Terence Kealey: Why Oxford University had to resist Sir Victor Blank

In the year 2000, Gordon Brown set out to destroy the 800-year tradition of academic self-government at Oxford and Cambridge. The man he chose to execute his policy was Sir Victor Blank. Sir Victor is the chairman who severely damaged the share price of Lloyds Bank, and on that evidence he is less than competent – as of course is Gordon Brown. So how did those two men position themselves nearly to destroy the governance of two of the greatest universities on the globe?

The story started with the chip on Brown's shoulder exposed in 2000 over the embarrassments he sprouted over Laura Spence, who had failed in her application to enter Magdalen College, Oxford. As subsequent investigations showed, Spence had been treated with equity, and Gordon Brown's suggestion that she had been excluded because of her social class was disproved. Brown never apologised – but then he never does.

Yet Brown's real difficulty with Oxbridge emerged with the exposure in 2000 of another of his mistakes, the dotcom bubble. Brown believed in that bubble (he believes in all bubbles) whose "success" he attributed – following cod economics – to the workings of post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory (PNEGT). But PNEGT is simply jargon for the assertion that science is a public good that the market would neglect. Yet, as I and others have shown, science is not in fact a public good (it only appears to be) and empirical studies show that its funding by government does not promote economic growth.

Nonetheless, Brown has always been committed to pouring public money into science. Under him, the Government science budget has doubled to more than £3bn annually. So the bursting of the dotcom bubble came as a shock to Brown, but rather than acknowledge that his policy was at fault (ha!) Brown looked for someone to blame. He found the academics guilty. Brown reasoned that academics are not primarily interested in wealth creation, so they must have failed to transfer their new knowledge into new products. Only business people could do that.

So Brown commissioned the Lambert Review, to throw academics off university councils and to replace them with business people. To appreciate that grotesquerie, look at the council of City University, which embraced Lambert. If you did not know City was a University, would you guess from its council's membership that it was one?

But Oxford and Cambridge rejected Lambert, and their governing councils continued to comprise largely of – shock horror – academics. To crush them, therefore, Brown promoted the 2006 Charities Act, which made the Higher Education Funding Councils the universities' principal regulators. So the universities' chief funder became their principal regulator! And, unpleasantly, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) then demanded that Oxford and Cambridge replace their academics on council with business people... or else.

Hefce's tool at Oxford was Sir Victor Blank, one of the few external trustees on the council. Together with Chris Patten (the misguided Chancellor of the university) and John Hood (the hapless Vice-Chancellor), Blank tried to persuade the university to surrender its academic self-governance. He nearly succeeded, and but for the efforts of some courageous people who led a revolt, he would have.

But what would have happened to Oxford had Blank won? Look at Lloyds. Its decline is attributable largely to Victor Blank's agreeing to Gordon Brown's proposal that it take over HBOS. In that vignette, we see why business people should have little say in the direction of universities. Academics have faults but they are, at least, bloody-minded and resistant to political interference. But business people are institutionally corporate, and too many of them are predisposed to please government. Academic freedom means, inter alia, the freedom to reject government instructions, which must generally mean keeping business people off university councils.

Gordon Brown has destroyed our economy and, though that will recover, he nearly also destroyed Oxbridge's competitive advantage; namely, its governance by academics, who actually know something about universities. Thank goodness this Government is about to go.

The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Qualified Nursery Nurse for Bury Nu...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Full time key stage 2 teacher job at ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn