London, Dec. 8: Oxford and Cambridge will need to show that they can run their affairs efficiently if they want to remain world class universities, a report commissioned by Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown said.
Both universities needed to modernise their management structures, speed up their decision-making and prevent their colleges from being obstructive, the report added.
They also needed to raise more money from private sources — including “galvanising” their alumni — so that they could pay their academics “a more competitive wage”.
Only then would the British government and the public trust both universities to manage the increased public funding they would need if they were to retain their current position, let alone strengthen it.
However, the problems went wider than that. All universities were “operating on the margin”. Of 131 institutions in England, 47 ran operating deficits last year and the rest averaged only 2.2 per cent surplus on revenue.
“The overarching problem comes down to a matter of trust,” the report said. “The government does not seem to have enough confidence in the way that universities run themselves to give them extra funding without strings attached.”
Universities needed more freedom to manage their own destinies. The report, by Richard Lambert, a member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, criticised universities for keeping students in the dark about which courses offered the best career prospects.
“More detailed information about employability should provide a means for employers to inform prospective students of the value that they place on graduates from particular disciplines,” it said.
“Employers from the creative, media and IT sectors are particularly concerned that the recent explosion of courses in their subject areas has resulted in many that do not equip students with the intellectual, specialist or transferable skills that they need to pursue a career in those industries.”
Large numbers of medium-sized companies appeared to have no contact with, or experience of, the university system. Businesses and universities had different values and did not make easy bedfellows. “Business is critical of what it sees as the slow-moving, bureaucratic and risk-averse style of university management,” the report said.