Elite universities told to modernise or risk losing world-class status

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The Independent Online

Oxford and Cambridge universities were warned by a government task force yesterday to modernise or risk losing their world-class status.

Oxford and Cambridge universities were warned by a government task force yesterday to modernise or risk losing their world-class status.

The group, commissioned by Chancellor Gordon Brown to review links between universities and business, said the tradition by the universities of allowing individual colleges their own freedom had resulted in financial loses to both Oxford and Cambridge, and Britain.

Richard Lambert, the former editor of the Financial Times, who headed the task force, called on the universities to "speed up their decision-making processes" to maximise income from industry links. He said: "Oxford and Cambridge have both made great changes in recent years, but they have more to do.

"If they are going to remain world-class institutions in 25 years' time, they must recognise, and the Government must recognise, that more needs to be done. I'm talking about a more federal structure in which the individual colleges have an identity ... which is clear but where action can be taken to move things forward quickly."

The call to modernise is expected to be resisted by many academics, who are fiercely protective of the autonomy of their colleges. The report gave the two vice-chancellors a three-year deadline to implement reforms, including generating "significantly more money than they are likely to from public funding in order to pay their academics a more competitive wage, to develop their research links, to cover their teaching costs and to subsidise talented students where necessary".

The report also criticisedolder universities in general, and said that universities "could be more dynamic in their approach to collaboration". The task force said that new universities - the former polytechnics - had much more executive styles of management which allowed them to develop better links with industry. But the report said the universities could not rely on business alone to provide them with the funds needed for research, and recommended that ministers set up a new stream of business-relevant research funding of up to £200m a year.

Mr Brown welcomed the report's findings yesterday, saying: "The Government [will] play its part in helping universities and businesses face up to these new challenges."

Professor Ivor Crewe, president of Universities UK - the body which represents vice-chancellors - described the Government's reaction to the report as "very positive".

Colin Matheson, chief executive of the Coalition of Modern Universities, which represents the former polytechnics, said: "Many of our courses are established in response to a local business need.

"This means our students have a high rate of employment when they graduate."