THE annual list of the world's top ten universities always includes two from Britain: Oxford and Cambridge. Usually there is no representation in the top ten from the rest of Europe. Why, therefore, has Oxford been divided recently by proposals for reform in its governance? Some of the changes concerned such issues as the balance between research and tuition but the central proposal was to appoint business and political outsiders to the university's governing council. This week the result of a postal vote of Oxford dons showed a defeat for the proposed reforms by 1'540 votes to 997; this followed a similar rejection by Congregation, the “parliament of dons”. Most of those who explained the reasons for their vote said they were not against change in principle but were definitely opposed to the ideas of Oxford's vice-chancellor John Hood, a New Zealander who was appointed to lead the university three years ago. The idea that a university should be open to ideas from beyond the confines of academia cannot be disputed; graduates have to go out into the world and their training should be informed by awareness of that fact. However Dr Hood's proposal was to give outsiders a “slim majority” on the university council, a prospect that few, if any, academics could countenance. Oxford, and Cambridge, will need better arguments than those made by Dr Hood to convince them of the need to change their long-established, and apparently successful, methods.


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