London, Feb. 26: The jostling to become the next Chancellor of Oxford University has begun in earnest, with four candidates vying to succeed the late Lord Jenkins. President Bill Clinton is not among them.
Chris Patten, the European Union’s external affairs commissioner and the last Governor of Hong Kong, and Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the senior law lord, have already set up websites. Lord Neill of Bladen, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said his website would be online later this week.
Broadcaster and writer Sandi Toksvig, whose campaign is run by the Liberal Democrats, is the only candidate to sign the pledge against student fees produced by the students union, led by Will Straw, son of foreign secretary Jack Straw. However, only graduates can vote.
Rumours had suggested that Clinton, a visiting scholar in the 1960s, would stand. While his office had denied this, hopes endured until nominations shut at 4 pm yesterday.
The Chancellor plays a largely ceremonial role, officiating at Encaenia (the annual honorary degree ceremony held each June) and representing the university in the higher education sector.
The strongest language in the non-political campaign so far has been a murmur from Lord Neill’s campaign that it was “a bit off” for Lord Bingham’s wife to email barristers to canvass support for him. But even this blew over quickly when it transpired that she had only sent four emails. Instead, the campaigns have indulged in the long-forgotten practice of talking up their own candidates.
A spokesman for the Lord Bingham campaign described him as “getting results without being confrontational” and said that, as a Visitor at Balliol College, he “knows the university like the back of his hand”.
Lord Neill’s supporters see him as having earned the post through hard graft. John Davis, warden of All Souls, said: “When he was Vice-Chancellor, he moved heaven and earth to get the Campaign for Oxford off the ground.” It raised £360 million to fund new buildings and courses.
Toksvig said she would campaign vigorously against top-up fees. “The office gives access to the government to put students’ case,” she said. Her Cambridge degree was “not a hindrance” to her campaign.
Patten is ambiguous about the fees. “Top-up fees of £3,000, frankly, are not going to provide our universities with salvation: they may be part of the answer, but only part. The real issue is the woefully inadequate public funding of higher education.”
A fifth entrant to the race, submitted just 15 minutes before the 4 pm deadline, was dismissed by the university as a student prank.
The bookmakers William Hill said Mr Patten was favourite at 7/4. Lord Bingham is 9/4, Lord Neill 11/4 and Miss Toksvig 3/1.