Oxford joins rat race in effort to halt brain drain

University challenge: New professorships handed out
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The Independent Online
Oxford University announced yesterday that it was appointing 162 new professors without paying them more money or changing their jobs.

The appointments, which almost double the number of Oxford professors, aim to stop the flight of senior dons to chairs in younger and less famous universities. Dons had to nominate themselves for the right to call themselves professor, and a Distinctions Committee of 14 eminent academics passed judgement on their application.

The university has succumbed to pressure to abandon its egalitarian tradition as a "community of scholars" and joined the rat race, in which academics say they need titles to compete for research funds.

Of the university's 1262 dons, 361 are now professors. The committee also awarded the title of reader, the next rung down the ladder, to 99 academics, bringing their numbers to 206.

The overall success rate was 79 per cent for men and 85 per cent for women.

Oxford has been forced to respond to the new culture in higher education in which university funding depends partly on its research strengths.

The newest universities, the former polytechnics, have been offering big salaries and chairs in the battle to improve their research ratings.

Dr Paul Slack, chairman of the university's general board, said: "The purpose of this exercise was to give appropriate recognition to the outstanding quality of the academics in this university, despite financial pressures which prevent us from increasing the number of stipendiary professors."

Applicants were judged on the quality of research compared with that of professors and readers in other major universities and on the quality of their teaching and administration. Flair in teaching could compensate for weaknesses in research.

Dons were split over the plan when it was proposed a year ago. Some feared it might damage undergraduate teaching because dons would concentrate on research in their effort to be promoted.

The university is anxious to demonstrate that it has been fair to women, after female dons three years ago blocked plans to create 15 new professorships, as they would most likely be taken by men.

In the most recent exercise, 15 per cent of the successful applicants were women - exactly in line with the percentage of female applicants.

In 1989, there were four women professors at Oxford compared with the present 30. The latest appointments mean that both the number of women readers and professors will more than double.

Dr Slack said: "Very careful attention was naturally paid to equal opportunity issues and I am delighted to see the distinction of a significant number of women being properly recognised."

This year's exercise will be repeated annually and dons will again be able to nominate themselves.

t Four thousand teachers face the sack this year because of Government spending cuts, according to a survey published today. Warnings of dismissal have been sent out to teachers by one in ten schools, says the 150,000- strong Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

The figures challenge ministers' claims that schools received a much more generous settlement this year than last, when, 5,000 teachers lost their jobs.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, said last November that she was increasing funds for schools by pounds 878m, a 4.5 per cent increase in the schools budget, to fulfil the Prime Minister's pledge that education was at the top of the Government's priorities.