very much in the spirit of the work of the Nolan Committee.[83]

5.64 It is important that our thinking about the types of individuals eligible for external membership of the Council, and the method of their appointment, is made clear. We do not propose that the Council should include individuals without knowledge of and sympathy for the University's aims and ethos, or that external members should in some way be 'representative' of particular external interests. Rather, we have in mind members who have experience of and interest in higher education in general and Oxford in particular, whose advice the Council would find it helpful to have. Such individuals might, for example, be drawn from other universities, or from the worlds of finance or industry. They might themselves have had direct experience of teaching and research at Oxford. It is also important that the external members should not have commitments which were such that it was difficult for them to play a reasonably full part in the work of the Council.

5.65 There remains the question of the method of selection of external members. One option would be that external members could simply be invited to serve by a nominating committee of the Council, and co-opted accordingly. Another would be that they should be elected by Congregation in essentially the same way as would be the majority of the Council members. We do not think that the first option sufficiently involves the University as a whole in the choice of external members, placing too much responsibility in Council's own hands. At the same time, the second option would almost certainly be unworkable, in that it is most unlikely that appropriately qualified and experienced individuals would be in a position to stand for election in the same way that internal candidates would. On balance, we favour an approach whereby the Council should nominate external members, and put their names to Congregation for approval. This would ensure Congregation's involvement in the process of selecting external members of the Council, but would also provide what we believe to be a workable approach to this issue.

5.66 The second change from present practice is our proposal that the new Council should include student members. At present, three junior members attend Hebdomadal Council as observers and are able to speak but not vote; they are excluded from consideration of reserved business, which is usually that relating to the position of individuals. We believe that it would now be appropriate to regard these junior member representatives as having the status of full members. Their number should continue to be three, comprising the President of the Oxford University Student Union, ex officio, together with one member elected by the Council of the Union, and one by its Graduate Committee. It should, however, be possible as at present for there to be items of 'reserved business' on the agenda of the Council for discussion of which the junior members would not attend.

Chairmanship

5.67 We propose that the Vice-Chancellor should be ex officio chairman of the Council, rather than the Chancellor (as is at present formally the case with Hebdomadal Council). This would appropriately reflect the realities of the present situation, where even on those very rare occasions when the Chancellor has chosen to attend meetings of Council, he has not taken the chair. As now, the Chancellor should continue to receive Council papers and minutes.

Recommendation 15
We recommend:

(a) that a new Council should be established as the University's principal executive and policy-making body, with responsibility extending over academic as well as non-academic affairs;

(b) that the Council should be responsible for managing an annual planning and resource allocation cycle, which would govern its relationships with bodies beneath it;

(c) that the Council should comprise 25 members, namely the Vice-Chancellor (chairman), four Deputy Vice-Chancellors, the Proctors and the Assessor, two external members, 12 members elected directly by Congregation from amongst its own membership, and three Junior Member representatives. The Council should have the power to co-opt up to two additional members.

The legislative powers of the Council

5.68 Under the University's present arrangements, formal legislation is of three kinds. Statutes, which tend to embody matters of central importance to the working of the University, are made by Congregation, and some require the approval of the Queen in Council both for their enactment and their amendment. Decrees, which embody matters of considerable importance but of a less fundamental nature, are promoted by Council but do not come into effect until 15 days after they have been published in the Gazette and thereby brought to the attention of Congregation. This gives members of Congregation the opportunity of submitting a motion to require Council to amend or annul the decree, should this be desired. Regulations, which usually embody detail which supplements a general provision in a decree, are made on the authority of the General Board and faculty boards; like decrees they do not come into effect until 15 days have elapsed from the time of their publication, so as to give members of Congregation the opportunity to request their amendment or annulment.

5.69 We wish to propose one change to these arrangements. This would involve decrees and regulations made by Council and by other bodies coming into immediate effect, rather than 15 days after publication in the Gazette . Legislation would still be published in the Gazette , but the process of enacting it would be quicker. This would not, of course, prevent members of Congregation subsequently tabling a resolution requiring Council or other body to amend or annul the legislation in those rare cases where there were serious objections.

5.70 We also believe that there is scope for reducing significantly the volume of material which is embodied in decrees and regulations, in the same way that the volume of material embodied in statute could also be reduced (see paragraph 5.20 above). In some cases, it may be possible to shorten existing legislation, removing obsolete material and making what remains clearer and more accessible to members of the University. In other cases, it may be possible to remove certain material from the scope of legislation altogether. An example of where this might be possible, and one which is already being considered, is the University's examination decrees and regulations. It is often observed, and has been by us, that there are very wide variations in the extent to which different faculty boards and sub-faculties specify in detail in legislation the requirements of a particular course of study, and we believe that there is scope for much greater harmonisation in practice here. We have concluded that the University should establish a committee specifically to review its existing decrees and regulations, bearing in mind the points set out above.

Recommendation 16
We recommend that:

(a) decrees and regulations enacted by the Council and other bodies should come into force with immediate effect from the time of their enactment;

(b) the Council should initiate a review of the University's decrees and regulations with a view to reducing the volume of material embodied in such legislation, to complement the review of statutes proposed in Recommendation 5.

Committees of the Council

5.71 It is clear, of course, that a great deal of the work of the new Council, and of the day-to-day running of the central business of the University, could not be undertaken by the Council itself meeting in formal session. The Council would need to establish a number of important committees, and we now consider these.

Planning and Resource Allocation Committee

5.72 We propose, first, that there should be a committee of the Council with responsibility for overseeing the annual planning and resource allocation cycle described above, and for making recommendations to the Council for the approval of plans and of an annual budget. This committee would be called the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee. It would receive from the main spending bodies their updated strategic plans for the forthcoming five-year period. Accompanying each plan would be a draft annual operating statement covering the work of each spending sector which would set out those elements in the strategic plan which it was proposed should be implemented in a given year, and also proposing how they were to be funded. These would form the basis for detailed consideration of each spending sector's annual budget. These budgets would be expected to take account of all income and expenditure, not merely that from the General Fund. We envisage the committee entering into close discussion with representatives of the main spending sectors when considering these matters, not least by meeting their members, so that both the committee and the spending sectors had a clear understanding of the matters at issue, and of the basis of the recommendations being made.

5.73 The work of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee would clearly be of central importance to the administration of the University and would be particularly intensive at certain times of the year, most notably in the spring when the University's overall budget was being prepared. Once the annual round had been completed (which would normally be in Trinity Term, when budgets and plans for the forthcoming year would be settled), it would be the responsibility of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee, working through its officers, to monitor the work of the main spending sectors against plans and against budget forecasts, and to draw to the attention of the Vice-Chancellor (and if necessary the Council) any unforeseen divergences from them. The committee would need to take clear action to resolve any problems which might arise. In this work, full, accurate, and flexible management information would be essential, and it would be the responsibility of the Registrar and the central administration to ensure that it was provided. (We consider this point more fully in Chapter 6.)

5.74 We believe that the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee should be chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, and that the four Deputy Vice-Chancellors, three of whom we propose should chair the bodies responsible for the main spending sectors and the fourth of whom should have responsibility for academic services, should attend and take an active part in discussion, but not be able to vote. This is because, while we do not think that the Deputy Vice-Chancellors should have a formal role in making recommendations about the allocation of resources to the areas for which they are responsible, it is important that they should contribute to discussions about setting the budget, bringing their knowledge and expertise to bear on the issues at stake. The close knowledge that they would gain from attending the committee would also make it easier for them to communicate the reasons behind budget decisions to those working in their own subject areas.

5.75 We propose that the other members of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee should comprise, in addition to the Vice-Chancellor, six members of the Council drawn from those directly elected by Congregation, together with the Proctors and Assessor, and one of the Council's external members. This would help to ensure a balanced representation, with a range of different views being brought to bear on these important planning and budgetary decisions.

Educational Policy and Standards Committee

5.76 A second principal committee of the Council would be responsible for monitoring academic standards and quality, and for initiating consideration of policy on broad educational matters, such as the structure and organisation of degree courses, teaching methods, and examination methods. We propose that it should be called the Educational Policy and Standards Committee.

5.77 We set out in Chapter 4 our view that a shortcoming in Oxford's present structure of governance is the lack of a single body with explicit responsibility for such matters, and we noted that the General Board has recently acknowledged this and begun discussion of possible changes within the present structure which might seek to address such concerns. We believe that it is essential that Oxford should establish a senior body with responsibilities such as we have outlined.

5.78 There are several reasons for this conclusion. First, it is important that a single body responsible for educational policy and standards should maintain an overall view on developments within the University in teaching and examining, degree structure, and related matters so that, if there are to be significant differences of approach between subject areas or if there are to be significant changes in practice, then they take place only after due consideration. We have ourselves devoted considerable attention to these questions, and our conclusions are described more fully in Chapter 8. In future, discussion of such matters should form an integral part of the University's regular business, and it should not be necessary to establish a self-standing Commission to consider them. Our proposal for an Educational Policy and Standards Committee is designed to meet this objective.

5.79 Secondly, such a committee would also clarify where responsibility lay for monitoring academic standards and quality, and what mechanisms were in place for discharging this responsibility. Hitherto arrangements for such oversight have been somewhat diffuse and have, at times, attracted criticism from external quality assessors. The details of the role we propose for the committee in this area are discussed in Chapter 8.

5.80 The committee's role would thus respond to a need for a body to take an overview of teaching policy in Oxford, to initiate discussion of possible new developments in teaching and learning methods and in examination practice, and pay regard to national developments in these fields, and consider whether and how they were relevant to Oxford. Because of the amount of detailed legislation that it has been required to examine, the General Board's Undergraduate Studies Committee has not been able to fulfil this role. It has operated in a largely reactive way, focusing on consideration of the details of legislation proposed by faculty boards and other bodies, and lacking time to stand back and assess the overall pattern of provision or to initiate discussion of policy. The General Board's Graduate Studies Committee has over the last decade adopted a somewhat more active role. In particular it has followed up the publication in 1987 of the Roberts Report on Graduate Provision, and dealt with the consequences of increasingly interventionist policies by bodies such as the research councils and the British Academy's Humanities Research Board, which provide public support for students on graduate courses. Even so, because its remit is limited and does not extend to consideration of the adequacy of resources provided to support graduate work, the Board's Graduate Studies Committee has had only limited success in championing the cause of graduate work within Oxford. The new committee of the Council which we propose would be expected to fill these gaps, as well as to take an analogous role for undergraduate provision.

5.81 The Educational Policy and Standards Committee would also be responsible for monitoring the development of the University's undergraduate and graduate studies courses, including their structure and their content, and the examination and teaching methods used (including the use of IT in teaching). The responsibilities of this committee would not extend to approving detailed arrangements for individual courses, nor to approving the establishment of those courses in the first place. If a particular faculty or department wished to establish a new degree course or modify the arrangements for an existing one, then such a proposal would normally be expected to be included in the annual plans put forward by the relevant academic board. If those plans were approved by the Council through the annual planning cycle described above, then no further reference would need to be made by the academic board to the Council or any of its committees: the academic boards would have the authority to proceed themselves. The role of the proposed Educational Policy and Standards Committee would be to keep a watching brief on these developments, not to intervene directly in the detailed business of the academic boards. We believe that by not giving this senior body detailed operational responsibilities, it will have the time to consider broader questions.

5.82 In addition, the committee would be required to consider whether adequate resources were being made available to support teaching and learning. If it judged that they were not, then it would be the responsibility of the committee to take the matter, in the first instance, to the relevant academic board; if an academic board failed to take appropriate account of the Educational Policy and Standards Committee's concern during the annual planning and resource allocation cycle, then the matter would be referred to the Council, which would be expected to use its authority to require reconsideration of plans and spending proposals and to ensure that adequate resources were made available or the plans were amended. There might thus be cases when there were tensions between the views of one of the academic boards about resource allocation, and those of this committee, but these would, we believe, be constructive and would work to the benefit of educational provision. In all this, as in other aspects of the work of the Council, a rigorous approach to the analysis of planning and resource issues would need to be underpinned by professional support from the central administration.

5.83 The membership of this committee will partly determine how successfully it can carry out its responsibilities. Although we believe that there should be some representation from the Council on this body, and that it should be chaired by a member of the Council, we also think that its membership should differ in two important respects from that of the other main committees of the Council. First, the Deputy Vice-Chancellors responsible for chairing the three proposed academic boards should not be members of the committee, nor attend as observers: since the work of the boards for which they have responsibility would to an extent be under scrutiny, the committee's membership needs a substantial degree of independence from the academic boards. The second point is that there should be significant direct college representation on this committee, to take account of the fact that responsibility for the organisation and support of teaching, and for all broad aspects of educational policy, is shared in Oxford between the University and the colleges. The Conference of Colleges, the Senior Tutors' Committee and the Committee of Tutors for Graduates should receive reports from the committee, on the same basis as would the Council, and should be expected to act upon them, although we do not propose that the committee should formally be a joint body.

5.84 We propose that membership of this committee should comprise six representatives of the University and six of the colleges. The former should include the Vice-Chancellor as chairman, and one other member of the Council, together with four members directly elected by Congregation. The selection of college representatives should follow procedures determined by the Conference of Colleges. We take the view that it would be important to ensure some input from the Senior Tutors' Committee and from the Committee of Tutors for Graduates. Overall, the committee would be expected to take a robust, audit-like view of the matters within its remit.

General Purposes Committee

5.85 The third main committee of the Council would be a General Purposes Committee. This committee would handle (at least in the first instance) most business which fell outside the province of the other two. It would be a forum for identifying and giving initial attention to many policy issues which the University needs to consider. Some of the items discussed would be business which the Vice-Chancellor, acting on advice, could then deal with directly on his or her own authority. Other business would involve prior consideration of items which would then be dealt with in consultation with other bodies, some of which might also need to be referred to the Council itself for final resolution.

5.86 Because of the likely volume of business, the General Purposes Committee would need to meet regularly, probably once a week during term and regularly during vacation. Its meetings would provide the opportunity for the Vice-Chancellor and his or her senior colleagues to discuss the pattern of forthcoming business; to report on matters in hand; and (for example) to report on major forthcoming engagements for the week, or on the outcome of recent external meetings. Reports to the Council arising from such discussion could be prepared. The committee would provide a forum for the Vice-Chancellor to obtain advice from colleagues, and to sound out proposals before they were put to other committees and to the Council or Congregation.

5.87 One question which arises is the extent to which the General Purposes Committee should be able to act and make decisions in its own right, without reference to the Council. We take a pragmatic view: formally speaking, both the General Purposes Committee and the Vice-Chancellor would enjoy such authority as is delegated to them by the Council and any action which they might undertake without direct reference to the Council as a whole would be undertaken on the basis of that delegated authority. In practice, it would be necessary for the expeditious conduct of the University's business for certain decisions to be taken by the Vice-Chancellor and the General Purposes Committee, but as at present it would be expected that any important matters of principle, or matters involving substantial strategic choices, would be discussed by the Council as a whole. Similarly, decisions made by the General Purposes Committee (other than routine ones) would be expected to be reported to the Council as a matter of course for information, in order to ensure proper accountability.

5.88 The membership of this committee needs be reasonably small, and yet also provide a reasonable cross-representation of appropriate interests. We propose that the committee should comprise the Vice-Chancellor as its chairman, the four Deputy Vice-Chancellors ex officio, together with the Proctors and the Assessor and two members of the Council from amongst those elected directly by Congregation.

Other committees of the Council

5.89 As well as the three principal committees discussed above, there will need to be other committees reporting directly to the Council, responsible for oversight of university business in particular areas. Broadly speaking, these would be expected to continue the work either of current joint committees of Council and the General Board, or of certain committees reporting to only one of those bodies. As a general rule, we envisage that these committees should, like the others, enjoy a high degree of delegated authority under terms of reference laid down by the Council. They should report either on a termly or in some cases on an annual basis to the Council about the work they have undertaken, and only refer particularly difficult or far-reaching matters to the Council for decision. Delegation of this sort will be necessary if the Council is to avoid agendas which are inordinately long and cluttered with detail.

Personnel matters

5.90 At present, responsibility for personnel matters in the University is divided in several ways. First, the General Board, working through its Appointments Committee, is responsible for policy relating to academic staff, and for making appointments to 1,000 or so established academic posts which fall under the General Board. It embodies responsibility both for policy in respect of academic personnel, and also for personnel administration in relation to academic staff. The General Board does not, however, control appointments to established professorships and readerships (i.e. those posts defined by statute), which are handled under the aegis of Hebdomadal Council by independent electoral boards.

5.91 Policy in respect of academic-related and non-academic staff is the province of the Staff Committee, a joint committee of Council and the General Board. Within policies established by the Staff Committee, the administration of personnel matters affecting such staff is however devolved to individual employing departments.

5.92 We think that it is now timely to revise these arrangements. We propose that there should be a single Personnel Committee, responsible to the Council, overseeing the development of policy affecting all university employees. Thus the present division of responsibility for such policy between the General Board and the Staff Committee would cease, enabling a common approach to be taken where appropriate. This would also provide the opportunity for a greater degree of professional input to policy formation in respect of academic staff, which is difficult under present arrangements because the Director of Personnel Services has no formal responsibility for them. Under our new proposals this officer would assume wider responsibilities in respect of all university employees.

5.93 The role of the new Personnel Committee would be to establish University-wide policies on all personnel matters. It would assume responsibility for defining the general terms and conditions of academic, academic-related and non-academic appointments; for dealing with joint committees with trade union and staff representatives; for pay negotiations and liaison with appropriate national negotiating bodies on behalf of the University; and for overseeing that section of the central administration providing professional personnel advice and support to employing departments and units within the University. Other committees - such as those responsible for equal opportunities and staff training - would report to it.

5.94 We do not envisage this committee approving individual appointments and reappointments (as the General Board's Appointments Committee currently does), nor that it should be involved in other case work relating to individual employees: for academic staff, such questions would be delegated to the proposed academic boards, which (like the present General Board) would be responsible for the day to day personnel matters concerning academic staff under their aegis. Responsibility for the day to day management of academic-related and non-academic staff would, as at present, be delegated to individual employing departments and faculties. The role of the Personnel Committee would be to establish common frameworks within which the academic boards and other individual employing departments could operate.

5.95 We propose that this committee should be chaired by a member of the Council. It would need to establish its own sub-committee structure, which should cover (amongst other things) those responsibilities currently discharged by the Committees on Higher Appointments and Academic Salaries, as well as responsibilities exercised by the General Board's Appointments Committee and the Staff Committee. The committee would also have responsibility for exercising a general oversight of the development of Oxford's joint appointments system (although operational responsibility for this would rest with the three academic boards); for this reason we believe that some college representation on this committee, or at least in an appropriate sub-committee, would be desirable.

Financial matters

5.96 Whilst we believe that more than one committee would be needed to cover financial matters, we have concluded that there is scope for some rationalisation of the present structure. In the first place, the functions of the Curators of the Chest themselves (although not of committees reporting to them) have now largely been taken over by other bodies, and meetings of the Curators rarely involve consideration of any substantive matters. We propose, therefore, that the Curators of the Chest should be dissolved as a body, and that their residual functions be formally transferred to the new Council.

5.97 If this approach is accepted, it would then be necessary for existing committees reporting to the Curators to be responsible directly to the Council, thus becoming committees of the Council. These would include the Audit Committee; the Investment Committee (to manage the University's investments and to provide advice on related questions); and the Press Accounts Committee, which should also remain in its present form.

5.98 We also recommend that the Council should consider whether it would be necessary for it to establish a Finance Committee specifically to deal with general financial matters and, in particular, to receive regular reports on the University's financial position and to deal with those financial matters which did not fall within the remit of the Planning and Resources Committee. Establishing a committee which could oversee the Council's financial responsibilities might be sensible given the general desirability of avoiding a situation in which too many committees reported directly to the Council. It would enable the three committees mentioned in paragraph 5.97 to report to the Council through the Finance Committee, save that the Audit Committee and its chairman would have right of direct access to the Vice-Chancellor and the Council. One possibility would be to extend the remit of the General Purposes Committee so that it became a Finance and General Purposes Committee.

Other committees

5.99 There are at present other statutory committees of Hebdomadal Council, and several joint statutory committees of Council and the General Board, whose functions would need to be discharged under our proposed new structure. We believe that there is some scope for reduction in the number of these committees, and that the functions of some of them could be subsumed within those of other bodies. Thus, for example, the work of the Committee on the Allocation of Professorships and the Appointment of Electors could be taken on by the Council's General Purposes Committee, as could those currently exercised by the Dispensation from the Residence Limits Committee, and the Honorary Degrees Committee. Other committees would, in our view, need to continue in existence, as committees of the Council. These would include the Accommodation Committee, the Child Care Committee, the City Questions Committee, the Health and Safety Committee, the University Security Committee, the Animal Care Committee, and the International Committee. Our principal concern is that these committees should operate with a high degree of delegated authority established by the Council; and that they should not expect to refer routine matters of business to the Council. Instead, they should submit annual reports to the Council, and only otherwise refer to it in cases where there were important matters of principle at issue.

5.100 We have not conducted a detailed review of the structure and the functions of all the committees noted above, but recommend that the new Council should institute a review of their functions, examine whether there was a case for their continued separate existence and, if so, should establish the lines of delegated authority under which they should operate.

University development programme

5.101 We have also considered how present arrangements for the development programme might fit into or be adapted to fit the proposed new structure. At present there is a Pro-Vice-Chancellor who devotes a substantial part of his time to the role of President of the Development Programme; and there is a Development Office under the general control of the Director which, although formally part of the central administration, is physically and operationally somewhat distinct from it. In some respects this arrangement is a further example of what might be characterised as ‘adaptation by complication', i.e. when a new initiative needs to be taken or a new problem solved, a new committee or body is added to the present structure, rather than by changing the present structure to reflect new requirements.

5.102 We believe that it is desirable to integrate the work of the Development Programme as fully as possible into the mainstream of academic planning and policy formation. This is not simply for reasons of administrative tidiness: rather, the aim should be to ensure that the identification of academic priorities and of fund-raising strategies and targets is, so far as is practicable, an integrated process.

5.103 We have noted that the present Resources Committee has already begun to take steps towards achieving these aims, through the establishment of its Planning and Resources Sub-committee, whose initial task is to review and prioritise the various fund-raising initiatives which are under way in the University, whether under the aegis of the Development Office or not. We have also noted the recommendations contained in the very recent Report of the Committee to Review Development Activity, which call for greater coordination of the work of the Development Office with that of the External Relations Office and the Research and Commercial Services Office, and for a review of the role of the various bodies which advise on development activity. We welcome these proposals and hope that they will be actively pursued.

Recommendation 17
We recommend:

(a) that the Council should establish a Planning and Resource Allocation Committee of the Council, responsible in particular for making proposals to the Council on the allocation of resources and the approval of plans submitted by spending bodies; the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee should be chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, and in addition comprise six members of the Council drawn from those directly elected by Congregation, together with the Proctors and Assessor and one of the Council's external members; the four Deputy Vice-Chancellors should be able to attend and speak but not vote;

(b) that the Council should establish an Educational Policy and Standards Committee, responsible in particular for monitoring educational standards and quality, and for initiating consideration of policy on educational matters; and that this committee should be chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, and comprise six representatives of the colleges, one representative nominated by the Council, and four members directly elected by Congregation;

(c) that there should be a General Purposes Committee of the Council, chaired by the Vice-Chancellor and in addition comprising the four Deputy Vice-Chancellors, the Proctors and the Assessor, and two members of the Council drawn from amongst those directly elected by Congregation; and that the General Purposes Committee should be responsible, acting under delegated authority, for any items of business which the Vice-Chancellor or the Council might refer to it;

(d) that there should be a Personnel Committee of the Council, chaired by a member of the Council, to be responsible for all aspects of personnel policy in the University;

(e) that the Curators of the Chest should be dissolved, and their residual functions formally transferred to the Council;

(f) that the Council should establish other committees reporting to it to assist it in discharging its responsibilities for the management of the University's finances, and that these should include an Audit Committee, a Press Accounts Committee, and possibly a Finance Committee, final decisions thereon to be made by the new Council after further consideration;

(g) that the Council should consider the need for other committees reporting to it, and establish the lines of delegated authority under which they should operate.

IV: The proposed academic boards

5.104 We set out in Chapter 4 (paragraphs 4.67 to 4.73) our view about the difficulties faced by the General Board in operating as presently constituted. In order to deal with these, we propose that, beneath the Council, there should be three new academic boards, whose role would essentially replace that of the present General Board.

5.105 Each new board would cover a particular group of subjects. The aim is to make the volume of business to be handled by each of the new boards more manageable than is the case with the present General Board; and, by grouping together subjects in which the policy issues concerning teaching and research, funding, and other matters are broadly similar, to create boards which would be dealing with subject groupings whose interests and concerns were broadly similar.

5.106 Clearly, making any division between subject areas is difficult, and we discuss our particular proposals in more detail below. We would emphasise however that making the threefold division we propose for administrative, planning and financial purposes does not in any way preclude continuing strong academic links between subject groups which may be administered under different academic boards. Furthermore, we are firmly of the view that the advantages of making such a division in terms of improving the coherence and manageability of the three broad subject areas outweigh such advantages as might be gained from maintaining the present position whereby the General Board seeks to deal with all subject areas.

5.107 We believe that the changes which we propose would benefit all subject areas. They would enable each of the new boards to concentrate on those issues which were of central concern to those working in the subject areas under their aegis. They would enable the boards to operate in a style and using procedures which they saw as most fitting to their subject areas, and to have control over all the resources allocated to their own subject area by the Council. The arrangements would thus give the subject areas under each of the three boards a greater degree of freedom to operate in the way they wished than present arrangements allow, and would give them more direct control over the resources being provided for those subject areas.

5.108 Before turning to the details of these proposals, we wish to consider some of the concerns about them which have emerged from initial consultation with the General Board and with representatives of some subject areas (described in Chapter 1). In particular, fears have been expressed that the threefold division proposed by the Commission would jeopardise the academic and organisational coherence of the University, or that under the proposed division some subjects would receive less equitable treatment than others, their interests being outweighed by larger subject groupings.

5.109 We understand such concerns, but believe that our proposals would not give rise to such problems. We make three points. First, developments in the direction which we are proposing are already to an extent taking place: as we noted in Chapter 4, the Clinical Medicine Board now exercises a high degree of delegated authority, and pressure from the sciences for similar change is becoming intense. Maintaining the General Board's current position is unlikely to be feasible in the medium or long term, and some change is inevitable. Our proposal to establish a separate academic board for clinical medicine is little more than formal recognition of a development which has largely taken place already, and the proposal for separate boards for the sciences and for the humanities and social sciences represents what we believe to be a desirable and consistent extension of this approach.

5.110 Secondly, we emphasise that under our proposed new arrangements the Council would assume responsibility for overseeing the strategic direction of the University's academic work: at present Hebdomadal Council does not do this. Thus some of the broader strategic responsibilities currently held by the General Board would pass upwards to the new Council, and this would guard against any danger that the three academic boards would develop in radically different directions with no consistency or coherence.

5.111 Thirdly, the argument that under present arrangements the General Board is able to give equal weight to the needs and concerns of each subject area does not seem to us to be well founded. The Board faces enormous pressures from those subject areas requiring considerable investment in buildings and equipment (primarily the sciences and medicine) - often driven by research needs and by success in obtaining external research funds - which then make it difficult to give adequate weight to the far less costly but no less important requirements of those working in the humanities and social sciences. Under the proposed new arrangements, the budget for each of the three boards, once decided by the Council, would be protected.

The division of responsibility between the boards

5.112 We believe that three boards is the maximum number which can sensibly be accommodated, and that any greater degree of fragmentation would be inimical to a coherent approach to planning and resource allocation. If this argument is accepted, the critical question which arises is how subject areas should be grouped under each of the three boards. We recognise that no boundaries are entirely satisfactory (which is one further reason for wishing to keep the number of boards to a maximum of three). We have discussed various possibilities with the Committee of Heads of Science Departments, representatives of the Review Committee on the structure of the medical school, and the chairmen of the humanities and social science faculty boards, and acknowledge that there is a range of possible ways of making the division.

5.113 One important question is whether clinical and pre-clinical studies should be placed together under a single board, or whether pre-clinical subjects would be better placed with other sciences. On the one hand, there is clearly a need for the closest academic links between clinical and pre-clinical subjects, from the point of view of both teaching and of research. On the other hand, clinical subjects have a clear identity of their own, both because of the way they are organised and taught, and because of their relationship with the NHS. On balance we have concluded that for administrative and organisational reasons pre-clinical studies should be placed under the same board as sciences.

5.114 We propose that the three boards should cover:

  • the humanities and social sciences (comprising the existing faculties of English Language and Literature, Law, Literae Humaniores, Medieval and Modern Languages, Modern History, Music, Oriental Studies, Social Studies and Theology);
  • the physical and biological sciences (comprising the present faculties of Anthropology and Geography, Biological Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences, Physiological Sciences, and Psychological Studies);
  • clinical medicine (comprising those subject areas covered by the present Clinical Medicine faculty board).

5.115 The size and structure of the subject groupings under each of these three boards would of course be very different. Figures 5.2-5.9 illustrate these points.

Figure 5.2: Academic staff as at 31.01.97

Figure 5.2: Academic staff as at 31.01.97

Figure 5.3: Research staff as at 31.01.97

Figure 5.3: Research staff as at 31.01.97

Figure 5.4: Other staff as at 31.01.97

Figure 5.4: Other staff as at 31.01.97

Figure 5.5: RAE Category A staff as at 31.03.96

Figure 5.5: RAE Category A staff as at 31.03.96

Figure 5.6: General Board grant 1995-6

Figure 5.6: General Board grant 1995-6

Figure 5.7: Research grant income 1995-96

Figure 5.7: Research grant income 1995-96

Figure 5.8: Total student load 1995-6 (undergraduate and graduate students)

Figure 5.8: Total student load 1995-6 (undergraduate and graduate students)

Figure 5.9: University space usage as at 04.03.97

Figure 5.9: University space usage as at 04.03.97

5.116 As will be seen, the largest board in terms of established academic staff and student load would be the humanities and social sciences board, and the smallest by far would be clinical medicine. On the other hand, the clinical medicine board would be responsible for administering subjects in which there are very large amounts of external research grant and contract income, and correspondingly large numbers of research staff employed in posts supported by that income. It would also have to handle relationships with the NHS. In these respects, the Figures illustrate the very different structures of the three subject areas identified, underlining the distinct policy issues which face the three subject areas and hence (we believe) the desirability of dividing the responsibilities currently exercised by the General Board into three new groupings.

5.117 There are also important differences in the way in which the University's current joint appointments system operates in each of these subject areas. For example, under present arrangements, CUF lecturerships tend to predominate in humanities and social science subjects, whereas they are rare in other subject areas, where university lecturerships are much more common; differences in the balance of duties owed to the University and the colleges will persist even if our proposals for changes to the joint appointments system set out in Chapter 7 are implemented. This means that the issues facing those responsible for dealing with joint appointments in these different subject areas will continue to be somewhat different. Teaching is also organised on a different basis within each of these principal subject groupings. Departmentally based practical work, lectures and seminars are of considerable importance in the sciences and clinical medicine, whereas this is far less true in the work of those taking undergraduate degrees in the humanities and social sciences. There are also important differences in the facilities required for research, and in the relative importance of equipment and laboratory space, libraries and field work. Finally, there are also important differences between each of these subject areas in the extent to which those working in them need to liaise with outside funding bodies such as the research councils, charities, and industry. This bears directly on the administrative and financial support required in each of the areas, and on the research strategies developed in each case.

5.118 We have concluded that the establishment of the proposed three academic boards, under the new Council, would enable the differences in the nature and organisation of the work in the subject areas falling under them to be reflected in the structure and operation of the boards themselves, and in the priorities to be given to different questions.

Membership and size of the boards

5.119 We do not consider that the three academic boards need to be uniform in size, nor in the composition of their membership: within broad guidelines, variation should be possible to take account of the different patterns of work which each of the boards would have, and of the likely differences in the structures beneath each of them. In each case, there should be a combination of ex officio and elected members, although the balance might vary. Ultimately those working in each subject area should be able to determine for themselves the detailed composition of the boards. Initially, it would be necessary for the new Council to take responsibility for establishing the boards, consulting as appropriate. Transitional arrangements would need to be considered, and might include the creation of initial ‘steering boards' for each subject area, comprising (for example) existing members of the General Board representing the relevant subject group, and heads of department or chairmen of faculty boards. These ‘steering boards' could consider the composition of the boards in the first instance, and oversee initial elections.

5.120 The general guidelines which we propose should be adopted to govern the structure and composition of the boards are as follows:

  • The boards should be kept to a manageable size, with a maximum of 22 members (this being the size of the present General Board), and they could well be smaller. Given that each board would be responsible for a narrower range of subjects than is the present General Board, this maximum size should give ample opportunity for proper representation of the various subject interests under the aegis of each board. Wider representation would of course be possible on each board's sub-committees.
  • Elections to the boards could be conducted in one of several ways. It would almost certainly be appropriate for candidates for election to each of the boards to be drawn only from the faculties or departments for which those boards were responsible. Further questions include whether all members of Congregation should be eligible to vote for such candidates (as they are at present in General Board elections) or whether voters as well as candidates should be restricted to members of Congregation working in those subject areas for which each board was responsible. We favour the latter approach. We also believe that, once established, each board should be required to consider whether there should be any further elaboration of the electoral arrangements, so as (for example) to reserve a certain proportion of places for representatives of particular faculties or departments under the aegis of an academic board, or whether elections should be completely open.
  • The Vice-Chancellor should not formally be a member of the academic boards, but he or she should have the right to attend any board meeting.
  • The boards should have powers to co-opt up to two members at any one time, so as to ensure appropriate breadth of representation.
  • The boards must ensure effective communication and cooperation between themselves in areas of common interest. To promote this there should be the opportunity for a limited degree of cross-representation on the boards. This might, for example, take the form of the chairman of one board attending meetings of another, or sending a deputy to represent him or her, and we propose that the boards should make provision for such cross-representation but should themselves consider how best this may be achieved.
  • A board may wish to reserve a certain proportion of places for ex officio members -for example heads of departments or chairmen of faculty boards. We would see advantage, for instance, in chairmen of humanities or social science faculty boards, who are themselves elected by faculty boards, serving as ex officio members of their academic board; this would enable them to represent the interests of their particular faculty board, and communicate the academic board's thinking to it. We see no need to be prescriptive about this at this stage, and recommend that each subject area consider the matter for itself and make appropriate proposals as part of the transitional arrangements noted above.
  • Each board would need adequate professional support from members of the central administration: its provision would be the responsibility of the Registrar, and we refer further to this in Chapter 6.

Chairmanship of the boards: the Deputy Vice-Chancellors

5.121 Chairing the three academic boards would be demanding and time consuming, particularly since each chairman would be expected to take part in the work of the Council and of some of its major committees as well as to carry responsibilities connected with his or her academic board. For these reasons we recommend that the posts should be full-time ones.

5.122 In recognition of the seniority of these posts, and in order to demonstrate this both within the University and to the outside world, we propose that the chairmen of each of the three boards should be called Deputy Vice-Chancellors. We also recommend that each should hold a five year appointment.

5.123 We also wish to make clear our thinking about the relationship between the Deputy Vice-Chancellors who would chair each of these three boards, and the boards themselves. Although the Deputy Vice-Chancellors would (as does the present Chairman of the General Board) have a responsibility to the University as a whole, expressed for example through their membership of the Council, they would also be the senior representative of the subject groupings covered by their boards, and the boards themselves would have an important role in the choice of their chairman. The Deputy Vice-Chancellors would act as representatives of the main academic subject groupings at the heart of the University's administration. They would speak for the subjects for which they were responsible, put those considerations in a University-wide perspective, and communicate that perspective to their boards.

5.124 In proposing the creation of Deputy Vice-Chancellors we do not envisage any major change to the present responsibilities of Pro-Vice-Chancellors, save in two respects. First, we propose that in the absence or incapacity of the Vice-Chancellor one of the Deputy Vice-Chancellors rather than a Pro-Vice-Chancellor should be nominated by Council to act in his or her stead, and secondly that a Deputy Vice-Chancellor rather than a Pro-Vice-Chancellor should normally chair an electoral board in the absence of the Vice-Chancellor (see also paragraph 5.141, below).

5.125 The way in which these three offices develop, and the method of working adopted by their holders, would depend to an extent on the views and the culture of each of the three subject areas in question, each of which may have different expectations of the role of a ‘chairman'. Those in the humanities and social sciences might prefer, for example, to think of ‘their' Deputy Vice-Chancellor as the ‘chairman of the general board of the humanities and social science faculties', reflecting the similarity of the function to that of the present Chairman of the General Board. Others might prefer to emphasise the potential role of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor as an executive chairman, more akin to the ‘deans' which are a feature of the organisational structures of many other higher education institutions. These questions should be resolved by the academic boards and their constituencies themselves, and (within certain broad guidelines) they should not be subject to a rigid or uniform pattern imposed from above.

5.126 The guidelines we propose to cover the position of the Deputy Vice-Chancellors are as follows. First, we believe that the present period of office of the Chairman of the General Board (one year, conventionally always renewed for a further one if the chairman is willing to serve) is too short to provide adequate continuity, or to enable the postholder to build up a sufficient degree of experience and momentum. We therefore propose that the Deputy Vice-Chancellors chairing each of the three academic boards should hold office for an initial period of five years, renewable for a further period of at most five years. We imagine that a renewal for the maximum period would not be common, but think that there should be sufficient flexibility in the system to allow for such a renewal if all those concerned wished it to take place.

5.127 Secondly, we believe that there should be a common procedure for appointing the Deputy Vice-Chancellors. We believe that responsibility for these appointments must rest with the new Council, but that it is essential that the relevant board, and indeed all those who work in the relevant subject areas, should have an input, so that their views are given full weight. It would be impossible for a Deputy Vice-Chancellor to discharge his or her responsibilities without the confidence of those working in the relevant subjects, and it would be intolerable for the latter if ‘their' Deputy Vice-Chancellor was unacceptable to them. We propose that the appointment of Deputy Vice-Chancellors should be handled by specially appointed committees chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, akin to electoral boards in their composition, so that they would comprise nominees of the new Council, of the relevant academic board, and of the faculties and departments for which that board is responsible; they would also include members external to Oxford. This committee would be expected to consult widely and to act as a ‘search committee'; in each case it would make a recommendation to the Council.

5.128 We do not think that it is necessary or desirable to be prescriptive about eligibility for appointments. If the appointing committee, after consulting those working in a particular subject area, wished to consider the appointment of someone who was not at the time working in Oxford, then they should be able to do so. We have applied the same principle to eligibility for the Vice-Chancellorship, and see no need to restrict the field of candidates for the posts of Deputy Vice-Chancellor to those currently working in Oxford, any more than in the case of appointments to other senior posts in the University.

5.129 We note finally that we regard the proposal for a Deputy Vice-Chancellor to chair the academic board for Clinical Medicine as overtaking the decision to appoint a Dean of the clinical school, given that the intention behind the two proposals is identical. We believe however that the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Clinical Medicine should bear the joint title ‘Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Clinical Medicine', to indicate his or her status to those outside Oxford.

Responsibilities and terms of reference of the academic boards

5.130 We propose that the three academic boards should have full responsibility, under the Council, for the management and administration of the subject areas falling within their sphere of responsibility. It is essential to avoid a position where the Council and/or any of its committees have to approve individual decisions already considered by the academic boards within their general sphere of authority.

5.131 The Council's relationship with the boards would largely be governed by the annual planning and resource allocation cycle proposed above (see paragraphs 5.47 to 5.50). Once the plans submitted by the boards had been approved, and once resources had been allocated accordingly, the academic boards themselves would have full delegated authority to act. Thus subsequent decisions, provided that they fell within the broad terms of the plans, would be made by the academic boards. Moreover the boards themselves and their officers would be expected to deal directly with external funding agencies such as the research councils, the British Academy, and the medical charities. We are thus proposing that the boards should have a high degree of delegated authority within a structured planning process, with devolution of detailed decision-making to the boards coupled with effective monitoring of their work by the Council.

Resource allocation

5.132 Each of the boards should annually receive a block grant from the Council, determined with reference to the board's strategic plan and proposed operating statement. Within the broad terms of those plans, each board would be responsible for allocating funds amongst its constituent departments/faculties as it saw fit. Since the academic boards, in consultation with their constituent departments and faculties, would have been largely responsible for drawing up the draft plans for submission to the Council in the first place, this approach should give the academic boards a high degree of influence over the allocation of resources, and considerable autonomy in their deployment. We do not propose that grants to the academic boards made by the Council should distinguish between capital, equipment, and recurrent elements, nor should there be separate staff and non-staff elements. Moreover, whereas at present the resources allocated to departments and faculties by the General Board usually cover expenditure only on non-academic staff and non-staff items, the grants made to the academic boards by the Council should cover all expenditure, including that on academic staff.

5.133 This delegation of responsibility for financial matters would have considerable implications. Two in particular should be noted, since they would necessitate changes in the nature of the administrative and professional support required both by the Council and by the academic boards. To take the Council first, we noted above that it would be essential that accurate and timely management information should be available to the Council and its officers to enable them to monitor the finances of the three academic boards and departments and faculties beneath them. This would be necessary in order to ensure that the boards and bodies beneath them had worked within the terms of their strategic plans and within operating statements approved by the Council as the basis for the budget allocation, and to ensure that any divergences of significance from those plans could be noted at an early stage and, if necessary, taken up by the Council and its officers. Monitoring of this sort on behalf of central bodies is a common feature in a number of the other universities whose structures of governance we have studied,[84] and we see no reason why Oxford should not benefit similarly from such a practice. We propose that formal responsibility for monitoring of this kind should rest with the Council's Planning and Resource Allocation Committee, which should receive monthly reports.

5.134 The second point is that the three academic boards themselves will need access to appropriate professional expertise and administrative support in order to discharge their functions for spending and accounting for funds appropriately. Thus the expertise currently available to the General Board would need to be made available to each of the three new boards, and this would have major implications for the role of the University's administrative service. We take this point up in Chapter 6, and propose that the Registrar should consider these matters, and make recommendations to the new Council to ensure that there is adequate support for the three boards.

Academic planning and quality

5.135 The academic boards themselves would be expected to take responsibility for making proposals for the development of their subject areas, covering both teaching and research. They would also be responsible in the first instance for ensuring the maintenance of educational quality and standards. The role of the Council and its committees in these respects would be two-fold. First, if (for example) an academic board wished to establish a new degree course, it would be expected to make proposals for this, covering both academic and resource questions, through the annual planning round. Provided approval was given by the Council, it would then be a matter for the individual academic board on its own authority to establish the detailed regulations governing the course.

5.136 The second point concerns the relationship between the academic boards and the Educational Policy and Standards Committee of the Council. That committee would not have to approve regulations or other proposals made by the boards, but would be kept informed of the development of educational provision by the board and would intervene only exceptionally in cases where it was not satisfied that arrangements were satisfactory, as we stressed earlier. The role of the Council's committee would be one of quality assurance and audit, i.e. to review processes and monitor their effectiveness.

Academic appointments

5.137 The academic boards would have academic staff resources delegated to them and so should have authority to make appointments to all academic posts currently classified as non-statutory (i.e. all those which are not established professorships or readerships) without reference to the Council. The academic boards' administration of academic appointments would take place within the overall framework of personnel policy determined by the Council's Personnel Committee but, within the terms of those policies, the boards would be free to act as they saw fit. This would mean that the boards themselves, rather than the Council, would be responsible for liaison with colleges in respect of joint appointments, a task currently undertaken by the General Board through the Joint Committee for the Regulation of University/College Appointments.

5.138 We are aware of some concern amongst colleges that this proposal would require them to deal with three separate bodies, whereas currently they deal with one. In practice, however, colleges at present deal with individual faculty boards and departments, and only rarely directly with the Joint Committee, and we believe that any potential disadvantages arising from the proposed change will be small. There will also be significant benefits for colleges in that, as noted above, the issues surrounding joint appointments in the humanities and social sciences, in the sciences and in medicine are often significantly different, given (for example) the current prevalence of CUF posts in the first subject group, the current prevalence of university lecturerships in the second, and the relatively small number of joint appointments in the third. Dealing with a separate board in each case may well simplify matters, and we believe that this benefit would outweigh any difficulties which might arise.

Established professorships and readerships

5.139 We have considered whether appointments to established professorships and readerships should become the responsibility of the academic boards and integrated into the procedures for making other academic appointments. At present the establishment of these posts is governed by individual statutes (hence they are called ‘statutory posts'), and there are over 200 such posts. Appointments to them currently are made by independent electoral boards and not by the General Board or Council.

5.140 It is clearly important that appointments to these posts should reflect the policies which have been developed by each of the academic boards, given that they are held by individuals who are expected to provide academic leadership in the University. At the same time, there is a broad University-wide interest in making sure that particular subject-based interests at a given moment do not entirely dominate in making such appointments.

5.141 We think that there should be both an external and a broadly based internal input into making key appointments of this kind. We therefore favour continuation of the practice whereby independent electoral boards have the power to make such appointments, but believe it is important that the work of those electoral boards should have substantial input from the relevant academic board. This is necessary to ensure that any negotiations with invitees to posts did not cut across the policies and plans of the relevant academic boards which would have had the responsibility for laying down clear academic criteria for the filling of such posts. The electoral boards would exercise the role, which they already increasingly fulfil, of search committees, and would include (for example) nominees of the Council and of the relevant academic boards; they might be chaired either by the Vice-Chancellor or by the appropriate Deputy Vice-Chancellor. In other respects, electoral boards would be constituted as at present; most importantly, they would always include external members.

5.142 The aim of these arrangements is to ensure a balance between the involvement of the subject area concerned on the one hand, and the need on the other to ensure the retention of a rigorous appointing system with an input into decision-making which is independent of those working in the particular subject area in Oxford.

Student numbers, graduate admissions and examinations

5.143 Each of the three boards would inherit the responsibilities for graduate admissions and for graduate examinations currently exercised by the General Board, and like the Board the new academic boards would work through their constituent departments and faculties in discharging these responsibilities. It is also important that, in the annual planning and resource allocation cycle, the academic boards should take responsibility for liaison with colleges and with the Joint Undergraduate Admissions Committee (JUAC) for planning and monitoring undergraduate student numbers in the light both of developing government policy and of the objectives of the University and the colleges.

Sub-committees of the academic boards

5.144 In discharging all these responsibilities, each of the three academic boards would need to consider its own sub-committee structure. We have not prescribed this structure, believing that it would be most appropriate for each of the boards to consider the matter in the light of the needs and methods of operation appropriate for their own subject areas. However, we are firmly of the view that the number of sub-committees beneath the academic boards should be kept small, that as far as possible they should enjoy delegated authority to act within their terms of reference; and that, in order to ensure consistency and coherence, they should in general be chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor who chairs the main academic board.

Recommendation 18
We recommend:

(a) that three new academic boards should be established beneath the new Council, inheriting from the General Board such responsibilities as are not assumed by the new Council;

(b) that one board should cover clinical medicine, a second biological and physical sciences, and a third humanities and social sciences;

(c) that each board should have its own full-time chairman, designated as a Deputy Vice-Chancellor, to serve in the first instance for five years;

(d) that the appointment of the Deputy Vice-Chancellors should be the responsibility of the new Council, acting on the advice of an appointing committee chaired by the Vice-Chancellor and comprising representatives of the Council, the relevant academic board, its constituent departments and faculties, and external members;

(e) that the duties of existing Pro-Vice-Chancellors should remain as at present, save that in the absence or incapacity of the Vice-Chancellor one of the Deputy Vice-Chancellors, rather than a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, should be designated by the Council to act in his or her stead, and should deputise on other occasions as required;

(f) that each board should have a maximum of 22 members, and should comprise both ex officio and elected members, with up to two co-opted members; that each board should consider how cross-representation between boards might best be provided; and that the Vice-Chancellor should be free to attend such meetings of each of the boards as he or she saw fit;

(g) that the academic boards should each have full responsibility, under the Council, for the management and administration of the subject areas within their sphere of responsibility. This would include in particular responsibility for submitting annually to the Council an updated long-term strategic plan and an annual operating statement; this plan, should be approved by the Council each year and should provide the framework for each academic board's work during that year;

(h) that the boards should be responsible for managing the detailed allocation of resources, for strategic planning and for quality assurance of the educational provision made under their aegis. They should have authority to make academic appointments without reference to the Council; except that they should not have responsibility for making appointments to established professorships and readerships which should continue to be the responsibility of independent electoral boards;

(i) that each of the boards should consider its own sub-committee structure once it is established;

(j) that administrative support for the boards should be provided by the central administration, under the Registrar.

Continuing education

5.145 Earlier in this report (see paragraphs 3.52-3.55) we drew attention to the scale and achievements of the University's work in the field of continuing education, most of which is centred on the Department for Continuing Education and Kellogg College. This is an important area of the University's work, and one which we expect to continue to develop in the future. Under present arrangements, the University's continuing education work is overseen by a committee of the General Board, and is also supported by an Advisory Council on Continuing Education, which includes substantial external representation. Oversight of this activity must be accommodated within our proposed new structure of governance.

5.146 There are several options for accommodating responsibility for continuing education under the proposed new structure. One might be to allocate responsibility for overseeing continuing education to the three academic boards, each of them taking responsibility for work in their own subject area. This would have the advantage of locating responsibility for such work alongside other academic work. However, it would also have the disadvantage of fragmenting responsibility for what is clearly a coherent body of educational activity, which has hitherto benefited from being administered in a unified way. For this reason, we have concluded that it would be more appropriate if a separate, self-standing Committee for Continuing Education, reporting directly to the new Council, were to be established to take responsibility for continuing education within the University, and for advising on and monitoring plans in the field put forward, primarily, by the Department for Continuing Education. This committee would also have oversight of that department's budget, which would be determined by the Council or its relevant committees. We would envisage the Advisory Council on Continuing Education as being appointed and as operating in much the same way as now.

Recommendation 19
We recommend that responsibility for overseeing the University's continuing education work, and for proposing the allocation of funds to the Department for Continuing Education, should rest with the Committee for Continuing Education, which should report to the new Council.

Inter-faculty and other committees

5.147 We have considered how a number of other academic subject-related committees, currently operating largely under the aegis of the General Board, would fit into the proposed new structure. In many cases, the committees would fall clearly under one of the three new proposed academic boards, and it would be for those boards to consider how they should operate or whether their continuing existence was warranted. Thus, for example, the Committee for the History of Art, the Inter-faculty Committee for Japanese Studies and the Committee for the School of Management Studies would most sensibly report directly to the humanities and social studies board; and the Advisory Committee for Forestry and the Advisory Council for Ornithology would fall under the sciences board. Where joint or inter-faculty committees span the interests of more than one academic board (as for example with the Standing Committee for Engineering, Economics and Management and Related Schools), it would be necessary for such committees to report jointly to both boards.

Recommendation 20
We recommend that the Council, in conjunction with the three academic boards, should review all existing academic standing committees with a view to determining whether there is a continuing need for their existence, and if so to which of the three academic boards either severally or jointly they should report.

The Committee for Educational Studies

5.148 We have considered the position of the Committee for Educational Studies under the proposed new structure. At present, this committee comprises a number of ex officio members (including the professor and reader in educational studies), seven members appointed by the General Board, six members from amongst the staff of the Department of Educational Studies, and several other members. The interests of this committee span a very wide range of academic subjects, but the unifying factor is that the focus is on training students to teach such subjects, primarily at secondary school level, and on research into such teaching - rather than on specific academic subject areas. We have concluded, on balance, that it would be most appropriate for the Committee for Educational Studies to come under the aegis of the proposed academic board for humanities and social sciences.

Recommendation 21
We recommend that the Committee for Educational Studies should come under the aegis of the academic board for humanities and social sciences. The committee should be responsible for advising on the allocation of resources and on all other aspects of the work of the Department of Educational Studies.

Academic support services

5.149 We indicated earlier that most of the academic responsibilities of the General Board should be transferred to the three new academic boards. We do not however think that this necessarily applies to the management and administration of academic support services under the new structure. These services are indispensable for teaching, scholarship and research within the University. They include libraries, information technology, telecommunications, museums, and administration.

5.150 It is important that the planning and management of these support services and the allocation of resources to them should be integrated into academic planning, so that the development of academic provision goes hand in hand with proper consideration of the provision made for support services. Responsibility for these matters should be clearly defined, so that users of the services know who is accountable for them. It is equally important that users understand that there are practical constraints involved in managing and providing support services, and that they are aware of the resources required to pay for them.

5.151 The need to secure effective delivery of these services is underlined by the concerns that there have been about the adequacy of provision in the University's library services, and in particular in the Bodleian. We have noted the strength of feeling arising from the responses to our Hilary Term 1996 staff surveys about university library provision, which has underlined the need for substantial change. We welcome the recent appointment of the Director of University Library Services and Bodley's Librarian, and believe that he and his colleagues should cooperate closely with the proposed three academic boards in ensuring that changes and improvements being introduced to library provision reflect their priorities and needs.[85]

5.152 There are distinctive issues and distinctive professional skills associated with the management of each of the different support services noted above, and for this reason we believe it appropriate that each should be overseen by a separate body. We therefore recommend that the Buildings Committee (responsible for estates matters), the Information Technology Committee (responsible for all aspects of information technology provision within the University), and the Libraries Committee should remain in existence. We also believe that there should be a single committee covering the University's museum services, responsible for defining the services which the University's museums should deliver and ensuring that they do so.

5.153 The remit of these committees should be to exercise general oversight of the provision of services in their areas, and to oversee the management and administration of the services that were not directly funded through the academic boards; to consider and initiate policies governing the future development of those services within the University, taking account of the needs of users and of relevant developments in national policy, in technology, and of new professional skills; and, in close liaison with the academic boards, to prepare plans and proposed operating statements, for submission to the Council as part of the annual planning and resource allocation cycle. We would emphasise that each of these committees would have a high degree of delegated authority and would not be expected to refer to the Council save on matters of major strategy.

5.154 This last element in the proposed remit of these bodies means that each would hold their own budgets which would cover the costs of the centrally (as opposed to departmentally) provided services in their areas. We did consider the possibility that resources for academic support services should, instead, be held by the three academic boards, which would then be expected to 'buy' services from providers. This model is followed to a greater or lesser extent in some other universities, and by other organisations. We have, however, rejected it on the basis that in Oxford its likely benefits in terms of improving the effectiveness and accountability of services would not outweigh the high administrative costs in what is already a complex institution.

5.155 At the same time, the arrangements proposed must ensure that the needs of users are properly catered for and that they are fully reflected in the plans and priorities developed by the bodies responsible for these services. There must be effective liaison with the three academic boards. It is also important that, where there are common or overlapping policy and resource questions concerning more than one of these services (as for example might be the case with IT and library provision), there is then a coherent approach to dealing with them. In addition, we think that consideration should be given to developing service level agreements to govern the relationships between providers of services and the academic boards.

5.156 In order to achieve these varied objectives in relation to academic support services, we propose that there should be a fourth Deputy Vice-Chancellor whose responsibility would be to chair the different bodies concerned with the provision of these academic services, to ensure coordination between them and the academic boards, and to oversee the delivery and development of these services within the University. This Deputy Vice-Chancellor for academic services would have a somewhat different remit from that of the other three subject-related Deputy Vice-Chancellors. The postholder would be expected to represent the interests of users in dealing with providers of services, and to ensure proper communication between users and providers. It would be important that the postholder not be too closely identified with service providers, but clearly he or she must have their confidence and be able to communicate their views and explain them to users. This fourth Deputy Vice-Chancellor would also be expected to bring to the attention of the academic boards the importance of new or potential developments in academic services, and to consider whether the resources to deliver such services were adequate, and to make the case for additional funds if it were judged that they were not.

5.157 We propose that the terms and method of appointment of this Deputy Vice-Chancellor should be the same as that for the other three, namely that the appointment should be full-time and for five years, renewable, and that an appointing committee for the post, including some external membership, should be established by the Council, and that it should include significant user representation.

5.158 Successful delivery of academic services depends to a great extent on the work of professionals in each field. They include the Director of Library Services and Bodley's Librarian, the Director of Computing Services, and the directors of the various museums within the University. We expect such professionals to exercise a high degree of initiative in developing the services for which they are responsible and in ensuring their effective management. We have concluded that these professionals should report, through the bodies overseeing their work, to the new fourth Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

5.159 Finally, we believe that, whilst the committees to oversee different academic services, and the fourth Deputy Vice-Chancellor, would ultimately be responsible to the Council, it would also be sensible to establish a committee of the Council to oversee all academic services and to act on the Council's behalf on all but the most substantial questions. This committee would be particularly important in advising the Council and its Planning and Resources Committee during the course of the annual planning and resource allocation cycle. The committee should be chaired by the fourth Deputy Vice-Chancellor and should also include the chairmen of the committees overseeing the main academic services; two members appointed by the Council; and representatives of the three academic boards.

Recommendation 22
We recommend that there should be a Deputy Vice-Chancellor, for academic support services. The terms and method of appointment to this post should be similar to those of the three Deputy Vice-Chancellors chairing the academic boards. This fourth Deputy Vice-Chancellor would be responsible for overseeing the provision of academic support services, including libraries, computing, buildings, museums, and administrative services. Each of these areas should also be overseen by a committee; and there should be a further committee of the Council which would oversee all academic services and provide advice to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

Structures below the three academic boards: faculties, sub-faculties and departments

5.160 The structures below the three main academic boards would clearly need detailed consideration in due course and would influence the way in which the boards themselves operate. The structures beneath the present General Board are varied. In the sciences and medicine they include faculty boards and faculties, sub-faculties, and departments of varying sizes. In the humanities and social sciences there are faculties, faculty boards, sub-faculties and some departments, as well as inter-faculty and other discipline based committees for subjects such as Management Studies.

5.161 We do not wish to make detailed or prescriptive recommendations about these structures. One of the first tasks which should be undertaken by each of the three new academic boards once they are established would be to consider the academic structures below them for themselves, consulting where appropriate with those working in the relevant subject areas. We believe that there may be scope for rationalisation of the present faculty, sub-faculty, department and sub-departmental structures and, where it is thought desirable, for reducing the number of tiers beneath the three academic boards. We also offer the following additional comments.

5.162 In the case of clinical medicine , the new academic board would, in practice, largely replace the present faculty board of clinical medicine. The departmental structures beneath it would be a question for the new board, bearing in mind in particular that there is one very large department (the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine) and a large number of much smaller units.

5.163 We suggest that the new science board must consider how far the existing faculty, sub-faculty and departmental structures should continue, or whether there is scope for rationalisation. In particular, we see scope for streamlining the existing administrative structures and for clarifying the respective roles of the various bodies. At present, the General Board discusses departmental grants directly with departments, but deals with academic posts through faculty boards. Departmental heads direct the teaching duties of university lecturers, and provide facilities for practical work, but the responsibility for the organisation of teaching and for syllabus content lies with the faculty boards and their faculties or sub-faculties, which control the lecture lists and the regulations published in the Examination Decrees.

5.164 In recent years, this structure has proved inadequate to cope with all the different ways in which the work of departments has to be coordinated; and various other bodies have played an increasingly important role, notably the Committee of Heads of Science Departments, and the Bioscience Research Board. There has also been a move to combine departments into larger units, first with the creation of the Department of Physics in 1990, and more recently with the amalgamation of the chemistry departments. Furthermore, the areas covered by some sub-faculties coincide more or less exactly with those of departments (as for example in chemistry and physics), but in other cases sub-faculties co-ordinate the teaching activity of several departments, or individual departments contribute to the work of more than one faculty.

5.165 We believe that these structures which currently exist in the sciences are too complicated to function effectively. The present groupings of subjects under faculty boards are haphazard, and it is not clear that they are the most useful ones for all purposes. In some cases, the area covered by a board is very broad (e.g. Physical Sciences); in others, rather less so (e.g. Psychological Studies). Moreover a department may have different partners in undergraduate teaching and in research, and structures that are designed to co-ordinate undergraduate teaching may actually create artificial difficulties at other levels (for example, where the research area of a post falls between boards).

5.166 We envisage that the new science board should bring together the planning of teaching and research activity, and the corresponding decisions on the distribution of resources. This would only be possible if the board were to tackle as one of its first tasks the rationalisation of the structures beneath it. While we do not make detailed recommendations on how this should be done, we offer the following general observations on the change that is needed. The mechanism for dealing with resource allocation from the science board to the bodies below it must deal with posts and other resources together. Thus either the science board must deal directly with departments on questions concerning academic posts as well as departmental grants, or it should channel all departmental resources through two or three intermediate bodies covering broad subject groupings. We have recommended elsewhere (in Chapter 10) that departments in the sciences should be given formal responsibility for the delivery of graduate education (much of the responsibility in this area is in any case clearly delegated to departments). Although we can see a continued need for sub-faculties, to provide a forum for those involved in teaching in a particular area to meet and co-ordinate their activities, we believe that responsibility for the delivery of the university component of undergraduate teaching might also with benefit be transferred to the departments, given that the departments are already responsible for directing the teaching by lecturers and for planning future deployment of resources.

5.167 The practical effect of this would be to replace sub-faculty committees by departmental or inter-departmental committees working in consultation with sub-faculties. Other functions of faculty boards could also be transferred: formal regulatory functions should wherever possible be passed to appropriately constituted sub-committees of the science board, and organisational responsibilities to departments. The Committee of Heads of Science Departments would be likely to have a more formal role in the new structure, and to take on much of the work of coordination between departments. It is possible that such changes would remove the need for a formal administrative layer (e.g. faculty board or sub-faculties) between the science board and the departments. The board might wish to consider whether the present structure is best suited for promoting interdisciplinarity and for carrying out the various tasks necessary in administering the work of different subject areas.

5.168 In the humanities and social sciences, we believe that the new academic board should review the structures below it. It might be thought possible for this board to continue with the present sub-structure of faculty boards, inter-faculty committees, etc. Were that to be the conclusion, it is also clear that the demands made of such faculty boards would be considerably greater than they are at present, since they would acquire responsibilities for the development of strategic and operational plans and for the administration of budgets. This may well point to the need for chairmen of faculty boards to be relieved of a substantial part of their other responsibilities.

Recommendation 23
We recommend that the academic boards should consider the structures which should be established beneath them, having regard to the discussion of this issue in this report.

V: The position of Convocation

5.169 We noted in Chapter 4 that Convocation is one of the two ancient assemblies of the University of Oxford. Its powers are potentially wide, including any which 'are or shall be assigned to it by the statutes or by decrees',[86] but they are now very limited, being restricted to the election of the Chancellor and of the Professor of Poetry. Participation in the elections requires voting in person. Convocation's membership comprises all the holders of the Oxford degrees (other than honorary degrees) of Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Civil Law, Doctor of Medicine and Master of Arts, together with those who hold the status of Master of Arts. The holders of other degrees (except the BA) are also eligible to become members of Convocation in or after the 21st term from their matriculation.

5.170 The existence of Convocation as an assembly comprising all those who have received an Oxford education provides a means whereby all graduates of the University have an opportunity for some continued formal involvement in the life of the University, supplementing in a modest way the links that colleges develop with their old members. Convocation's powers may be very limited, and the opportunity for involvement minimal, but it is nonetheless symbolically important. Convocation also provides an expression of the fact that those with Oxford degrees remain members of the University after they have left Oxford.

5.171 We see no reason to change the powers which Convocation currently exercises. It is appropriate that all members of the University should have the opportunity of participating in electing the Chancellor of the University, and in this we can do no more than repeat the statement in the Franks Report that '[in the election of the Chancellor], which concerns high ceremonial honour, the whole body of those who have received a full Oxford education, whether living inside or outside the walls, should have the opportunity to express their view'.[87] Although the power to elect the Professor of Poetry every five years may be something of an oddity, we also see no reason to remove that power from Convocation.

5.172 We believe however that the powers of Convocation should be limited by statute to these and these alone, rather than that as at present the statute should allow for the possibility that wider powers could be accorded to Convocation by statute or decree.

5.173 As regards membership of Convocation, we have concluded that this should be extended to cover the holder of any degree of the University, regardless of the degree held or the time which has elapsed since matriculation. This would simplify the criteria for membership and one of its main effects would be to open up membership of Convocation to those holding the BA who have not chosen to proceed to the MA. We do not believe that those who have not chosen to proceed to the MA should be excluded from participation in Convocation's limited activity, nor do we think that those who hold 'advanced' degrees but have no MA should have to wait seven years for membership, and then have to pay a fee as they are currently required to. We also propose that membership of Congregation should itself automatically entitle an individual to membership of Convocation in those relatively few cases when such individuals do not otherwise qualify. This would also cover the position of those who, under the arrangements which we have proposed for membership of Congregation, would no longer be granted an MA by Special Resolution.

Recommendation 24
We recommend that the statute governing Convocation's powers (Title III) should be amended so as to read that 'the functions of Convocation shall be to elect the Chancellor and the Professor of Poetry'; and membership of Convocation should include all members of Congregation and should be extended to all those holding a degree of the University, irrespective of the degree and the length of time which has elapsed since it was awarded.

VI: Individual office holders

The office of Chancellor

5.174 We have considered the office of Chancellor of the University, and whether any changes should be made to present arrangements. The present Chancellor, like his predecessor, has undertaken a significant range of responsibilities for the University. These include not only ceremonial functions and active involvement in the University's external relations, but also providing informal advice to the Vice-Chancellor on many matters. The Chancellor has, moreover, been very active in supporting the colleges, both generally and as Visitor to several of them. The Chancellor has also chaired the nominating committee for the Vice-Chancellorship. We have concluded that the office of Chancellor is currently functioning entirely successfully, and do not wish to propose any changes, save those in paragraphs 5.41 and 5.67. As indicated above in para 5.171, we also believe that Convocation should continue to have the right of electing the Chancellor.

The office of Vice-Chancellor

5.175 Since the time of the Franks Report (when the present arrangements governing the office of Vice-Chancellor were introduced) there has been a great increase in the range of responsibilities imposed on the Vice-Chancellor. We noted in Chapter 4 that the role of the Vice-Chancellor in representing the University externally has grown substantially: this is the result in part of the growth in importance of fund-raising and the maintenance of strong and effective alumni relations, but stems also in part from greater demands imposed by funding bodies, public or private. Major changes have been brought about by new requirements for accountability imposed by government and other agencies, and the Vice-Chancellor has acquired added responsibilities as the University's 'accounting officer'. The burden on the Vice-Chancellor has also increased because of developments within the University itself. Oxford is now a much more complex institution than in the past, and the volume of business involved in its administration and management has grown.

5.176 In the light of these developments we wish to propose a number of changes to the office of Vice-Chancellor. The first is that the present four year period of office should be increased to five in the first instance, with the possibility of an extension to seven years. We have noted that this is now the practice adopted by the University of Cambridge, and believe that it provides a more appropriate balance between the need, on the one hand, to enable the Vice-Chancellor to build up experience and to bring a degree of continuity to the management of the University, with, on the other, the need to ensure the injection of 'new blood' at appropriate intervals.

5.177 Secondly, we believe that the University should widen the field of those eligible to hold the office of Vice-Chancellor. At present, eligibility is restricted to those who are members of Congregation at the time of their appointment. We think that this is an unnecessary and undesirable restriction, and that the field of eligibility should be extended so as to allow the possibility of an 'external' appointment. In making this recommendation, we are not seeking to open the way for the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor with little or no experience of the University of Oxford or of collegiate universities. Rather, the proposal is meant (for example) to make it possible for individuals who have had considerable relevant experience, but who at the time of the election to the Vice-Chancellorship were working elsewhere, to be eligible for election.

5.178 We also think that the present age qualifications for the post, whereby the Vice-Chancellor must have completed his or her period of office before reaching the age of 65, can be removed, although in practice we consider it to be most unlikely that any Vice-Chancellor would be appointed who would not complete his or her period of office before or by the normal date of retirement. Consideration would need to be given to the nature of the post, if any, to which an outgoing Vice-Chancellor might be appointed if he or she demitted office before the normal retirement age.

5.179 Next, we propose that the present arrangements for a formal two year 'run-out' period for former Vice-Chancellors, and a formal two year 'run-in' period for incoming Vice-Chancellors should be abandoned. Under these arrangements an incoming Vice-Chancellor becomes an ex officio member of Council for two years before taking up office, and a former Vice-Chancellor likewise remains a member of Council for two years after demitting office. In effect these provisions require a Vice-Chancellor to be closely involved in university affairs for eight years, and we think that, however valuable this may be in some circumstances, the present provisions are unnecessarily inflexible and prescriptive. We believe that there is no need for any formal 'run-out' period at all, and that arrangements for a 'run-in' period can be dealt with on an ad hoc basis by the Council, in particular by ensuring that an incoming Vice-Chancellor is elected a reasonable time before taking up appointment. We can also see considerable merit in the period of office starting earlier, say on 1 September rather than shortly before the beginning of full term in October, as at present.

Recommendation 25
We recommend that the period of office of the Vice-Chancellor should be increased to five years, with the possibility of renewal for a further two; that eligibility for election to the Vice-Chancellorship should no longer be restricted to members of Congregation; that no age restriction should be attached to eligibility; and that there should no longer be a formal 'run in' or 'run out' periods before and after to the period of office.

5.180 Responsibility for nominating the Vice-Chancellor currently rests with an independent statutory committee chaired by the Chancellor, and comprising four members appointed by Congregation, four members appointed by Council, and four members appointed by the colleges. A nomination made by this committee is subject to formal approval by Congregation, but otherwise the committee acts independently of other bodies.

5.181 We believe that this arrangement for appointment by an independent standing committee would not be appropriate where the term of office would be five to seven years. The procedure should be modified so that nomination would be made by a specially constituted committee of the new Council. Such a committee should make a recommendation to the Council, which should have the power to approve a nomination without further reference to Congregation. We propose that this nominating committee should comprise seven members and be chaired by an external member of the Council; that the three academic boards should each nominate a member; that the chairman of the Conference of Colleges should be a member; and that two further members should be directly elected by Congregation. This membership of what is in effect a 'search committee' for the Vice-Chancellorship would ensure a broad spread of experience yet be compact enough to enable it to function efficiently.

Recommendation 26
We recommend that nomination of the Vice-Chancellor should be the responsibility of a committee of the Council, whose membership should consist of an external member of the Council (in the chair), two members elected directly by Congregation, the Chairman of the Conference of Colleges and one person appointed by each of the three academic boards. The committee should not be a standing committee but be appointed each time a vacancy in the office arises and should make a recommendation to the Council, which should have power to make an appointment.

The Proctors and the Assessor

5.182 The two Proctors are elected to serve for one year by the fellows of a college, in practice from amongst their own number; the colleges making the two elections in any given year are determined by a cycle prescribed by statute. The Proctors combine specific duties for enforcing discipline, investigating complaints, and overseeing the conduct of examinations, with a general duty to involve themselves in university business. This latter role customarily requires them to attend all meetings of Council and of the General Board, as well as meetings of many of their more important sub-committees, and of other university bodies. Their contribution is especially valuable in that it provides an opportunity for members of colleges who may hitherto have had little or no direct contact with the University's central bodies to become closely involved with their work during their year of office.

5.183 The Assessor is elected in the same way as the Proctors, and likewise serves for one year. He or she shares with the Proctors a general duty to become involved in university business, and attends Council and the General Board in the same way as they do. The Assessor has also developed a particular responsibility for matters concerning the welfare of junior members of the University.

5.184 We believe that, as far as possible, these arrangements should continue in their current form under the new structure of governance which we have proposed in this chapter. We think that the Proctors and Assessor would continue to have a valuable role to play on the new Council, and that they could play a particularly important part in the work of the Educational Policy and Standards Committee of the Council, because of their interest in examinations practice and policy. We are aware that there is some concern that our proposal for three academic boards would make it difficult for current practice whereby the Proctors and Assessor attend meetings of the General Board to be adapted to the new structure, because of the increase in the number of meetings. How far this proves to be a problem in practice would depend on the frequency with which the academic boards met, but we believe that part of the answer to any such difficulty would be for the Proctors and Assessor to share the work of attending board meetings, so that one only attended each board.

VII: The implications for the colleges of changes in governance

5.185 Our proposals on governance would clearly have wide ranging implications for the colleges and for their relationship with the University. We have emphasised throughout this report that it is essential for there to be close and effective cooperation between the University and the colleges in the many areas of joint concern. In Chapter 3, for example, we argued that there should be closer cooperation between the University and the colleges in developing future strategy for the use of space and sites. We argued earlier in this chapter that the academic boards should ensure that they worked closely with the colleges in developing the plans they submitted to the Council in the annual planning and resource allocation exercise, where cooperation would be particularly important in determining plans for future student numbers and the organisation and support of teaching. In Chapter 11 we will argue that the vital role of the colleges in supporting much of the University's research effort should be reflected in closer liaison between faculties and departments on the one hand and the colleges on the other, particularly over the appointment by colleges of junior research fellows.

5.186 Achieving these objectives would require effective cooperation between university bodies on the one hand (whose members are of course also, in most cases, fellows of colleges) and representative college bodies on the other. In one case we have proposed specific college representation on a university body, namely the Educational Policy and Standards Committee discussed earlier in this chapter. Because of the nature of its responsibilities and the importance of the colleges' contribution to teaching, we believe that this committee should have half its membership drawn specifically from the colleges. However, as a general rule we do not favour the approach of identifying a 'college constituency' of membership of committees. We believe that the best way forward is to build on existing models of cooperation between university and college bodies.

5.187 A good example of where this currently works well is the Joint Undergraduate Admissions Committee (JUAC), a college body of which the Chairman of the General Board is also a member. As we have noted elsewhere in this report, the JUAC has been highly effective in ensuring that the colleges' admissions policies enable Oxford to meet the targets for maximum aggregate student numbers (MASNs) which have been set by HEFCE. We have also noted that the Secretary of the Chest now regularly attends meetings of the Estates Bursars' Committee and its Standing Committee, fostering liaison between the University Chest and college interests, while officers of the University attend the Senior Tutors' Committee and the Committee of Tutors for Graduates. Effective liaison can thus be achieved through a member or officer of a particular university committee attending meetings of relevant college committees, and vice versa. We believe that models of this sort should be built on, and in particular that representative college bodies should consider whether they wish to invite officers or members of relevant university bodies to attend certain meetings as a way of improving communication and fostering liaison between them.

Recommendation 27
We recommend that bodies representative of the colleges should consider whether to invite officers or chairmen of appropriate university committees to attend their meetings, in order to foster liaison and communication between college and university bodies.

5.188 As we noted in Chapter 4, we have also considered whether to recommend any changes to current arrangements for the collective representation of colleges. At present, as well as meeting in bodies such as the Senior Tutors' Committee and the Estates Bursars' Committee, colleges are all represented in the termly meetings of the Conference of Colleges. We have discussed whether to pursue the recommendation made in the Franks Report that there should be a Council of Colleges, able through majority voting to impose binding decisions on each individual college.[88] Our consultation with colleges revealed[89] little or no support for such a measure, and we do not believe that it is a workable proposal.

5.189 At the same time, there are clear advantages in colleges developing a common approach to issues where there are common concerns, both in cases which involve dealing with university bodies and in others. The Conference of Colleges is playing an increasingly important and successful role in this respect, and we believe that the role of the Conference should be further developed in the future. We have noted in particular that the role of the Standing Committee of the Conference has become increasingly important in recent years, and we think that the Conference as a whole should consider channelling more business through the Standing Committee, which might mean that the Standing Committee needed to meet more often than at present.

5.190 It is important that there is an effective means of consulting colleges and ascertaining their collective view on matters of policy. This is often necessary to enable the central university bodies - and in particular the Council and the Vice-Chancellor - to speak for Oxford as a whole on matters which are of common concern to both the colleges and the University. A good example of where this has been required recently is in respect of negotiations with HEFCE and the government on the future of college fees. In such circumstances there needs to be a means to ensure swift and effective communication between the Council and the Vice-Chancellor on the one hand, and bodies representative of the colleges on the other. Given the relatively infrequent meetings of the full Conference, we believe that the Conference of Colleges should give further consideration to how far its Standing Committee can provide this mechanism.

Recommendation 28
We recommend that, in the light of the discussion in this report, the Conference of Colleges should consider its future role and in particular the possibility of developing further the responsibilities of its Standing Committee.

5.191 Our remit did not extend to questions concerning the internal governance of colleges. We are, however, concerned at the extent to which those responding to the survey of teaching and research staff which we conducted in Hilary Term 1996 were unhappy with the burdens placed on them by the demands of college administration. There is a real chance that, because of this, an increasing number of fellows of colleges may become disenchanted with their collegiate links.

5.192 Clearly, the active involvement of fellows in the running of a college is an important element in collegiality, and there are limits to how far it can be reduced. On the other hand, we believe that there would be advantage in college governing bodies re-examining the procedures through which they operate, in order to see whether more effective use could be made of the time of senior members. One possibility would be to delegate more responsibility from full meetings of governing bodies towards a smaller group, perhaps a sub-committee of the governing body. We have noted that Cambridge colleges often have a college council, responsible to the governing body, but comprising only a small proportion of it, which handles most regular business, and which reports to the full governing body only once a year. We also understand that a number of Oxford colleges have statutory power to establish an Executive Committee which would perform a similar role to that of a college council in Cambridge, though we are not aware that any Oxford college has established such a body. Adoption or adaptation of an approach of this sort could help to reduce the administrative burdens imposed by colleges on their fellows, which would help meet much of the dissatisfaction which was revealed in the responses to our survey. We are clear that steps need to be taken to address this issue and believe that the Conference of Colleges, perhaps through a collegiate working party, would have an important role to play.

Recommendation 29
We recommend that the Conference of Colleges and college governing bodies should consider ways of reducing the administrative burdens which are imposed on the senior members of colleges.

VIII: Costs of the Commission's proposals on governance

5.193 One of the criteria against which our proposals will be judged is their cost, and in particular whether they are likely to lead to overall savings in the resources which the University has to devote to management and administration. Providing an accurate assessment of costs is not straightforward: as far as we are aware, no costings have ever been undertaken of Oxford's present structure of governance, and the single most important component in such costs is almost certainly the time spent by academic staff in such activities.

5.194 The costs of our proposals would immediately give rise to direct additional expenditure in respect of the proposed four Deputy Vice-Chancellors against which would need to be offset the salary of the present chairman of the General Board. It is also possible that our proposals would lead to additional direct expenditure on administrative staff. However, we believe that increases in direct costs of this sort must be set against the very substantial savings which would arise from the reduction in academic staff time which currently needs to be spent on administrative tasks, and that on balance our proposals would lead to savings rather than additional costs. We refer to this point in more detail in paragraph 7.6 to 7.7.