First report of the joint working party on governance

First report set up following the report of the Commission of Inquiry

Ref. No. OUG/2; WP1597.108

Introduction

1. The joint working party (membership of which is set out in section 53 below) has finalised the main elements of a proposed new structure for the governance of the University, and has set them out in detail in the annexe to this paper. The structure takes as its broad starting point the model in the report of the Commission of Inquiry, with a new overarching executive and policy-making body and new large groupings of academic units to which responsibility would be devolved in the context of approved plans. However the working party has refined this model significantly, not least in terms of

  • taking account of the range of interests in the wider University, and most notably the interests of colleges which are now explicitly reflected in the roles and composition of the central and the local bodies, with provision for the general and the particular concerns of colleges to be fully considered at every level in the University's decision-making processes;
  • the composition of the central bodies, which has been refined to provide a more sophisticated way of representing the University at large through directly elected members and to balance the central and the local responsibilities of certain ex officio members;
  • the allocation of existing academic units to the new broad subject groupings, where the working party favours four blocks rather than the Commission's three, with two groups in the arts and two in the sciences: the groups would be termed 'divisions', and be headed by 'heads of divisions' rather than 'Deputy Vice-Chancellors';
  • arrangements for appointment to the Vice-Chancellorship;
  • the organisation of the academic services sector, where the working party favours a more diverse arrangement than did the Commission, with committees to oversee libraries, museums, and information technology, but with no overall committee for the sector, and with a Pro-Vice-Chancellor rather than a Deputy Vice-Chancellor in this area; and, crucially,
  • the provision of more detail as to how the new structure would actually work, especially in terms of the particular implications of delegation for the precise respective roles of the central and the local bodies (on which see sections 39-45 below in particular), with special emphasis on the nature of central responsibility in a devolved structure, on the possible differences in ethos and operation on the arts as opposed to the science side, and on transparency in the appointment of heads of divisions.

The working party has noted that its revisions reflect quite closely a number of concerns about the Commission's proposals which have emerged from comments so far made on them by individuals, colleges, and university bodies.

2. The working party's proposed new structure may be represented as follows.

The report of the working party has now been considered by Council and the General Board, which have agreed that the details of the proposed new structure should be forwarded to faculty boards and other relevant university bodies, colleges, and individual members of Congregation for comment, with the gloss on the structure which is provided in this report.

3. The working party now invites all those addressed in this consultative exercise to forward responses by the end of Michaelmas Term 1998 to its secretary, Dr Jeremy Whiteley, University Offices (telephone: (2)70034; e-mail: jeremy.whiteley@admin.ox.ac.uk). The working party will consider these responses with a view to specific proposals on the future arrangements for the governance of the University being put forward through Council and the General Board for final decision by Congregation in Hilary Term 1999.

4. The remainder of this paper provides details of the working party's thinking and more information on the proposed new structure.

Congregation

see annexe, sections 2.1 and 3.1

5. The working party is quite clear that Congregation must remain the University's ultimate sovereign body. It must continue to exercise control over the operation of the central university committees by discussing and voting on issues, at the instigation of the new Council or of groups of individuals; it must elect, directly, a large proportion of the members of Council (some of whom will then also serve on Council's committees); and it must consider an annual report from Council.

6. The working party notes that there is a variety of views on whether the reforms to Congregation suggested by the Commission go too far or go far enough, and recognises that it may be thought inappropriate to take too strong a view on the Commission's specific recommendations because Congregation itself must be the ultimate arbiter of any changes to its composition and procedures. None the less the working party supports the Commission's recommendations, and believes that they should be commended to Congregation.

The Vice-Chancellorship

7. The working party broadly endorses the specific proposals about future arrangements for the Vice-Chancellorship in the report of the Commission of Inquiry, but with some significant refinements. The Commission proposed that the present four-year period of office of the Vice-Chancellor should be increased to five years on initial appointment, with the possibility of an extension to seven years in all, and the working party concurs in this. Given the pressures and complexities of the post, and the need to build up the necessary internal and external contacts, the current four-year tenure makes it very difficult for the Vice-Chancellor to determine key strategic approaches and to follow them through to fruition. On the other hand seven years should be a maximum tenure; and the working party favours a five- plus two-year model, with the natural opportunity for reflection this brings, over a simple seven-year one. The working party also agrees that eligibility for appointment to the Vice-Chancellorship should no longer be restricted to those who are members of Congregation at the time of the appointment: the working party is in general opposed to unnecessary constraints on the ability of the University to appoint the best candidate. This proposal clearly opens up the possibility of an external appointment: while the working party is clear that the nominating process is very unlikely in practice to result in the appointment of someone who is not a member of Congregation, it would be unwise for the University to deprive itself of the opportunity of considering individuals such as those who have recently left a senior appointment with a college or the University to take up an external post. The working party is aware that the Commission's proposal has led to concerns that inappropriate persons with no academic background will be considered for the appointment to the Vice-Chancellorship, but the working party firmly believes that such concerns are unrealistic, not least given the composition of the nominating committee and the mechanics of the appointment process which it proposes in section 8 below. The working party also endorses the Commission's proposal that there should be no formal 'run-in' or 'run-out' periods before or after the Vice-Chancellor's tenure. The working party believes that the nomination process should probably begin rather later than is specified under the current arrangements, but early enough to enable a careful selection process to conclude in time for the Vice-Chancellor-elect to give sufficient notice to take up appointment in a timely fashion, and for the Vice-Chancellor-elect to become familiar, over say the six months immediately preceding his or her entrance into office, with key issues and procedures through a careful informal induction process. This might include 'shadowing' the outgoing Vice-Chancellor, and the University should consider, in appropriate circumstances, reimbursing the incoming Vice-Chancellor or his/her employer for the investment of time this would represent.

8. The Commission proposed that the arrangements for appointing the Vice-Chancellor should be changed: currently an independent nominating committee (chaired by the Chancellor, and with four members appointed by Council, four members elected by Congregation, and four members elected by the Conference of Colleges) makes a proposal for approval by Congregation, and the Commission proposed instead that a specially constituted committee of the new Council should make a recommendation to the Council, which should have power to approve a nomination without reference to Congregation. The Commission further proposed that the nominating committee should be chaired by an external member of the Council; that its proposed 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. The working party does not support these proposals. It believes that the Chancellor should continue to chair the nominating body: he or she is likely to have at least as appropriate an external perspective as an external member of Council, although the working party believes that the Chancellor should be able to delegate the task to such an external member if he or she wished. The working party believes that the key concern in populating the remainder of the nominating committee is to try to ensure that it has sufficient expertise and has an awareness of how the University's system of governance operates. It is important that the size of the committee is not unduly restricted and that a range of potential interests is covered. The working party proposes that in addition to the Chancellor there should be four members elected by Congregation; the Chairman of the Conference of Colleges and one member appointed by the Conference of Colleges; four members appointed by the divisional boards; and two members appointed by Council, to include one external member if the Chancellor is acting as Chairman. The nominating committee should report to Council, and Council's decision on the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor should be subject to approval by Congregation. The working party does not endorse the Commission's proposal that there should effectively be no age limit for those appointed as Vice-Chancellor. The working party believes that the arrangements for the Vice-Chancellorship should be like those for other university staff in that the normal age of retirement should at the latest be the 30 September immediately preceding the 68th birthday. The idea of a five-year appointment with a possible extension of two years would permit a 62-year-old to be appointed to serve for the five-year term only. Finally, the Commission proposed that consideration should 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 retirement age: the working party does not believe that it is possible or necessary to come to a general conclusion on this point.

9. The working party wishes to make clear that its recommendations on these matters would have no necessary implications for the position of the current Vice-Chancellor.

A single executive body

see annexe, section 2.2

10. The creation of a single executive body is in the view of the working party a key reform, achievement of which would provide both a symbolic and a practical acknowledgement of the need to address the shortcomings of the current system of governance. These shortcomings - which include an insufficiently integrated approach in key areas, opaque decision-making structures, and difficulties in adopting appropriate strategic approaches - are described in the report of the Commission of Inquiry and are generally acknowledged by the working party.

11. That said, the working party has been concerned about some of the negative impressions given by the Commission's report in connection with this major proposal. The working party is quite clear that any adverse criticism of the dedicated and conscientious contribution of members of Council and the General Board is severely misplaced. Moreover the perception that the Commission was simply recommending the 'abolition' of the General Board has, in the working party's view, in particular been very unfortunate. The working party is convinced that a single overall body is required, but also that this must involve the explicit retention of those elements of the operation of the current central bodies which work well. It is especially important to preserve the way in which the General Board integrates the academic management of the University (which a number of those commenting on the Commission's proposals have stressed); but it is also crucial to ensure that this should be placed at the heart of, and itself integrated with, the overall management of the University in the broadest sense.

12. The working party believes, then, that it is highly desirable for there to be a single overarching executive and policy-making body for the University, under Congregation. Within the University there is at present a lack of clarity over the roles of the existing central bodies, and an expectation that a clear lead for Congregation will emerge from the working party's discussions in the shape of proposals for a more transparent, streamlined, and integrated structure which is able to take key strategic decisions in a proactive way and to respond swiftly, clearly, and appropriately to individual issues and opportunities. Currently Council is the senior body, but is divorced from much academic management (both day-to-day and strategic); although the General Board draws together the academic administration of a University split into 17 faculty boards, it does this at an explicitly subservient level, and is unable to commit the University or to take full account of wider considerations which have traditionally been the remit of Council. Having two senior bodies fragments and complicates strategic management. In a series of crucial areas, such as planning, finance, broad educational policy, and personnel, there is inadequate integration between the two spheres of influence represented by Council and the General Board. Much of the Board's work intimately involves the colleges, and yet it is Council which is traditionally regarded as dealing with strategic relations with them. Committees of Council do not relate well to committees of the Board, and rather than integrating the system the joint committee structure lengthens decision-making lines to no advantage. The current system of having two bodies which share overall management tasks is also not well understood outside Oxford, and in the view of the working party it is important for the external perception (and treatment) of Oxford that the University demonstrate that it is able to take on board, and to take decisive action to remedy, the managerial and other problems identified in the report of the Commission of Inquiry.

13. A new overall body would rationalise the situation. Placing the General Board's integrative role in respect of academic management at the centre of overall university governance would create a single authority, under Congregation, for the consideration of key strategic issues and to oversee an integrated approach to particular functional areas and to relations with the colleges. Through its proposals for a new Council with a small number of key committees, the working party aims essentially to take the separate core operations of Council and particularly of the General Board and combine them in two ways: first, integrating in single committees functions which are currently dispersed; and second, providing a single body to oversee these functions. This will enable the key committees to take a concentrated approach to the development of policy and the monitoring of practice, and will enable the new Council to integrate the University's approach to the most crucial issues of academic and administrative governance. The roles and the composition of the new Council and its main committees will ensure that they take full account of the range of interests in the wider University.

14. The working party is in no doubt that the new Council itself will have much on its agenda. The working party believes that the new Council is likely to meet more frequently than the Commission envisaged.

The four major committees of the new Council

see annexe, sections 2.3 - 2.6

15. The key committees of the new Council would be Planning and Resource Allocation, Educational Policy and Standards, General Purposes, and Personnel. The working party has carefully defined the roles of these bodies, as set out in detail in the annexe and as described below.

16. The busiest of the new Council's committees, at least in the early days and annually in the period up to the setting of the budget, will be the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee. To an extent this reflects the working party's belief that it is crucial to establish an integrated approach to the two areas of planning and resource allocation, and an approach which links these areas explicitly to each other. The intrinsic importance of this is paralleled by the way in which it would enable a system of devolved budgeting to be put in place, a reform to which the working party ascribes particular importance. It is essential that the University undertake a single, regular exercise of setting the overall resources available to it from all sources against the detailed activities, plans, and desires of all sectors of operations in the collegiate University (and relating this to the operation of the Development Programme, oversight of which would also be a matter for this committee): and it is equally vital that this process, having determined overall decisions, open the way for individual decisions to be taken at local level within approved plans, without the current need for further central approval which tends to diminish a sense of local responsibility and accountability as well as unnecessarily lengthening decision-making processes.

17. Discussion of the role and composition of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee has led the working party to four important conclusions: the first is that the proposed plans and operating statements from the divisions and the academic services sector which will be considered by this committee must be comprehensive and detailed: the centre must continue to have a close knowledge of specific local requirements if delegated authority to pursue them is to be granted (and the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee, like the other main central committees, must also have a formal role in the close monitoring of actions subsequently taken under such authority). The second conclusion is that in responding to the detailed proposals for expenditure which the plans of the divisions and the academic services sector represent, the committee should have a proactive role in developing transparent and easily understood resource allocation methods which are applicable to the complete range of income available to the University and the costs incurred by it: the working party believes that it is extremely important to make swift progress on this. The third conclusion is that it should be the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee which has oversight of arrangements to deal with implications of the settlement on college fees. The purpose here is not, of course, to make the decisions of colleges subject to university approval, but rather to enable the functions of the colleges to be borne clearly in mind in the overall budget-making process (the functions of the colleges will also figure prominently in the plans developed by the divisions). The fourth conclusion is that this committee would have a general role in monitoring the overall effect of the plans of the divisions on the colleges. These individual plans, in so far as they affected joint appointments and other issues of concern to colleges, would be expected to reflect agreements between the divisions and relevant colleges (or details of differences of opinion if these existed): but the committee would have a key role in ensuring that the combined effect of the plans did not impact in a disproportionate way on particular colleges (e.g. by leaving too many academic posts unfilled at one of them).

18. The working party spent some considerable time debating the need for, and the nature of, the General Purposes Committee. Other models canvassed included the absence of such a committee, and its replacement either by a Strategy Committee or by a kind of 'Cabinet' to assist the Vice-Chancellor. The working party has agreed, however, that it would be appropriate to establish a formal committee for executive purposes and to advise the Vice-Chancellor and Council on general strategic and particular individual issues (in so far as these fall outside the remit of other committees). The operation of the committee would be flexible, and would be likely to evolve as time went on (this is true to a greater or lesser extent of all of the structure, but perhaps particularly of this committee).

19. The working party spent less time on the role of the Educational Policy and Standards Committee: this proposal of the Commission seems in itself to be uncontroversial, and to recognise the need for a much more strategic and integrated approach than is possible under the current structure represented by the General Board's Graduate and Undergraduate Studies Committees. The working party has fleshed out the terms of reference of the committee, making explicit that it would have a role in, for example, admissions policy and student welfare, while underlining here as elsewhere the importance of recognising the functions and responsibilities of colleges. Operationally it will be of key importance to ensure that any proposals from divisions which have overall implications in terms of educational policy are considered by this committee before their inclusion or reflection in the general plans to be considered by the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee. The Educational Policy and Standards Committee should also have general oversight of the quality audit/assessment function, and might well delegate responsibilities in that area to a powerful sub-committee which in its focus on quality in specific subject areas would operate at arm's length from the overall policy-making committee.

20. The role of the other key committee, Personnel, has also been defined in some detail by the working party, which is in no doubt as to the need to integrate the University's approach to these matters (currently fragmented as a direct result of the separate responsibilities of Council and the General Board). Here too the working party has been concerned to take account of the college side: the committee will in general have regard to the implications for colleges of its policies for university employment issues; more particularly it will provide a central focus for a collaborative approach to policy on joint academic appointments, and a central forum for the resolution of any difficulties between divisions and colleges in individual cases. While it is particularly important that divisions have devolved authority for many individual staffing issues, the Personnel Committee will have a key role in defining and developing policy and guidelines on contractual matters and good practice, and again it will be important operationally for any proposals from divisions which have implications in terms of personnel policy to be considered by the Personnel Committee before their inclusion or reflection in general divisional plans to be considered by the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee. The Personnel Committee will also oversee arrangements for exercises which result in individual decisions in areas where an overall university view is required, such as ad hominem promotions, recognition of distinction, and professorial pay: the Personnel Committee would set policy and procedures in these areas, with the exercises themselves to be carried out by specially constituted bodies with delegated authority.

21. All these major committees will

  • report/recommend to Council and operate under its specific oversight;
  • concentrate on the broadest strategic issues in policy development;
  • require details of particular proposals in areas where delegated authority is sought; and
  • have a key role in monitoring the actual practice of the divisions and their sub-units.

22. The working party has examined in detail how the major items of business before Council and the General Board in the whole of the calendar year 1997 would have been handled under the new structure. It is clear that relatively few of these could have been dealt with by new local structures under delegated authority, but it is also clear that the new central structure would have managed this business without significant overlap between committees and without uncertainty as to which business went where. Most significantly, the volume of related business hitherto considered in a fairly piecemeal way in the distinct areas of planning/finance, educational policy, general purposes, and personnel shows very clearly the need to develop a much more integrated approach to such matters within a system of working committees reporting in a considered way on key strategic issues to one overall body.

Composition of the new Council and its committees

see annexe, sections 3.2 - 3.6

23. The working party has given careful attention to the composition of the key central bodies. It has considered in particular the balance of elected and ex officio members. It has also noted that a number of respondents have expressed concerns about the proposals of the Commission of Inquiry in this area, and has tried to ensure that its own proposals reflect properly the full range of interests, including those of the colleges.

24. For the new Council, the working party has adopted the broad lines of the Commission's proposals in so far as its membership would include the Vice-Chancellor, the Proctors and the Assessor (recognised by the working party as members elected from college communities and with a traditional role of representing grass roots opinion), the heads of the four large academic groupings, two external members (these would be appointed by Council, subject to the approval of Congregation), and provision for up to two co-opted members. In addition, however, the working party believes that the Chairman of the Conference of Colleges should be a member ex officio, and that there should be, as now, three junior member observers. Where the Commission proposed 12 further members simply elected by Congregation from its own members, the working party believes that some refinement is required. The working party proposes that the 'constituencies' from which these 12 members come should be defined more closely to provide an even subject spread as between the arts and the sciences, as is the case for elections to the General Board under the current system: the working party believes that the spread of 'representation' between different subject-areas on the General Board is very valuable and should be carried over to the arrangements for the new Council. The working party also notes that separate arts and science constituencies are also likely to produce something of a balance between those whose primary academic focus is at the level of the college on the one hand and at the level of the university department on the other. Moreover the working party believes that there should be a further constituency for elections to Council, namely members of Congregation who would choose to stand from a non-divisional perspective. This would be a route which heads of house or senior college officers, and others, could choose for election to Council, and would enable the University's main executive body to benefit from the expertise of those who would not necessarily be appropriate or eligible candidates for a subject-based constituency. This would further enhance the way in which the new Council reflects the range of interests and concerns in the wider University. The working party therefore proposes that the 12 directly elected members of the new Council should comprise four from each of three constituencies: arts, science, and 'non-divisional'. All of the members of Congregation would have a vote in each constituency contest; candidates in the arts and science constituencies would have to be members of arts or science faculties, as appropriate; non-divisional candidatures could come from any member of Congregation; no candidate could stand for election from more than one constituency at any one time. Elections would be for four-year terms (the first ones being staggered): on expiry of the term individuals would be eligible for re-election (the working party, unlike the Commission, does not believe that there should be a limit on the length of overall service by individuals, this being properly a matter for Congregation to determine through its votes). The overall composition of Council would then comprise 12 members elected by Congregation; three members elected by their colleges (the Proctors and the Assessor); six ex officio members (the Vice-Chancellor, the Chairman of the Conference, the four heads of divisions); two external members; and up to two co-opted members. Assuming there are two co-opted members the size of Council would therefore be 25. The working party believes that this is reasonable and that the composition it proposes is well balanced from the point of view of democratic control.

25. Before turning to the composition of Council's committees the working party discussed the question of senior academic officers who would assist the Vice-Chancellor. The working party does not endorse the Commission's proposal to call the heads of the large academic groupings 'Deputy Vice-Chancellors', the role of the working party's 'heads of divisions' in the central structures being more similar to that of the other members of Council and its committees (albeit with the heads of divisions making specific contributions as a function of their additional local office): nor does the working party believe that a further Deputy Vice-Chancellor should head an overall committee for the Academic Services (favouring an alternative structure in that area, on which see sections 46-50 below). However the working party has in the context of the composition of Council considered whether there should be other officers in addition to the Vice-Chancellor and the academic heads of divisions to assist in the management of the central University. In particular, the working party has considered whether there should be a post of Deputy Vice-Chancellor. On balance the working party believes that although such a post might be useful as a transitional measure, it would in the longer term be preferable to retain the basis of the current system whereby the Vice-Chancellor may appoint Pro-Vice-Chancellors (usually from among members of Council) for various purposes. It is the view of the working party that this system should be developed somewhat, to permit the Vice-Chancellor, with the support of the Council, to allocate specific functional responsibilities to individuals in the light of developing circumstances (which would relate to the combination of duties the Vice-Chancellor could realistically discharge, the range of pressing strategic and management issues from time to time, and the expertise available: such responsibilities could either be ongoing or respond to short-term issues). Within such a system it would be a question of assigning to suitably qualified individuals day-to-day responsibility for oversight of particular issues, subject to consultation with, and report to, the Vice-Chancellor and the relevant university body or bodies: the working party has in mind in particular a possible post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Services), which it thinks would be of particular usefulness and importance, and the possible extension of this model to areas such as Educational Policy and Standards, and External Relations and Fundraising.

26. Moving on to the composition of Council's major committees, the working party has refined the proposals of the Commission of Inquiry for the composition of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee (along similar lines to its modifications in respect of Council). It believes that the Chairman of the Estates Bursars' Committee should be a member ex officio, and that the six members drawn from the directly elected members of Council should be carefully chosen to take account of the full range of activities and interests of concern to the committee. The working party also believes that the four academic heads of divisions should be voting members of this committee. It has noted that the Commission of Inquiry believed they should attend but not vote, and has also considered whether there would be a conflict of interest if the heads of divisions were to vote on the plans and budgets proposed by their own divisions. In the view of the working party such concerns are misplaced, and are based on a misunderstanding of the role of the heads of divisions in the new structure. It is of crucial importance to appreciate that the heads of divisions should be not solely, or even primarily, representatives of narrow local interests. They must equally be integral members of the central bodies, and thus intimately involved and implicated in central decision-making. Making the heads of divisions voting members of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee underlines this dual role, and ensures that they will be as much advocates to their divisions of overall university priorities and policies as advocates to the centre of local desiderata. This reflects the current position of members of the General Board (who are elected from subject constituencies but clearly take a broad view on questions of academic management); it also reflects the way in which the new divisional boards will take on responsibilities now located at the centre. It is also significant in this connection that the heads of divisions will not be bringing to the centre their personal visions of local requirements, but rather the considered plans of the broadly based divisional boards which they will chair, which will in turn have to reflect the full range of grass roots opinion. The considerations here reflect the working party's consideration of the meaning of delegation and devolution (reported in more detail in sections 39-45 below).

27. For the Educational Policy and Standards Committee, the working party has noted that the Commission's proposals included a high level of college representation and only one member of Council alongside the Vice-Chancellor. The working party proposes considerable changes here: it believes that the chairmen of the Senior Tutors' Committee and of the Committee for Tutors for Graduates should be members ex officio, and that the (four) directly elected members should be drawn from the directly elected members of Council (one of whom should chair the committee, to relieve the burden on the Vice-Chancellor).

28. The working party believes that the General Purposes Committee should include the Chairman of the Conference of Colleges ex officio, and that the number of the directly elected members of Council it includes should be increased from the Commission's two to four.

29. The working party believes that the Personnel Committee should comprise two members of Council (one of whom would chair the committee), the four heads of divisions, four individuals appointed by the divisional boards, the Chairman of the Senior Tutors' Committee ex officio, the Proctors and the Assessor, and up to five members co-opted to ensure that the committee reflected the range of interests and concerns in university departments and faculties and the academic services.

30. The working party has considered the question of the low proportion of women who currently serve on major university bodies: it believes that it is highly desirable to move towards a better gender balance, and while it would not think it appropriate for the choice Congregation makes in electing members of Council to be constrained through formal mechanisms designed to equalise the position, it would welcome in the future consultation the views of the Equal Opportunities Committee among others on informal steps which might be taken to encourage more women candidates, and on other equal opportunities issues such as representation of ethnic minorities and disabled people. On the position below Council, the General Purposes Committee (as successor to the Standing Committee on Standing Committees) will have a formal role not just in populating other central committees but explicitly in attending to gender balance along with the other issues of representation it will consider in this connection. Open and transparent procedures for the appointment of heads of divisions should ensure equality of opportunity in the selection of those who will serve as ex officio members of key committees.)

31. The working party believes that it will be essential for key officers (from within and outside the central administration) to attend meetings (or parts of meetings) of relevant central and divisional bodies, in addition to those who directly service them. It has in mind officers such as the Directors of the Development Office and of the External Relations Office, and in particular the Director of Library Services: in the working party's view it is crucial that the Director or his nominee should be present when any major issue relating to libraries is discussed by Council, its committees, or the divisional boards.

Other central committees

see annexe, section 4

32. The working party believes that the functions of a very high proportion of existing university committees would fall under the aegis either of one of the four major committees of Council, or of the divisional boards. However the working party does not by any means favour the establishment of an extensive sub-committee structure in order to replicate existing bodies. It thinks it is very important for the administration of the University to move to much more streamlined decision-making structures, as set out in its notes on committees and their officers (annexe, section 11), and believes that the Registrar has a key role in taking this forward. The working party would emphasise that the intention here is to enhance rather than diminish the tradition of academic self-governance, by moving from a situation in which committees of academics, which are sometimes even serviced by academics, meet formally to consider routine matters, to one in which academic committee time is devoted only to genuinely important business.

Interaction between proposals for the 'centre' and for 'local' structures

33. The working party believes that its proposals for the centre are linked to, but ultimately separable from, those for local academic reorganisation. Reforms in both areas are highly desirable but they are both desirable separately, and the working party believes that the central reorganisation should go ahead as soon as possible, even if the creation of larger academic units takes longer to achieve. The need for a single central authority with key functional committees is clear and the working party believes that it should be pursued urgently even if local arrangements remain unchanged or are reorganised in different ways to those proposed by the Commission or the working party: different local arrangements to those proposed here would require minor changes to the proposed composition of the central bodies, and reassessment by them of the nature and operation of delegated authority at the local level, but within limits this would be manageable.

'Local' structures

 see annexe, sections 5 and 6

34. The working party believes that it is important for the University to try to agree on the creation of units of local administration which are much larger than the current 17 faculty boards and the many other inter-faculty bodies. It is crucial to the elaboration of a dynamic overall academic strategy for the University that broad subject areas should come together much more effectively than can happen at present either through the fragmented faculty board structure or through a General Board which is not as well placed as larger local structures would be to consider the strategic and operational needs of, say, the life sciences or the social sciences as a whole. The creation of larger academic units moves management responsibility closer to the teaching, learning, and research activities of the University while the delegation of resources this permits produces greater local awareness of costs and benefits; it fosters the development of responsive and well-informed local structures able to take an integrated approach to academic and resource planning across activities of meaningful size. The working party therefore endorses the criticisms of current arrangements set out in detail in the Commission's report, in so far as these arrangements fail to provide significant delegated responsibility or to encourage the consideration of policy issues across broad subject areas with differing needs and objectives.

35. While the working party firmly believes that the number of divisions thus created should be small, it thinks the three-superboard model of the Commission is inappropriate. The single board for the arts and the single board for non-clinical science which that model would create are in the view of the working party too large and disparate; and the model fails to integrate Clinical and Pre-Clinical Medicine. The working party believes that there should be four divisions, two in the arts and two in the sciences - and that to have more than four would risk fragmenting the large groupings too much and put into question the automatic presence of all of the heads of divisions on the central bodies (since it would increase the size of the central committees, and would put into question the balance between the arts and the sciences). Against this background the working party has taken the view that not only should Clinical and Pre-Clinical Medicine be integrated, but also that this grouping should include the departments under the current Biological Sciences Board, together with Biological Anthropology and Psychology. Another science board would comprise the existing Physical Sciences and Mathematical Sciences Boards. The working party also believes that it will be possible, and broadly logical, to group the existing arts and social studies areas into two divisions, i.e. 'humanities' and 'social sciences'. The working party's proposals include diagrammatic representations of the relative sizes of these divisions, using the same data used for a similar purpose on pp. 97-99 of Vol. I of the Commission's report (see annexe, section 6). Because of its unique position within the University in terms of the nature and range of its provision, Continuing Education would remain separately administered, but the roles of both the Committee on Continuing Education and the divisions would explicitly involve close liaison with each other. (On the other hand the working party believes that Educational Studies would fit well into a Social Sciences grouping.)

36. The working party is well aware of the difficulty of grouping academic units in this way. There tends to be a conservative view of existing structures and a fear of the unknown, large groupings are bound to throw up some uncertainties, decisions at the margin are always difficult, and it is quite possible for many individuals and bodies to believe that the particular circumstances of their own narrow subject area constitute a special case. The working party, however, believes firmly that it is important to create much larger blocks on a scale which encourages a strategic focus across broad subject areas and enables sufficiently large resources to be devolved to provide planning and operational flexibility; and the working party also believes that these blocks would not be monolithic or constraining. Sub-groupings within the blocks (either of the size of existing faculty boards or larger) would naturally be formed to draw together narrower cognate interests, interdivisional links would be specifically encouraged, and grouping existing departments and other units would serve to break down traditional demarcations. Crucially, too, it will be for individual members of faculties, sub-faculties, and departments collectively to develop the precise mode of operation of the divisions, and to consider and propose any changes to existing structures below the divisional level (any proposed changes of this kind to be considered by the new Council in the light of a recommendation from the divisional board which must give a full account of the range of grass roots opinion on the issue).

37. The working party has already been advised that it is the view of the Biosciences Research Board that the new Biological and Medical Sciences division would be too large, and recognises that there is some force in this argument. However, the working party is not convinced by the alternative suggested by that board, namely a grouping of Clinical and Pre-Clinical Medicine and a separate division for Biochemistry, Plant Sciences, Zoology, Anthropology, and Geography (with the increase in the number of heads of divisions thus created being compensated on the new Council by a reduction in the number of slots available for the Proctors and the Assessor). It is clear, however, that the main difficulty on the science side is indeed what to do with the departments under the existing Biological Sciences Board: Biochemistry has clear links to other Pre-Clinical and Clinical Sciences, but this is less true of Zoology and especially Plant Sciences. (The appropriate place for Anthropology and Geography is another difficulty: it is not clear whether all of the disciplines under the current Anthropology and Geography Board should remain together and, if so, to which larger grouping they would affiliate.) But creating a third science division is not supported by the working party. One obvious alternative would involve a Medical Division incorporating Clinical and Pre-Clinical Medicine; and one other division incorporating all the other sciences. The working party believes that it should be for the existing Biological Sciences departments to choose whether to agglomerate with Clinical and Pre-Clinical Medicine on the one hand, or Mathematical and Physical Sciences on the other. The working party hopes in general that in the further consultation process it will be possible for the interested parties - and particularly the existing Biological Sciences and Anthropology and Geography Boards - to agree on their preferred affiliation against the background of the working party's desired maximum of two science boards. The working party therefore wishes to consult more widely on its own proposals (including directly with the faculty boards themselves, as well as their representatives on the Bioscience Research Board, and taking into account issues relating to teaching as well as to research), before final decisions are made.

38. The working party recognises that the difficulties it has had in allocating existing units to new divisions on the science side may well be exceeded by concerns on the arts side over the creation of larger units of academic administration. While it sees considerable importance in developing structures capable of taking a broad strategic view across large subject areas in all disciplines in the University (not least because it will be in the interests of the arts to develop a collective approach to, say, planning and bidding for resources in the light of the readiness to do this on the science side), the working party does envisage the divisional structures in the arts as being in practice, in the short- to medium-term at least, quite different in their mode of operation from those in the sciences. Although the working party believes that, along with the responsibility for drawing up strategic plans and operating statements, there should be genuine delegation of resources to the divisional boards in the arts as in the sciences, it envisages that the main units of academic administration in the arts will continue to be existing faculty boards. This will permit existing structures and practices and the existing overall ethos in the arts largely to continue, and effectively, at the beginning at least, the divisional boards in that area are likely to be closer to the existing structure of a Committee of Chairmen of Arts Boards than to the new divisional structures in the sciences. But despite this arts/science divide, there is perhaps something of a resemblance in the way that the divisional boards themselves will be expected to delegate to their own sub-units, be these science departments or arts faculty boards, as much as possible of the delegated authority the divisional boards themselves will acquire from Council. It should also be emphasised that the nature of the support within the Commission, within the working party, and, as responses have shown, within the University at large for a greater degree of local responsibility and authority means that there can be no question of the central imposition of inappropriate local structures. Local structures must be shaped by grass roots desires, and this means that the creation and mode of operation of the divisional boards must respect the wishes and concerns of the faculty members they affect, while producing the effective elaboration of broad strategy and streamlined management which the working party believes is essential.

Delegation

39. Intimately linked to the question of the grouping of academic units into larger blocks is the issue of delegation of powers from the centre. There may be widespread agreement that it is desirable to devolve as much responsibility as possible to the lowest level, such responsibility to be exercised within centrally-approved policies and frameworks, and subject to the existence of appropriate monitoring and controls, but it is important to go beyond such anodyne sentiments and to try to clarify exactly what this would involve in practice. The working party has spent considerable time discussing these issues in detail.

40. One preliminary remark here relates to nomenclature: the shorthand terms 'central' and 'local' may represent something of a false dichotomy in these discussions. It is as important for the 'central' bodies to ensure that they take full account of the circumstances, desires, and recommendations of the range of subject-based bodies across the University as it is for those 'local' bodies to recognise that they too are acting as a part of the University as a whole and are contributing, through their individual decisions, to the collective actions and image of the University. (This is reflected again in the position of the academic heads of divisions, i.e. the heads of the divisional boards who serve ex officio on Council and its Planning and Resource Allocation and General Purposes Committees: the heads of divisions play key roles at the central and the local levels, developing and representing local concerns while taking part of the collective responsibility for the strategy of the University as a whole.)

41. In elaborating its proposed new system of governance the working party has attempted to balance carefully the respective roles of Congregation, the new Council, its committees, the divisions, their sub-units, and individual members of Congregation. It has sought to pursue the principle of maximum delegation throughout the structure, concentrating for example not only on devolution from Council to the divisions, but also on delegation from Council to its committees, and from the divisional boards to existing faculty boards, sub-faculties, and departments. However it has also recognised the need to couple the idea of delegation, and the transfer of day-to-day responsibility which it implies, with mechanisms for monitoring actual decisions taken, and, most importantly, with the concept in the report of the Commission of Inquiry of detailed plans and operating statements being provided by the divisions for consideration by Council through its Planning and Resource Allocation Committee.

42. In this way the working party is seeking to develop a sense of local responsibility for decisions taken on behalf of the University, while making it clear that there is no question, in the final analysis, of delegation of ultimate authority away from the centre. The plans and operating statements to be drawn up by the boards (in consultation with their sub-units and the academic services sector) will be local proposals which do not have authority, and cannot be acted upon, unless and until they receive approval by Council. In this context the requirement for the proposals to be comprehensive and detailed is of great importance: it ensures, for example, that no recurrent commitment may be entered into locally without explicit central approval, including variations in those plans. The maintenance of strong control and monitoring mechanisms at the centre is of key importance to ensure that the University's overall financial position is not compromised. But the corollary of the requirement for detailed plans is that in so far as they are explicitly approved, their subsequent implementation may be carried forward at the local level on its own authority, and that virement in the use of resources will be permitted in line with the plans. The support services from the central administration will need to be configured to provide 'team' support to heads of divisions and sub-units. The support from the Chest will be of particular importance in managing finance, and the Registrar envisages far more time being spent by named central support staff in divisions and sub-units than at present.

43. It is consistent with the working party's general approach that funds relating to academic as well as other appointments would broadly speaking be delegated to the divisions and in some circumstances beyond. However a more nuanced approach would be needed to the flow of resources relating to differential salary arrangements on the academic side: for example funds for distinction awards for professors and for any ad hominem promotions exercises would need to be held back and to be devolved to divisions only to enable them to implement decisions made in university-wide exercises run centrally.

44. The working party has described in detail the roles of the central and the local bodies (which will be expected in each case to delegate where possible), and how existing faculty board business might in practice be dealt with under the new structure (see annexe, section 9): this reflects a detailed analysis of the actual business of one existing arts faculty board and one existing science faculty board in the whole of the calendar year 1997, and shows which current issues the new divisional boards would deal with on their own authority, which new issues the new boards would have to concentrate on more fully, and which issues would still require central approval. The counterbalancing principles of delegation and central involvement are also reflected in the composition of the various bodies, which involve a combination of ex officio and elected elements. Throughout the system, one body devolves responsibility to the next body down, subject to report or approval: as the sovereign body Congregation permits Council to exercise executive authority in key areas, subject to the statutes which Congregation has approved and to annual report, and with the assistance of the members of Council which Congregation appoints; Council devolves some of its responsibilities to its committees, and much day-to-day operational authority to the divisional boards (in the light of approved plans and subject to report); and the divisional boards delegate to their sub-units - whose own policies, practices, and decisions reflect the will of members of sub-faculties and departments, i.e. the members of Congregation from which all authority within the system is derived.

45. The working party has concentrated particularly on the role of the divisional boards and the heads of divisions (see annexe, sections 7 and 8), recognising that this is a crucial area (and one which as an innovation may be the subject of some suspicion). The working party is clear that authority at the divisional level must formally be vested in the divisional boards, not in the heads of divisions themselves. The boards will include formal representation from the colleges; a member of or appointed by Council will provide liaison between the central and the local bodies in addition to that embodied in the dual role of the head of division; and there will be a balance of members on the one hand representing the sub-units through ex officio service by their heads, and on the other representing the sub-faculties under the division through directly elected individuals (who, like the elected members of Council, would hold office for renewable four-year terms (after initial staggering)). As chairmen of the boards, the heads of divisions will have to exercise executive authority in some areas, deriving that authority from the boards they chair in a way which is familiar to all of those who have experience of any committee system. Boards will therefore authorise their chairmen to act on their behalf, subject to report, and the extent of the authority the boards delegate to their chairs will be extended or reined in as a consequence of the board's assessment of the situation as it evolves. This position will be underpinned by procedures for the selection of the heads of divisions: in view of their role it is crucial that the selection process be open and transparent. The working party therefore proposes that the recruitment process should be organised on the basis of formal applications considered against clear selection criteria. It would be a joint process with (as for electoral boards) selectors from the centre and from the divisions: the majority would be from the division, and would not necessarily be members of the divisional board. The Vice-Chancellor or his nominee would be in the chair, and the process would result in a recommendation which would be considered by Council. As for the Vice-Chancellorship, it would be possible to appoint an external individual as head of a division, but this would be very unlikely. The working party expects that the degree of delegated authority the head of division is permitted will reflect closely the prevailing management ethos in the broad subject area: no doubt in the sciences the divisional boards will be prepared to empower their chairmen to act in a rather different way to heads of divisions in the humanities and social sciences. Vesting authority in the broadly-based divisional boards makes the extent of the executive power of the head of division a matter for local democratic determination: the working party is confident that as trust in the new structures grows the number of actual problems over the respective roles of the divisions and the heads of divisions would be minimal, and that a streamlining of divisional operations will be quickly achieved while responsiveness to the range of opinions across the sub-units is maintained.

Academic services

46. The Commission envisaged that each of the academic services - museums, libraries, information technology, telecommunications, buildings, and administration - would be overseen by a separate committee; and that one overall committee for the academic services should oversee the operation of the sector as a whole, ensuring integration between the different strands. A Deputy Vice-Chancellor would chair this overall committee, and relevant professional officers (such as the Director of Library Services) would report to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. The working party proposes a rather different approach. Academic services is a diverse area and in the working party's view the requirements of each service deserve separate attention and a readiness to consider different solutions. Trying to integrate the whole sector under one committee and one Deputy Vice-Chancellor would in the working party's view be neither feasible nor desirable. What is important is to integrate the various separate services, to develop rather than undercut the key role of officers in appropriate areas, and to foster liaison between cognate areas, rather than forcing areas with different needs and structures into an inappropriate common pattern. In the working party's view the arrangements in this area should be as follows.

47. While agreeing with the Commission that the common interests of the museums on the one hand and the libraries on the other should be fostered through the existence, as now, of a single committee in each area, the working party does not believe that an overall committee drawing together all of the academic services would be helpful. Rather the Libraries Committee and the Museums Committee should report direct to Council and its committees; and instead of there being a Deputy Vice-Chancellor who would chair an overall academic services committee and be a member of Council, the working party favours the appointment of a Pro-Vice-Chancellor who would be a member of Council and would promote the interests of the academic services sector as a whole, co-ordination between its various elements, and liaison with the divisions. The main focus of the role of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Services) would relate to libraries, information technology, and possibly museums. He or she would chair the committees overseeing each of those services. Other mechanisms would also foster the development of these key functions: recognising the strategic and operational importance to the University's teaching and research of libraries and museums (and of the academic services in general), the working party has made explicit in the terms of reference of the divisions that they must liaise with the services in the elaboration of their plans (and vice versa). Ideally the services' budgetary proposals will be agreed in advance with the divisions. It is particularly important that issues relating to libraries and information services in general are taken fully into account at each stage of the planning process. It is equally important that the budgets for all services are carefully considered and financial discipline within them is maintained, and that the academic services develop greater responsiveness to user interests. In other areas other arrangements would apply. Buildings (i.e. policy and practice on the use of physical space, and the rolling programme) should come under the general oversight of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee. The administration should be managed by the Registrar, who should continue to be responsible to Council.

48. Information technology is one key area in which change is required. The working party supports the Commission's view that one committee should oversee IT (and possibly telecommunications) in the collegiate University, and should foster a more strategic, integrated, responsive, and cost-effective approach to the various issues in this area. The working party would also support the appointment of a single university officer to provide managerial and operational direction and oversight throughout the information technology field. In some ways this would move IT closer to the framework which is developing in the libraries sector (and would in turn facilitate closer links between libraries and IT at the strategic if not the operational level).

49. In general in the academic services sector, where committees exist for a function they should be strongly representative of users; they should concentrate on strategic issues and should strive to delegate resources and decisions to relevant operational levels. Relevant officers should attend meetings of central and local bodies. This should apply in particular to the libraries sector: as mentioned, the Director of Library Services or his nominee should attend all relevant discussions at Council, its committees, and the divisional boards: more generally, relevant representatives of the academic services, including the Registrar for the administration, would present their proposed budgets to the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee (the presence of the heads of division on that committee providing another way in which a local perspective may be brought to bear on the plans of the academic services).

50. Whatever the organisational structure for each separate academic service, the role of the service should be clearly set out and the way in which it relates to the operations of the divisions and the other services should be clarified. The working party has tried to indicate some relevant guidelines in section 10 of the annexe.

Role of committees and their officers

see annexe, section 11

51. Building on chapter 6 of the report of the Commission of Inquiry, the working party has developed principles for the operation of committees and of their officers, designed to foster delegation, transparency, and accountability. A more proactive approach will ease the burden of routine administration on members of the academic staff while enhancing the principle of academic self-government, by enabling members of committees to devote proportionally more of their administrative duties to matters of higher strategic importance. The working party looks to the Registrar to pursue vigorously the implementation of these principles across the University, within a single professional administrative structure which provides an integrated approach to the requirements of the centre and of the divisions.

Conclusion

52. The working party is not proposing change for change's sake. It recognises the shortcomings of the current system, as described by the report of the Commission of Inquiry and by many of those who have commented on it, and it also recognises the desire for genuine reform in many areas of the University. Its proposals seek, first, to integrate the central consideration of policy and practice in the key areas of planning, finance, educational policy, and personnel under a single executive body, and, second, to find a flexible way of regrouping academic units to encourage the development of strategic policy across broad subject areas while respecting traditional autonomy in local matters and the quite different existing ethos between the arts and the sciences. Because of the importance and sensitivity of the issues raised the working party has sought to describe as closely as possible how the new system would operate, particularly in respect of the range of checks and balances to the principle of delegation: in so doing it believes it has developed a system which responds to the shortcomings identified by the Commission of Inquiry as well as to the criticisms of the Commission's recommendations, and a system which will be a clear improvement on the existing structure and on any conceivable minor refinements of this. The existing structure consumes a great deal of time and effort, but it lacks focus, it often fails to take a lead on major issues, and it is over-centralised: the working party believes that the establishment of the new structure it is proposing will ensure that major functions are pursued strategically, punctually, effectively, and transparently, with an appropriate degree of delegated responsibility.

Notes

The working party consisted of the Vice-Chancellor (chairman); the Chairman of the General Board; the Principal of Linacre, the Principal of St Anne's, and Professor A.S. Goudie (appointed by Council); Professor R.J. Cashmore, Dr K.A. Fleming, and Dr R.C.S. Walker (appointed by the General Board); and the Principal of Hertford and the Warden of New College. The latter were appointed by the Vice-Chancellor to serve in their personal capacities and have, like the heads of house appointed by Council, played a crucial role in developing the way in which collegiate concerns are reflected in the proposed structure. The working party was serviced by Dr J.D. Whiteley, with the oversight of the former Registrar (Dr A.J. Dorey), the former Acting Registrar (Mr P.W. Jones), and the current Registrar, Mr D.R. Holmes.

54. The working party met on nine occasions, including an all-day meeting on 21 September 1998.

55. Its terms of reference were to carry forward consideration primarily of chapters 4 and 5 of the report of the Commission of Inquiry, on the understanding that it would bring forward recommendations in the first instance to Council and the General Board and subsequently for wider consultation within the University.

56. The working party considered a large amount of material, including

  • successive updated summaries of responses to the proposals on governance in the report of the Commission of Inquiry, and the full text of a number of these responses (including the minutes of the discussions in Council and the General Board);
  • suggestions from members of the working party about the optimal organisation of the central bodies;
  • a detailed description of how recent major items of the business of Council and the General Board would have been dealt with under the proposed new structure;
  • suggestions from individual members about the allocation of existing academic units to the new divisions;
  • a detailed description of how recent major items of faculty board business (and major items not considered or considered in less detail by faculty boards) would have been dealt with under the proposed new structure;
  • correspondence with the Physical Sciences Board on how a divisional structure would operate, and a note on the experience of the Clinical Medicine Board in developing structures under delegated authority;
  • a paper by the current Registrar on financial management and resource allocation;
  • successive updated versions of the proposed structure as it emerged from the working party's discussions;
  • comments on the emerging structure from five members of the Commission of Inquiry, which were generally supportive and which the working party found extremely useful in finalising its proposals.