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UCU welcomes Oxford governance vote

29 November 2006 | last updated: 15 December 2015

UCU today welcomed the decision by Oxford University academics to reject proposals to hand control of the university's affairs to an outside body.

UCU joint general secretary, Sally Hunt, said that the decision should act as a wake up call to those who wish to increase commercial and external influence in universities' affairs, and called for a full and open debate on the future of governance at all UK universities.

Sally Hunt said: 'There has been a steady increase in the influence people with little or no academic background have in crucial strategic decisions taken at many of our universities. Financial and commercial interests can never be put ahead of the need to secure academic excellence and academic freedom. We are pleased Oxford University has rejected these proposals and refused to put financial incentives above academic excellence.

'The governance of our universities is absolutely crucial in securing the UK's position as one of the global leaders in higher education. Too many institutions are made up of an unholy alliance of business people and senior managers, with little representation from those most affected by their decisions - staff and students.

'Last week the world-renowned physics department at Reading University was closed against the clear wishes of students and staff from Reading, the Institute of Physics and the wider academic community. The body that took that decision was one third business people, one third senior management with just a handful of staff and student representatives.

'There is too little transparency in the decision-making process at many universities and minimal accountability. We urgently need a full and open debate about the future of university governance throughout the whole country.

'The government and the higher education funding council for England (HEFCE) may hide behind the cloak of university autonomy when it suits them, but it must be noted that in the case of Oxford, HEFCE backed the vice-chancellor's planned reforms.

'The market has been encroaching into higher education for a number of years now. League tables, quality assurance, student fees and the way that research and teaching funding is now allocated have all contributed to a feeling among staff that individualistic often financial rather than collegiate values now hold sway.

'We must never lose sight of the fact that the ideas, innovation and learning that take place in our universities are public goods - they boost our economy and are vital to the well-being of civil society and active citizenship. It is crucial that the key decisions taken in and about our universities are made by people who properly understand the sector and its needs.'

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